Telling porkies to Parliament

by Gareth on March 24, 2009

NZETS.jpgThe Emissions Trading Scheme Review committee has released the first batch of submissions it has received — those made by organisations and individuals who have already made their presentations to the committee. There are some heavy hitters in there: from New Zealand’s science and policy community there’s the Climate Change Centre (a joint venture between the University of Canterbury and Victoria University of Wellington, plus all the Crown Research Institutes – from NIWA to AgResearch), VUW’s Climate Change Research Institute, and GNS Science, and from the world of commerce, we have the Business Roundtable‘s “evidence”. Why the quote marks? Because the Roundtable’s submission is a fact-free farrago of nonsense.

The submissions from the Climate Change Centre [PDF] and VUW’s CCRI [PDF] are impressive: lengthy, comprehensive and copiously referenced to the relevant literature — both well worth reading. The Business Roundtable’s isn’t [PDF]. The CCC and CCRI submissions both contain excellent discussions of the sorts of targets that are required to avoid the most damaging impacts of climate change. The Business Roundtable ignores the question of greenhouse gas targets, and argues instead that the science isn’t settled (all following quotes are from section 3 of the BR submission):

It is simply not credible to claim, as past ministers have done, that “the science is settled”. Scientific hypotheses are never settled but rather accepted until disproved. There are still enormous uncertainties about climate change science, which are likely to persist for many years.

In one sense, indubitably true — but not in the sense the Roundtable intends. There’s plenty of spirited debate about the details, but the fact of warming and its cause is not debated. Nor is there any doubt that further carbon emissions will cause more warming.

Most scientists accept the existence of a ‘greenhouse effect’ from C02 emissions and that global temperatures rose slightly (about 0.6ºC) last century.

Most scientists? Are there any credible scientists who doubt the existence of the greenhouse effect outside crank circles? Who on earth provides Roger Kerr with his scientific advice? (Don’t tell me, I can guess).

However, much is still unknown about natural variability due to both external factors (eg the sun) and internal factors (the climate system is never in equilibrium); feedback mechanisms (water vapour, ocean currents and thermal effects more generally); and the masking effects of aerosols. Because of these problems of attribution, the likely amount of future temperature increases associated with increased concentrations of greenhouse gases is still hotly debated, given the diminishing impact on temperature of further CO, emissions.

These are not problems of attribution (we know the cause). The likely amount of future increases is certainly a matter of uncertainty, but that is more than just scientific uncertainty — it depends to a huge extent on what emissions trajectory the global economy follows. And the Business Roundtable offers no perspective on that.

In New Zealand’s case the temperature record shows no statistically significant warming at least since 1970.

Sounds familiar. Is that a hint of Leyland I detect? New Zealand has warmed since 1970. In fact New Zealand warmed by 0.7ºC over the last century.

It matters greatly for the welfare of New Zealanders whether possible future increases are likely to be small and beneficial or potentially large and harmful. Moreover, New Zealand temperature increases are considered likely to be only around two thirds the level of any global increases. Official government documents acknowledge that moderate warming (say of the order of 2ºC) in New Zealand would have net benefits in terms of health, energy consumption, agriculture, tourism and other factors for many decades.

There are no government documents that acknowledge net benefits from two degrees of warming. At 2ºC warming (the 2090s on NIWA’s 2008 projections, based on the A1B scenario), severe droughts will be twice as frequent as now, more intense rainfall will have increased the frequency of damaging flood events, a cool year will hotter than the hottest year we experience now and hot years scorching, and the seas around us will have risen by at least half a metre (probably more — the CCC submission suggests “allowing for” 0.8m).

While we acknowledge the case for New Zealand to play its part in dealing with a possible global problem, it must be recognised that New Zealanders are being asked to incur costs and forgo the benefits of possible moderate warming by doing so, at least for some generations. This is not an easy political ‘sell’.

In reality, the Roundtable’s position is the hard sell because it’s nonsense. Benefits from warming for “some generations”? It would be nice to see a reference to the source of their information for making such a striking claim. But there is no reference. As far as I can determine the Business Roundtable has invented this evidence. Made it up, and pretended that it’s true. It amounts to lying to Parliament. Telling porkies to Parliamentarians is not a good look for a body that expects to have some influence on policy making.

In our view there is no point in turning a blind eye to the scientific debates: the public is aware that they exist. A recent poll in the United States found that 44 percent of US voters do not believe that global temperature trends are due to human activity. This illustrates the scale of the political problem. The proper case to be made is that a large number of scientists consider human-induced warming is occurring, and that it could be harmful for human welfare.

