Paris: winners and losers

Pillow diplomacyWhat can I add to the millions of words in dozens of languages that have already been written by the thousands of journalists and commentators around the Paris Agreement? We now have a globally binding agreement that really looks like it could curtail the use of a fuel that has been central to our way of life for more than 150 years.

Of course, if we’d managed to actually make deep cuts in emissions 25 years ago, getting governments to limit warming to 1.5 degrees would have been an awful prospect – who would want that much warming.  When I started working on this, it might have been possible to have no warming at all.

And if industrialised countries had actually made deep cuts in emissions when they said they would,  would we even be having an argument about equity?  Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but let’s look forward here. What’s in this agreement?

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Latest NZ ETS report: policy failure is main feature

This is a guest post by Professor Euan Mason of the School of Forestry at the University of Canterbury. It is cross-posted from his Photosynthesis blog.

New Zealand’s climate change policy failure is the main feature of the 2014 report on New Zealand’s emissions trading scheme (ETS). More than 95% of surrendered credits were imports, and the cost to emitters was approximately 10 cents per imported ‘hot air’ credit during most of 2014, compared to an average of approximately $4 for New Zealand Units (NZUs), our domestic carbon credits, during that year. In addition, during 2014 taxpayers gave 4.4 million NZUs to ‘trade exposed’ industries, representing a windfall for them of approximately $17 million, which is their allocation multiplied by the difference in price between domestic and imported credits; we essentially paid them to pollute. Given the low cost of imported ‘hot air’ carbon credits and the fact that we paid people to pollute, it is unsurprising that New Zealand now lags behind almost all of the rest of the world in its climate change response.

Since imported credits were outlawed earlier this year our NZU price has gradually risen to around $7/credit. This price is much too low to encourage the level of tree planting we need in order to avoid a blowout in our carbon accounts during the 2020s as trees planted during the 1990s are harvested. Figure 3 of the ‘Facts and Figures’ report shows that only 42% of post-1989 forests are registered in the ETS. Figure 4 shows the dramatic reduction in new forest planting and the resumption of deforestation that coincided with imports of cheap ‘hot air’ credits that began in earnest towards the end of 2011.
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Renwick on NZ’s 11% cut: follow us down the path to catastrophe

RenwickThis guest post is by Carbon News editor Adelia Hallett, published with permission.

New Zealand will face droughts, floods, fires, social upheaval and catastrophic global economic damage if the world follows the country’s lead on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, says one of our leading climate experts. Dr James Renwick – Professor of Physical Geography at Victoria University, an International Panel on Climate Change lead author, and formerly a principal scientist at the National Institute on Water and Atmosphere – says that cutting emissions at the rate that New Zealand proposes would lead to at least 3 degrees of warming by the end of the century.

That’s warmer than at any time in the history of human agriculture and settlement, which started around 10,000 years ago.

The Government announced on Tuesday that New Zealand would go to international climate change negotiations in Paris later this year with a post-2020 emissions reduction target (known as an Intended Nationally Determined Commitment, or INDC) of 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. That’s the same as 11.2 per cent below 1990 levels. New Zealand also has a target of halving emissions on 1990 levels by 2050.
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Federated Farmers: sticking their heads in the soil?

Dryland farmingFederated Farmers says farmers don’t need to worry about the causes of climate change, they only need to cope with the impacts. Feds President William Rolleston says they have “no position” on whether mankind is influencing global warming, and say that looking at the causes is not that helpful. No position?

“We [farmers] need to basically adjust to the realities that are being dealt to us, and why it may or may not be happening isn’t really as important, as actually being prepared for what we actually do get dealt,” their “climate change spokesman” Anders Crofoot told Radio New Zealand today.

You can’t have “no position” on the climate science — it’s like telling your bank manager you have “no position” on your finances, despite the numbers being there for all to see. I’m calling it climate denial. I’ll come back to that later, but let’s look at WHY they’re saying that.  If you were to take a position, that is, agree that climate change is real and caused by humans, you’d have to act. You’d think.

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NZ government to consult on Paris emissions target

NZemissionsconsult.jpgClimate change minister Tim Groser announced yesterday that the government is to consult on a post-2020 emissions target to present at the UNFCC conference in Paris in December. The consultation process is open to written submissions now, and there will be a series of public meetings and hui starting in Nelson on Wed May 13, finishing in Christchurch on May 20. Submissions close on June 3. In his press release, Groser said:

“New Zealand wants to set a target which is environmentally credible and reflects our particular circumstances.  But we also need to consider the possible impacts and costs to our economy.”

Reasonable enough, but Groser then starts a pitch that sounds suspiciously as though he’s preparing the ground for an unambitious target:

“Increasing our commitment after 2020 will be a big challenge, as nearly half of New Zealand’s emissions come from agriculture and 80 per cent of our electricity already comes from renewable sources. The easy gains have already been made. But we are expected to make a fair contribution to combating this global problem.”

This impression is confirmed by a quick reading of the discussion document issued by the Ministry for the Environment to accompany the process. Much is made of the difficulties of cutting emissions, and the costs they will impose on the economy, but there is no apparent effort to quantify the risks of inaction, or the benefits to be delivered by the economic transformation to a low-carbon economy.

One of principal reasons that cutting emissions will be “challenging” is of course that Groser and his cabinet colleagues dismantled a comprehensive set of emissions policies inherited from the previous Labour-led government, mismanaged the emissions trading scheme so as to create a laughably low effective carbon price, stymied new forestry planting, and refused to bring agriculture into the ETS. It’s always harder to get somewhere if you’ve spent the last six years pedalling in the wrong direction.

I’ll be commenting further on the discussion document in due course, but as Brian Fallow in the Herald notes, I am not alone in finding Groser’s approach unpersuasive.

Being a cynic, I suspect that this whole rushed process is being offered as a fig leaf for a lack of ambition — about managing expectations downwards, rather genuinely seeking ideas with a view to creating good and effective policy. In the meantime, I urge Hot Topic‘s readers to prepare submissions, make an effort to attend one of the public meetings, and lobby the government for an ambitious set of emissions targets. We can but try…