NZ in Durban: delegation gone mad? Or just business as usual?

It’s getting embarrassing here in Durban. I’ve had a veritable flood of people come up to me in recent days saying things like “what the hell is your government doing?”

The NZ Government has been pretty bad in these negotiations over the last few years, but things appear to have taken a turn for the worse, in multiple directions.  I’m wondering what’s going on.

Let’s take the “easy” one first.  Kyoto.

With Canada, Japan and Russia on their way out of the Kyoto Protocol, there are a lot of discussions on how one could carry it forward without them.

One possible solution is the idea of “provisionally” implementing a new commitment period, from 2013-2017. This would mean that it wouldn’t legally “come into force” but parties to the Protocol could agree the new rules, and implement it anyway, if they all agreed to do so.

This can happen under the “Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties” (1969), that NZ has signed up to. Not so, says the NZ delegation. This would be a breach of the constitution.

But a quick look on the MFAT website makes me think they are being a bit daft.  Maybe they were too busy to read the MFAT document: “International Treaty Making: Guidance for government agencies on practice and procedures for concluding international treaties and arrangements” written in August 2011. That’s – erm – about four months ago.

This guidance, presumably for delegations like this one in Durban, spells out the rules of the Vienna Convention, ie, that: “Provisional entry into force of a treaty may also occur when a number of parties to a treaty that has not yet entered into force decide to apply the treaty as if it had entered into force.”

This is precisely what is being proposed.    Indeed, we have done this with a number of international treaties already.   But is NZ just looking for excuses to get out of Kyoto?  Meanwhile I’m off to the printer to get the delegation a few copies.

The “honest, guv” emissions trading regime

Next up, emissions trading. Personally, I don’t think that emissions trading are a proper way to stop climate change.

Doing something to stop climate change somewhere else in exchange for doing nothing at home seems like a weird way to go about things, when we all know that ultimately we should cut our own emissions and be done with it.

It has always seemed a bit cheaty to me and I know I campaigned hard to stop it from happening way back in the day when Kyoto was being negotiated. But setting that aside for a minute, let’s look at the proposal our Government is trying to push here in Durban.

Under the “flexible mechanisms” for emissions trading, NZ is proposing that the rules – erm – have no rules. The environmental groups were onto this, and NZ won its first “fossil of the day” (2nd place) on Friday.

“They want to be able to use any market mechanisms they wish with absolutely no oversight or international review. There would be no way to ensure that the units from one mechanism have not been sold two or three times to another such mechanism. This would likely unleash a wild west carbon market with double or triple counting of offsets and a likely increase of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.” I’m calling it the “honest, guv” rules – ie you just have to believe what we say.  I’m sorry, but that’s just nuts, especially from a Government that doesn’t seem to like cutting emissions very much.

The “I’m alright jack” rules on forests

Let’s now turn to the forests. NZ has always been pretty bad in the conversations here about Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation REDD.

That’s the stuff that deals with the emissions from deforestation. First I might remind you that in NZ we have protected our forests.  Long, hard battles have been fought – and were resoundingly won with the historic NZ Forest Accord that banned the cutting of native forests on private land. Our native forests are protected – and so they should be. But not everyone is in the same boat.

But when it comes to the REDD discussions, NZ’s perspective is taken purely from the point of view of our pine plantations. They’ve long been a point of contention between forest owners and government. NZ has always pushed hard to get everyone to accept our “special circumstances”.  But in Kyoto, someone has special circumstances for almost everything – and that would make for extremely messy international agreements.

The problem is that the forest nations, like Brazil, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, have beautiful old growth forests that MUST be protected, not only for climate reasons, but also for the biodiversity and indigenous peoples who live in them. So it’s important to get the international rules right for these forests, the lungs of the earth.

So it is with the “reference” levels in REDD.  These are like a baseline from which to measure emissions from deforestation.  NZ has proposed that instead of looking at historical behaviour, (our proven rate of deforestation), the rules are based around “projected reference levels” – what we think we might do in the future.

It’s all incredibly complicated, but essentially the NZ delegation is being very creative in trying to invent new ways of getting more Kyoto credits for our plantations so that we don’t have to cut emissions elsewhere. That’s all very well for us, but if you put this regime onto, say, the Amazon, it is unlikely to stop them slowing the rate of deforestation there, which is one thing we need to do to save the planet.

Hot air

You just can’t make this stuff up.  The rest of the world is trying to come up with a way to deal with the Russia “hot air” problem but NZ is terrified that the solution on the table means we might lose some of our own little stash of hot air that we got from Kyoto’s loopholes around accounting for land use change and forestry. Heaven help us if we have to actually cut emissions instead of carrying over credits that we shouldn’t have in the first place.

I am still struggling to come up with an answer on what the hell “my” government is doing.   Nick Smith was coming, now he’s not.  Brendan Burns, sorta understandably, isn’t coming as planned, as he doesn’t know if he’s got a seat in Christchurch Central.   Tim Groser is apparently coming this week, but my hopes aren’t high that he’ll change much.  Is the delegation running loose while their bosses are in turmoil back home?