Allow me to correct that last sentence: “The science is clear: global warming is happening and humans have caused it. If it is allowed to continue unchecked, it will be very damaging to human welfare.”

It is reasonable for the international community to take out some ‘insurance’ to mitigate the risks of dangerous trends if paying the insurance ‘premium’ can reduce those risks (otherwise adaptation is the only effective response). Action could be ramped up over time if the evolving science confirms the likelihood of dangerous warming and lower-cost ways of reducing emissions emerge with advances in technology. Alternatively, it could be ramped down if neither occurs.

This amounts to asserting that we don’t know enough to act now: a plea for inaction, or as little action as possible. We have enough information to take meaningful action. More than enough. To imply otherwise is simply mendacious. Dangerous, reckless irresponsibility.

At the same time, it is important not to overstate the case for action. As Bjorn Lomborg has pointed out, 95 percent of the emissions cuts envisaged by Kyoto have not happened, and even if it were fully implemented throughout this century it would on present evidence reduce temperatures by an insignificant 0.2ºC at great economic cost. It does not make sense to ask current generations to make large sacrifices in the interests of future, likely much richer, generations; nor is it in the interests of future generations for current generations to make material sacrifices of potential economic growth and bequeath them a lower capital stock for little or no discernible reduction in the global warming risk. Lomborg argues that Kyoto is a “bad deal” compared with many other economic and environmental priorities to which resources could be allocated.

Important not to overstate the case for action? No risk of that from Kerr and co. They are content with overstating (even inventing) the benefits of warming. If that weren’t risible enough, the Roundtable then move on to make a “future generations” argument that flies in the face of the facts. The issue is not whether we impoverish future generations by acting now, but that we act now in order that future generations inherit a working planet. Citing Lomborg as an authority, and his “Copenhagen Consensus” as a basis for determining climate policy is a bit like quoting Sweeney Todd as an authority on meat pies.

In summary, we think it would be counter-productive for the Committee to ignore the professional debate on the scientific issues. Legislatures around the world have held hearings on them.

Agreed. But “the professional debate” is not the bleating of cranks, it is — for instance — the excellent discussion of the uncertainties associated with limiting damaging climate change in the CCRI submission.

Voters will not be keen to pay higher energy prices and are likely to take a refusal by the Committee to hear open debate as a sign that politicians are not levelling with them. This would sell democracy in New Zealand short. For all the above reasons, we suggest that the Committee should acknowledge the existence of the significant scientific uncertainties surrounding this enormously complex issue. It would not be credible for it to assert that “the science is settled”.

What is not credible is that a business organisation should sit in judgement on the state of “the science”. In any case, uncertainty is not an argument for inaction, and as the Copenhagen climate conference concluded, inaction is now inexcusable.

I won’t bother with the rest of the Roundtable submission. The content of this short section reveals such a cavalier disregard for the facts that I am not inclined to take anything else they might have to say seriously. I trust and hope that the members of the ETS Review committee and the government will do the same.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Ayrdale March 24, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Gareth, your statements re “telling porkies” and “a cavalier disregard for the facts” seems to be an inference that Roger Kerr is actually lying to a Parliamentary committee.

Are you sure this is what you mean ?

Bryan Walker March 24, 2009 at 9:49 pm

“Action could be ramped up over time if the evolving science confirms the likelihood of dangerous warming and lower-cost ways of reducing emissions emerge with advances in technology. Alternatively, it could be ramped down if neither occurs. ”

I’ve heard that somewhere else. From our PM no less in his interview with Investigate magazine:

“The important point here is that we have flexibility built into the system so that if the science either firms up considerably more or deteriorates, and the climate change sceptics are right, we have an ability to alter the impact on our economy.”

I don’t know what conclusion to draw.

Gareth March 24, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Ayrdale: The Business Roundtable submission states that there are government documents that indicate that NZ will benefit from warming of the order of 2ºC. I have seen no such documents (and I have actually read most of the relevant material). If Kerr and Co can produce a reference that provides detailed support for their statement, then I’ll retract. In the meantime, they look like liars to me.

StephenR March 25, 2009 at 8:25 am

I’m taking a stab, but didn’t NIWA or some government agency put out a special report in the last year or so about NZ and climate change? Perhaps the ‘benefits’ are selected from that document..? Hope i’m not too vague!

