100% useless: NZ government announces pathetic 5% emissions target

Climate change minister Tim Groser has finally got around to announcing that New Zealand’s emissions reduction target for 2020 will be a 5 percent reduction on 1990 levels — a significant step back from NZ’s previous conditional commitment to make cuts in the 10 to 20 percent range. Since the Key government refused to join the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol last year, this target is being adopted under the wider UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and therefore has no penalties (or incentives) attached. Groser’s announcement claims:

The target is affordable and demonstrates that New Zealand is doing its fair share to address global climate change. In deciding this target, the Government has carefully balanced the cost to New Zealand households and businesses against taking ambitious action to tackle climate change.

This is an unconditional target to take responsibility for our emissions, and gives certainty to domestic stakeholders.

Groser also claims that the new target “compares favourably with our traditional partners’ actions” — but fails to note that it’s way out of line with UK and EU commitments to cuts of 30% and 20% over the same period.

The announcement will come as little surprise in the context of recent government actions — in particular Groser’s reckless mismanagement of the emissions trading scheme, which is now leading to huge and expensive dislocation in the forestry sector.

Further context for Groser’s approach to climate policy came in a reply to a series of questions from Green Party climate spokesman Kennedy Graham at Question Time on August 8th. Asked to reconcile sanctioning a new West Coast coal mine with climate action, Groser made himself completely clear:

We will not sacrifice everything to the altar of climate change.

Failing to take climate change seriously — by failing to cut emissions and doing nothing to encourage prudent adaptation — will sacrifice the entire country to the effects of climate change. By refusing to bite the bullet, Groser and his cabinet colleagues put easy money now ahead of our future wellbeing. Or, perhaps, any future worth having.

25 thoughts on “100% useless: NZ government announces pathetic 5% emissions target”

  1. The New Zealkand emissions profile is rather different to most other countries in that 85% of our electrical energy is already renewable, our methane emissions are out of all proportion to our population because of our dairy and sheep industries. The area where we are really bad and could do much better is transport. Our cars are old gas guzzlers, we have very little electrified rail and no incentive for road transport savings. The cost of oil is unpredictable and there is a view that the last financial crisis was caused by the oil price increase not a banking fraud. It would be prudent to start some conversion now before we get the next crisis.
    We are entering uncertain times and we need to be as resilient as possible. Its no good waiting until we are deep in a crisis because there is no money to fix anything.

  2. Assuming a 500 Gt budget of further GHG emissions, and noting that BAU emits around 30Gt per year, then need to begin to reduce emissions or we will be forced to go cold turkey in around 17 years time when CO2 hits 450ppm. What we need to be doing right now is going for the low hanging fruit. Energy efficiency, moving people out of cars and into more efficient modes of transport, alternative energy sources, etc. If we were to achieve 6% reductions per annum for the next 100 years we might just sneak in…
    That is of course IF 450ppm will restrict global warming to less than 2 degrees…
    This 6% reduction per annum reduction is a big call – our entire economy is based upon the availability of cheap fossil fuels. To continue with BAU economic practices and achieve a 6% reduction in GHG emissions entails a world wide depression the like of which the world has not seen since the 1930’s. For it means a continual 6% reduction in GDP. No wonder politicians are reluctant to bite the bullet.
    What is urgently needed is a complete reevaluation of just what an economy is for… Perhaps we need to rethink our devotion to the god of GDP. Senator Robert Kennedy, the brother of JFK, in a speech he gave at the University of Kansas on March 18, 1968 said –

    “Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”

    10 weeks later he was killed by an assassins bullet…

    We need to ask the very basic question – “Just what is the economy for, anyway?”

    I believe it is primarily to provide the greatest good for the greatest number (as Bentham and Mill and others would have agreed) and add – for the longest time. It must be fair, and that means it must be ethically sound.

    We need to ask – “just what is it that people truly want?”. Again I think that a large majority would say they want happiness. To achieve that they need the basic needs of life to be met, food, shelter and security (ie knowledge that things are not going to be suddenly changed), On top of that we can add the things Robert Kennedy enumerated far more eloquently than I.