But what I do know is that these people are definitely not representing my views, nor considering our Pacific Island state neighbours.   Cheating and lying doesn’t stop climate change.

Or perhaps they’re too busy representing Business NZ and the Forest Owners Association, both of whom have a representative on the official NZ delegation?

ps the timezones are almost 12 hrs difference to NZ so I won’t be replying to comments in a hurry.

29 thoughts on “NZ in Durban: delegation gone mad? Or just business as usual?”

  1. Sorry to inform you Cindy, but Amazon deforestation saw a massive jump in 2010. Upwards of 15%, according to the satellites at least. So it seems none of these politicians accept the dire warnings that both the scientists and the planet are sending.

    I have never expected politicians to do a damn thing about combating global warming, and so far they have proven me right. Even though I know this going in, it still angers me when we see the can-kicking, and cat-ate-my-homework style excuses served up at these climate conferences.

    What it says is they that either do not fully comprehend the consequences, for themselves and their children/grandchildren, or simply do not care. Tragedy has already been set in motion, but they seem determined to make it a catastrophe. And all for a few dollars more.

    1. I wrote to the PM today re mining of Denniston Plateau, and begged that he keep his promise re public consultation, and put aside the mining of Coal for short term gain, and outlining the consequences of continual BAU. I don’t think it will make a blind bit of difference.

  2. The NZ delegation was pushing special rules for forestry at the last conference. This included not counting deforestation as an emission of carbon if the wood was used in houses. As you say, there is some logic to these mechanisms, but applied internationally they become opportunities for gaming the system.

    As James Hansen puts it, systems like this amount to moving greens around on your plate to avoid eating them. Our government refuses to eat its peas – and is colluding with others to hide them on someone else’s plate.

    1. Perhaps the solution to this is to allow credits created for finished timber installed – say you use 2 tonnes of wood in a house, you get credits for those. Build furniture? Excluding it at source means you don’t count the milling etc, a large chunk of that wood is lost. I get the feeling it’s not quite enough, as you also need to account for the lifespan of the product. Eg, producing heirloom-quality timber furniture could be a permanent credit, whereas customwood furniture comes with a 15-year future (or whatever carbon credit derivative is appropriate).

  3. I’m not sure that’s fair Tom. Importers of coal are responsible for emissions from combustion, not the miner. But it is the other way around for timber, even when a fair proportion of it ends up locked up in landfill never to biodegrade. Emissions at the point of harvest is a simplifcation that was necessary for passing KP1. Perhaps there is an oppportunity to refine those methodologies, but if gaming cannot be avoided then I’m sure the old way would be preferred by the NZ delegation.

    Carol: what are you talking about with NZ ‘hot air’? Are you suggesting that NZ’s surplus Kyoto Units, which are the mainly the result of new forest plantings, are unearned? But then you want NZ to take responsibility for the emissions that are assumed to occur once those trees are harvested. Sigh, so blinkered. How about you go and chat to some of the NZ delegation. You could call them cheats and liars to their faces.

  4. password1

    As I said, there is a logic to a more complicated approach. But what I dont see in the debates is the kind of thinking that is often invoked for tax law reform – make them simple and compliance happens. In the face of this immense danger and need for urgent action, why is the “simplest is best for compliance” argument not being made long and hard? The fact that it is not I think reflects the lack of political will. People would rather mess with the minutiae of compliance regimes.

    Using an analogy with the Europe/world debt crisis, it would be like people seeking to get out the crisis by tinkering with the rules of credit default swaps instead of adopting an austerity package.

  5. *wanders back into thread*
    sorry – been hectic here. New Zealand got another fossil – see text below.

    Agree with you Tom. Keep the rules simple and clear. Anything else, especially around forest management, LULUCF and REDD, allows for cheating. Australia’s LULUCF is another good example.

    Anyway, here’s that NZ fossil text from tonight:

    “New Zealand has been acting inconsistently in the KP negotiations. It has insisted that it could not constitutionally agree to provisional implementation of a second commitment period despite its internal policy stating that it can.

    Further, the Government formally announced on 30 November that interim Environment Minister Hon. Nick Smith would be attending COP-17, only to change its mind on 1 December. New Zealand has also blocked discussions on carry over, wanting enough carry over to fully cover five years’ worth of LULUCF emissions.

    Ultimately, this series of events has led to other negotiators describing New Zealand as “deliberately inconsistent” and “problematic for a thousand reasons”, with its “extreme positions on a number of issues [making] it difficult to reach consensus on anything”.

    Agree entirely. Lastly, Password 1, I think you were talking to me (I’m not Carol), but yes, I am saying that NZ shouldn’t have that. Funnily enough, the only people who agree with the NZ delegation here are Russia, Khazakstan, and a couple of other “stans” in Eastern Europe, all of whom haven’t had to cut emissions at all so far because of their hot air. So we’re pretty much out on our own here.

    In NZ, detractors of Kyoto have been banging on about Russia’s hot air for years – but now that what seems like a pretty sensible solution to the problem has been put forward, we’re the ones blocking it.