StephenR March 25, 2009 at 8:27 am

Ah, might’ve been one of these: http://www.climatechange.govt.nz/science/new-zealand-reports.html

Where’d the edit function go?

Gareth March 25, 2009 at 8:34 am

The top report on that page, Stephen, is the most recent, and the one I refer to in the post.

Not sure about the edit function. I see the button. I’ll check the settings…

Roger Kerr March 25, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Gareth:
There is only one point in this diatribe that is worth responding to: the issue about the benefits to New Zealand of moderate warming.

For someone who writes as though informed on the issue, it is extraordinary that you appear unaware of the official sources. They have all been cited in past Business Roundtable submissions.

The IPCC’s 2001 report projected net economic gains for many developed countries for a global mean average temperature rise of up to 2 degrees C with net losses beyond 3 degrees C.

The previous government’s National Interest Analysis of the Kyoto Protocol stated:

“Some aspects of climate change could be beneficial for parts of New Zealand, at least in the short term for low levels of warming. Benefits of low-level global warming for New Zealand could include faster plant growth, longer growing seasons, and warmer winters. The balance between positive and negative effects will depend on regions and sectors, and will most likely change over time. It will also depend on adaptive responses to the effects of climate change.
The most recent New Zealand-specific assessment of climate change impacts by the New Zealand Climate Change Programme was not able to determine whether climate change would bring about a net cost or benefit to New Zealand in the short term, or at what point any positive impacts could turn negative. However, the assessment concluded that there would be temporary winners and losers in New Zealand. Long term, the overall effects are expected to become increasingly negative.”

No justification, incidentally, was provided for your last statement.

Roger Kerr
Executive Director, New Zealand Business Roundtable

Tim March 25, 2009 at 6:43 pm

Roger,
If you’re using those sources as proof for your submission then your somewhat finessing the facts, if not actually misrepresenting them completely.
In your submission you state:
“Official government documents acknowledge that moderate warming (say of the order of 2ºC) in New Zealand would have net benefits in terms of health, energy consumption, agriculture, tourism and other factors for many decades. ”
That sounds pretty unequivocal.
In the sources you quote:
“The balance between positive and negative effects will depend on regions and sectors, and will most likely change over time.”
“Long term, the overall effects are expected to become increasingly negative.”
Hardly a rock solid case for sticking the proverbial head-in-the-sand.

Ayrdale March 25, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Tim, it is hardly a surprise that a left of centre government would not conclude that the overall effects “are expected to become increasingly negative.” This scenario is where science meets politics.
It would hardly be a surprise to you, if the review had been commissioned by this government and its conclusions were just the opposite.
The fact is, as Roger Kerr points out, NZ is not facing any imminent catastrophe as a result of climate change, in fact there are significant advantages to the country of “moderate warming”. The worse we have to face up to is the (partisan) conclusion that “the overall effects” may (are expected to, but may not ) “become increasingly negative.”
Exactly the justification that Tim Groser needs to resist a panicked rush into economic dire straits.
No head in the sand stuff, merely cautious conservatism. Precisely what the doctor ordered.

Gareth March 25, 2009 at 8:49 pm

Roger,

Thank you for your comment. As someone who writes as though informed on this topic, it is extraordinary that your first reference should be to the IPCC’s 2001 report. You may have missed the Fourth Report, published in 2007. I would refer you to Chapter 11 of the Working Group 2 report, and to the 2008 report Climate Change Effects and Impacts Assessment: A Guidance Manual for Local Government, neither of which contain the assurance you claim:

Official government documents acknowledge that moderate warming (say of the order of 2ºC) in New Zealand would have net benefits in terms of health, energy consumption, agriculture, tourism and other factors for many decades.

Your second reference concludes, as Tim above points out:

However, the assessment concluded that there would be temporary winners and losers in New Zealand. Long term, the overall effects are expected to become increasingly negative.

This does not give any assurance about the net benefits: in fact it explicitly mentions winners and losers and makes no judgement of the balance between them.

Your evidence to the select committee is shown to be based on what? Your wishful thinking? That is no basis for expecting to be taken seriously on policy.

The membership of the Business Roundtable would be better served if, instead of running a transparently political misinterpretation of the scientific data, you accepted the evidence and got on with the business of coming up with solutions. Otherwise, you render yourself irrelevant.

Carol Stewart March 25, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Roger, I also was wondering why you referred to the IPCC’s 2001 report and not their most recent one. Can you enlighten us, please?