    When looked at this way the problem of how to achieve continual growth while reducing GHG emissions disappears because the need to continually grow the pie is no longer important when we realise that actually we have enough already, and what we need to do is learn to distribute it more fairly.

    I recommend “Enough is Enough – Building a sustainable economy in a world of finite resources” by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill, and “What’s the economy for, Anyway? Why it’s time to stop chasing growth and start pursuing Happiness” By John De Graaf and David K. Batker.

  3. A question for David Frame:
    I would assume that your have been brokering around with the government as one of our key scientists on the interface to politics and, as you suggest one should, towards achieving the Groser announcement of 5% reductions from 1990 levels by 2020?
    Do you think this is the best we can do under the circumstances and do you think it is adequate to address the issues of AGW?

    I am just keen to understand where in all this you actually stand personally and what your input and influence in this ‘deal’ has been as an adviser to our government in these matters.

    1. As far as I know I’ve had no input into the setting of this target – I have no idea how they choose these numbers (one thing I have argued is that there ought to be some traceability in how they come up with these sorts of things) and in any case I don’t think I’ve ever suggested a number since (1) I don’t think that’s a sound way to approach the problem; (2) I don’t have any specific number in mind.

      It seems like quite a modest (hence achievable) target. I’m actually more concerned about them having a plan to achieve whatever targets you set than I am about any given number.

      1. I expect any climate scientist would have to say much the same.

        I’ve long thought these percentage targets meaningless in themselves as they are not specific to any measures that may effect carbon reductions and usually just put off crunch time to the term of another government. Our government is given to token gestures while actually heading in the opposite direction. I would be inclined to take seriously specific measures meant to be implemented asap.

        1. Very much agree, Noel. The thing NZ deserves criticism for is not its number but the absence of much thinking about what portfolios of policies might make sense to help make sure we develop along (comparatively) low carbon lines. We know that changes to the public sector over the Clark & Key regimes have eroded ministries’ capacity to work together over long-term issues, and this is exactly what they need to do to actually come up with a good climate game plan.

          1. So who in our society do you think would be best placed to lead the way for society towards a good climate change game plan or convince those whom we elect to lead the country to make such a plan a top priority?

            1. Who indeed? I ask myself that each election. It is my experience and observation that when people know they need action, but lack leadership, the guy with a plan carries the day, even if it leaves much to be desired.

              There is certainly better understanding of climate change issues than there was a few years back and thus there is more opportunity to get a plan right.

              A government that made a plan would be right to realise that there are people in every part of our society who have ideas and plans that they could implement if the political climate was encouraging.

            2. Thomas wrote: “who in society do you think would be best placed to lead the way for society towards a good climate change game plan?”

              I’m tempted to answer flippantly with something like “me and those right-thinking people who think just like I do” but (a) I wasn’t sure readers here would get the humour; (b) I’d sound like lots of other climate scientists when they’re actually being serious…

              Because I’m a pluralist I think you need to have lots of different voices in there, representing different values, expertise, etc.

              [I actually don’t think climate scientists are well-placed to talk about where society should want to go. We might be fine when we talk about monsoons, convergence zones and so on, but there’s no reason to think our grand visions of humanity’s future are worth anything at all. I think this was Gluckman’s point, and I know it’s Pielke’s.]

            3. Perhaps then we should establish a panel of experts from various ways to lead the way? Possibly one that is not staffed with political appointees under the spell of particular political parties and their election cycle myopia.

              I am however still maintaining that:
              a) The general public including many experts who are not based in climate science are still rather unsure whether AWG is a problem serious enough to force major changes in our modus operandum.
              b) Unless we have a consensus on the severity of the matter any panel will likely not arrive at the discussion we need to have.

            4. Thomas wrote: “Perhaps then we should establish a panel of experts from various ways to lead the way?”

              Completely agree – I’d like to see a multi-partisan approach to climate policy, since I think this brings stability and certainty which is really very valuable. Not an original idea but I think the more shoulders behind that particular wheel the better.

