In a previous guest post Simon Johnson looked at the new Australian carbon pricing scheme. Here he begins to examine the report on how the New Zealand scheme is faring.
A few days ago I was intending to carefully read the Report on the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme that Minister for Climate Change Issues Nick Smith released last Monday and write a considered review.
However, I only got as far as Nick Smith’s foreword on the the third page when I got stopped in my tracks by Figure 3, a misleading piece of chartjunk if I ever saw one, Its about New Zealand being on target to meet its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. Here it is.
The chart caption underneath Figure 3 gives the source of the data and says that the chart shows “Kyoto net emissions 2000-2007”. This data series trends upward to 2007 and then in 2008 and 2009 it suddenly drops below the blue line of NZ 1990 emissions. Thus showing we are meeting our emissions reduction commitment that we signed up for in the Kyoto Protocol. Its enough to make you proud to be a Blue-Green. This chart is junk because it misrepresents the underlying data on greenhouse gas emissions. Back to the caption of Figure 3: “Kyoto net emissions”. What are “Kyoto net emissions”? Lets look at a real chart of the real data for New Zealand greenhouse gas emissions, as recorded by the Ministry for the Environment’s Greenhousegas inventory.
This shows total real emissions up to 2007 and predicted emissions 2008 to 2012 – the green line. It looks nothing like Figure 3. The actual and predicted trend does not show a return to 1990 volumes of emissions. However, that legend also said net emissions, that is total or gross emissions in any year less carbon absorbed by forests. Maybe Figure 3 is based on net emissions.
No it appears not. The trend in net emissions (total emissions less forest sink removals) or the blue line shows an even steeper rate of increase than the total emissions line. So how can Figure 3 show that New Zealand GHG emissions dropped back to 1990 volumes? Two more clues are in Figure 3. The title is “Kyoto net” and there is a note under the caption says “Kyoto net 2000-2007 values are backcasted”. So the Figure 3 data is not just “net”, it is also “Kyoto net” and it is “backcasted”. What does “backcasted” mean? Another chart shows how Smith gets to Figure 3 from the real total and net emissions data.
Greenhouse gas emissions, as defined for compliance with the Kyoto Protocol, are gross from 1990 to 2007, and once the Kyoto commitment period starts in 2008, an Annex B country like New Zealand can meet its target by deducting removal units issued for carbon sinks – so Kyoto-defined emissions go net from 2008. Hence the red line. The removal units issued for afforestation (the increase in carbon stock in a forest planted since 1990) appear as if from nowhere in 2008 and disguise the growth in both the gross and net emissions.
This isn’t new information. In 1997, Simon Upton, the Minister for Climate change in Jim Bolger’s 1990’s National Government spoke of New Zealand’s position at the UNFCCC talks; “if sequestration is treated in the way New Zealand has long been advocating, then the major contribution we expect to make to removing carbon from the atmosphere..will earn us ‘credits’ “.
Interestingly, Upton had this cautionary note: “It might be suggested that New Zealand’s interest in sinks stems purely from a desire to secure for itself a large buffer that would allow for significant growth in greenhouse gas emissions”. Upton believed that would not be a credible policy.
However, since Upton’s time as Minister, both Labour and National Governments have ignored his advice. The chartjunk Figure 3 indicates that New Zealand’s climate change policy has consistently aimed to provide a buffer to allow for significant growth in greenhouse gas emissions. All the time while claiming to have effective mitigation policies such as the NZ ETS that match our much-undeserved clean green overseas image.