Gareth March 25, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Ayrdale,

See my reply to Kerr above, and see my submission to the ETS Review. If Tim Groser has any sense, he’ll be briefing his cabinet colleagues on the need for NZ to play a full and active part in any post-Kyoto agreement.

Ayrdale March 25, 2009 at 9:26 pm

I’m sure Tim Groser isn’t lacking in sense…NZ will of course “play its part” as it is doing right now…

stuey March 25, 2009 at 9:34 pm

> They have all been cited in past Business Roundtable submissions.

So why didn’t you copy the references out of those submissions into this one?

Laurence March 26, 2009 at 12:11 am

Given that the Business Roundtable seen to accept that

“Long term, the overall effects are expected to become increasingly negative.”

It seems remarkable that a group that is supposed to represent the interests of the businesses of NZ is so short sighted that, it would wish to delay and water down any changes that would help them cope with the adverse effects of climate change. In fact I would have thought they would be bending the Governments ear flat out to get some solid policy in place that would give them some advantage in a changing world.

jonno March 26, 2009 at 8:14 am

Ayrdale, you confuse me. You state all the time that ‘the science is not settled’ and there is so such thing as warming. Yet, here you say:

“The fact is, as Roger Kerr points out, NZ is not facing any imminent catastrophe as a result of climate change. In fact there are significant advantages to the country of “moderate warming”.”

So now it’s a ‘fact’ and climate change is happening.

Do you know your head from you a**e?

Bryan Walker March 26, 2009 at 8:29 am

Laurence:
“It seems remarkable that a group that is supposed to represent the interests of the businesses of NZ is so short sighted ”

The Business Roundtable’s response to climate change has been remarkable for some time. They seem to be pretty obviously on the side of denialism. Remember that in 2007 they hosted Nigel Lawson to lecture on climate change.

He dismissed climate change fears as a left-wing plot to put a spanner in the works of capitalism. He disposed of the science by airily describing it as uncertain. And if warming does take place he spoke confidently of humans adapting to it even at levels which most informed commentators would see as disastrous for civilised life.

The Business Roundtable’s sponsorship ensured Lawson’s dottiness a good deal of meek attention from the New Zealand media while he was here. But even worse it suggested that its membership, which includes chief executives from many large business interests in New Zealand, was aligning itself with views which sweep aside the sober findings of thousands of independent scientists as some kind of conspiracy to interrupt global capitalism.

They have also seized on Lomborg to support their unwillingness to face the scientific reality.

They need to acquaint themselves with that reality, not look for convenient shelters from it. A bit of reading might help. They seem to be largely ignorant of the large body of scientific opinion.

Gareth March 26, 2009 at 11:25 am

Bryan, I think you’ll find I was a little less than meek with the bumptious Baron.

Bryan Walker March 26, 2009 at 12:14 pm

Gareth, indeed you weren’t, and how surprised I’d have been to find that you were. I drew on a letter I had written to the paper myself at the time for the content of my comment above, and it would have been nice to refer to your post as confirmation. I wish I’d thought to look back over Hot Topic. Anyway you’ve done it for me.

Roger Kerr March 26, 2009 at 1:07 pm

Correction to my previous posting: last sentence should read “No justification, incidentally, was provided for the last statement.”

The literature is littered with findings that low warming is likely to produce net benefits for much of the globe – for one summary see evidence submitted to the Stern Review at http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/d/climatechange_tufts_1.pdf

ABARE last year reported benefits to New Zealand agriculture out to 2050 – the only country surveyed that was in positive territory. See http://ips.ac.nz/events/downloads/2008/Helal%20-%20Climate%20Change%20and%20Food%20Production.pdf

To deny such plausible findings defies common sense.

None of this is to disregard the possibility of dangerous warming and the case for action to mitigate it, which was the basis of our submission – see http://www.nzbr.org.nz/documents/submissions/Submission_on_the_Review_of_The_Emissions_Trading_Scheme.pdf

Roger Kerr

Gareth March 26, 2009 at 1:26 pm

Roger,

No one denies that small amounts of warming may bring some benefits to some areas and sectors. None of the references you provide, however, support the statement in your submission that:

…moderate warming (say of the order of 2ºC) in New Zealand would have net benefits in terms of health, energy consumption, agriculture, tourism and other factors for many decades.

You present this as fact. It is only supposition, and not supported by your references. In this respect, you are misleading Parliament.