            5. Upwards and onwards then. When do we start to establish that panel? Can you suggest a list of possible members?

              BTW: I really recommend to you Chapter 7: “The Myth of the Neutral Intellectual”
              Jensen, Robert (2013-02-03). We Are All Apocalyptic Now (p. 51). . Kindle Edition.

            6. I think that if National were charged with the responsibility of appointing such a panel, it would consist of lawyers, accountants, economists. Just how much power have they given Gluckman. He advises them, but don’t cross the line on anything to do with mitigation or we will find ourselves another knowledge broker.

              If you ever get a chance to discuss issues like this:


              with a right wing politician you will get the no matter what the problem is, it will get solved by technology spiel.There is no need for a massve human effort, because technology will come to the rescue just in the nick of time.

              My feeling is that although exciting technologies are developing rapidly, the rate of change is not fast enough to avoid the worst from happening.

  4. Considering that in 1990 the population was about 3.4 mil and is projected to be about 4.7 in 2021, the 5 percent are actually not a reduction in per capita terms (or are they talking about per capita emissions?)
    I realize that in terms of “warming-effect” the absolute numbers are the ones that count, but one can hardly call that doing our ‘fair share’.
    Given the low population growth in at least some European countries, the 5% goal seems even more puny.

    Where are we today relative to 1990? How much do we need to reduce emissions from today to achieve 5% on 1990?


    1. The 5% is of 1990 NZ GHG emissions – no per capita about it. Were this to be achieved it would also have to roll back the growth in emissions since which has been considerable. However, as Dave points out there is no indication of how that number has been arrived at. I would conclude that there is no plan in mind that would withstand public scrutiny. It could be that all that is in mind is the carbon draw down of pine forests which are going to be logged. If so this would be a deception and NZ’s arguments on this point have been roundly rejected at international forums.

      From the NZ 2010 carbon inventory:

      “In 1990, New Zealand’s total emissions were 59.8 Mt CO2-e. In 2010, this total had increased by 11.9 Mt CO2-e (19.8%) to 71.7 Mt CO2-e. This long-term trend is largely due to growth in energy emissions, particularly from road transport and electricity generation.”

      1. I am sure that much of the 5% will in fact the accounting schenanegans involving forestry credits while in fact no real steps will be on anybodies drawingboard to attack the ‘wicket problems’ of actuall reducing our carbon fuel dependence significantly. In such a policy climate NZ will end up in gaga land, neither here or there and certainly won’t muster the will and initiative to develop leadership towards becoming a significant player in the arena of future low carbon technology.

  5. In a move that perfectly mirrors the myopia of the National government under Key, Contact Energy has withdrawn from $2 Billion in wind power investment in order to lift its short term dividends!


    The extraction of profits by shareholders today is still much more important in the minds of investors than the long term viability of our technological civilization. This is the outcome to be expected under a capitalist system that is designed to allow the 0.5% to extract riches from the current and future life of the rest of us.
    Under a more foresighted political system the opposite would happen. Profits of today would be re-invested into bringing civilization towards the possibility of a sustainable future.

  6. There is a very pertinent anecdote in “What’s the economy for Anyway?” that I referred to above. One of the Authors was a geologist working for a Coal Mining company before becoming an economist. He worked in the Centrailia Coal Mine at that time the 5th largest in the States. Only 3 of the ten coal seams were mined, the other 7 were completely wasted dug up and ploughed back into the pit mixed up with dirt silt rock and sand. Wasting this amount of coal meant that the life of the mine was reduced from 140 years to 40 years and when he asked why, the financial officer replied “We make 1% more profit by mining only the best 3 seams – We want to maximise returns this quarter.” That mine is now closed. Good in a way – but just highlights the complete stupidity of our current economic system where what is essentially a Common Good (who actually owns the resources of NZ – surely all NZers) is given to a small bunch of individuals to exploit for their own purpose, and in the process, they destroy it for short term profit for themselves.
    There has got to be a better way!

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