The central thrust of your submission is that “it isn’t going to be all that bad, therefore we don’t really need to do anything urgent”. That is not your judgement to make. To be credible, you should take the evidence of experts – in this case the Climate Change Centre and Climate Change Research Institute – and use that for a springboard for devising sensible policy. Notice that I haven’t criticised your stance on an ETS versus a carbon tax, although I do note with some amusement that when a carbon tax was on the table, you argued vehemently against it. That is where a “business” roundtable might reasonably be expected to have some expertise. It is quite clear that when it comes to the science – the real science, not the wishful thinking of Lomborg or Lawson – you have neither expertise nor credibility.

Gareth March 26, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Roger,

To clarify one point. Part of the problem is your definition of “moderate warming” as “of the order of 2ºC”. That is only moderate with respect to a global average (which would be 3ºC when NZ’s warmed that much). In global terms, 3ºC is well over the commonly used threshold of 2ºC over pre-industrial as the threshold for avoiding the worst change. Whatever the net benefits to NZ at a local increase of 2ºC (and you have not established that they will be positive) by that time the rest of the world will be suffering huge impacts. But perhaps you think the NZ economy will be immune to impacts overseas…

Roger Kerr March 26, 2009 at 5:32 pm

Gareth (1:26pm comment):

That is nothing like the thrust of our submission; you are engaging in misrepresentation of the kind you wrongly accuse me of. I shall leave it to others to read it for themselves.

Further misrepresentation (or ignorance): as informed participants in this debate know, and as anyone can see from our submission, we were against a carbon tax, an ETS (and any other measures) at the time when Australia, and the US, were not with Kyoto. The debate then was not about mechanisms. Now it is.

Regarding your clarification (1:47pm), the submission covers this point: even if New Zealand were to benefit, it does not follow that New Zealand should take no part in international action. What the RIA needs to address is the relevant benefits in relation to costs likely to be incurred.

Gareth March 26, 2009 at 6:14 pm

you are engaging in misrepresentation of the kind you wrongly accuse me of

You claim that your assertion about net benefits is supported by “official government documents”. It is not, and you have not been able to point to “official government documents” that support your claims. You have badly misrepresented the seriousness of the issue – to the extent that you are misleading the committee. You should immediately withdraw that section of your submission and apologise to the committee for misleading them.

As for my assessment of the thrust of your submission, I am more than happy to let others read it and judge it for themselves. I think the passage where you note that it is “important not to overstate the seriousness of the problem” speaks volumes, frankly.

Your own organisation’s “statement of purpose” includes this:

The aim is to make a pro-active, professional and well-researched contribution to policy formation, rather than to adopt a traditional lobbying role.

Your position on, and understanding of the science of climate and the seriousness of this issue is neither professional nor well-researched. You fail your own test. Perhaps one day your membership might notice.

But I won’t be holding my breath.

Ayrdale March 26, 2009 at 7:50 pm

Gonno, every day I give thanks for the existence of the internet.
The ability to access information and have a say, and thus in a small way contribute to social and political policy is truly democracy in action.
To be able to debate, on sites like this, is the best guarantee that we don’t slide towards totalitarian extremes…
Of all the comments that I’ve responded to on this site, yours are always the most aggressive, abusive and ill informed.
However, you show an interest and take part, kudos I guess for that…

AndrewH March 26, 2009 at 10:01 pm

I kind of like the optimism expressed in the BRT’s submission where they suggest that the great NZ public may have to “forgo the benefits of possible moderate warming”.

As if we could go overboard with this scheme and actually stop emissions – dead in their tracks.

Isn’t it more the case that we can have our cake and eat it too. All these nefarious benefits are virtually assured with what is in the pipeline. The trick will be to stop us getting beyond the beneficial stage and that is why we need to start pricing CO2 yesterday.

Roger Kerr March 27, 2009 at 12:36 pm

Gareth

The official documents are the NIA’s and the IPCC’s.

The submission did not say “it is important not to overstate the seriousness of the problem.” It said, “it is important not to overstate the case for action” – because costly Kyoto-level action today would have an insignificant impact on temperature, as Lomborg has repeatedly pointed out.

More mispresentation. I rest my case.

jonno March 27, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Talking about more mispresentation…..

Lomborg

Gareth March 27, 2009 at 2:26 pm

The official documents are the NIA’s and the IPCC’s.

And they don’t say what you claim they do! You completely misrepresent what they do say.

The “case for action” is not based on Kyoto or any other agreement, it is based on an understanding of the dimensions of the problem. And that is an understanding you don’t seem to have.

You should withdraw and apologise, as they say in the House.

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