    1. Cindy; about the provisional acceptance of KP2 – this would need Cabinet approval. It can’t be done by a single Minister at the meeting unless Cabinet has given him the power to do so. It certainly can’t be performed by the official delegation. The document you linked to is quite clear on this, and describes it as part of the ‘constitution’, especially as provisional acceptance will always lead to full legal acceptance. I suspect there are several of the delegation arguments on this that you’re deliberately excluding from your post so as to make them appear inept.

  6. Meanwhile the USA is licking its wounds after 2011 turned out to be the sad record holder for climate change related $1 Billion and greater disasters:

    But, oh no, all is well in the kingdom indeed and the aristocracy has decided to throw their science advisers into the dungeons for heresy as shooting the messengers is a well known remedy for the evil of knowledge and the burden of responsibility it bestows on the one in the know and an important step in restoring the bliss of ignorance to the people they all so much yearn for…..

  7. His nickname is “George W. Obama.” Obama’s negotiator, Todd Stern, will be here today. They have kept the exact same principles and negotiating stance as President George Bush did for eight years. Obama has carried on Bush’s legacy. So, as skeptics, we tip our hat to President Obama in helping crush and continue to defeat the United Nations process. Obama has been a great friend of global warming skeptics at these conferences.

    Marc Morano, Durban.

    1. In evolutionary terms, perhaps our brain-makeup still bears a streak of Possum in us. Possums (one Australian import we would really like to have avoided here in NZ…;-) ) developed the “third alternative” to the Flight or Fight alternative normally exhibited by most creatures in the face of imminent danger: Play Dead! (or make the imminent danger go away from perception by closing down the eyes and wait until its all over…..)
      It would then seem that as we can not run away from AGW (sorry guys but we Physicists failed to deliver Star Trek in time….) some of us who express the Possum Gene well, prefer the “Play Dead” denial mechanism over doing the only reasonable alternative: Fight!

      Perhaps somebody should tell them that unlike a hungry dingo in search for a bit of a hunt, AGW will roll anything in its pass, already (brain) dead or not….

      Perhaps we should call the deniers “Possums” then….

      1. ‘Possums’? I reckon Dame Edna Everage would have something to say about that one! 😉

        Possums look a bit too engaging, to my way of thinking, but I understand Kiwis may not see it that way!

        I have to say, the sleekest, fattest, healthiest-looking possums I’ve ever seen were in the South Island!

        Believe it or not, they’re no longer common here in Adelaide – when I was a kid every roof had one, but foxes, dogs, and irate home-owners have seen them off. You can still see them in the parklands that surround the city centre, but ring-tails have become more numerous.

        I apologise on Australia’s behalf for the possums, but I must thank you folks in NZ for looking after the Tammar Wallabies for us –

        However, recent DNA analysis showed that the mainland SA tammar sub-species survives as a feral population on Kawau Island and in scattered areas near Rotorua on the North Island, New Zealand. These populations were established in the 1800’s by Sir George Grey, the former Governor for the Colony of South Australia (1841). Although there are no records of where Governor Grey obtained his original stock of tammars, Poole, et al. (1991) suggested that the skull morphology of the feral Kawau Island and Rotorua populations closely matched museum specimens collected on the South Australian mainland.

        Thus allowing for the possibility of reintroduction of what was thought to be an extinct species! Hope they weren’t any trouble! A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to go out on a National Parks night-shoot (photos!) spotlighting these guys and their alarmingly large, fluoro-tagged radio-collars…

        1. Ah, yes, you should come to Kawau Island north of Auckland, where have seen said marsupials looking splendid and entertaining the kids.
          Re-introduction would seem certainly possible, but having seen the other Wallabies in Oz this year, it would seem they might go unnoticed (incognito so to speak) unless you were a trained Wallaby spotter… 😉
          Dame Edna is great. Can we ask her to take the Deniers to task… I can see great possibilities. Will you put a word in for us?

          1. I suspect it would be futile, I’m afraid, Thomas, as Dame Edna’s ‘key associate’ – Barry Humphries – is very far to the Right indeed, having been on the editorial board of Quadrant, the CIA funded ultra-conservative magazine.

            Sad – not least because I also find him very funny indeed – but true.

            1. Ooops, I guess I am not up with the Who’s Who in the Oz scene… , well, I guess we have to then appropriate one of her videoed performances and lip sync a new audio track for it… Could be fun! LOL

        2. If you really want to see ‘possums bill, take a kayak down the Whanganui river! At night round the campfire the little beggars are sitting 2 metres behind you – 5 or 6 pairs of eyes shining in the dark – until you shine a torch in their direction – huge and fat and fluffy like nothing I’ve seen before. What’s more, you can take the whole bloody lot of them home with you!

          The wallabies on Kawau occasionally make it across to the mainland, (NI), usually dead. I’ve buried a couple found dead on the beach.

          The extinction of the possum in NZ, while now most likely impossible, would indeed be a huge boost to our ability to sequest Carbon

          1. Agreed. Did the Whanganui too, same experience. Sitting under trees with a cup of tea was pelorious, as it aint seeds dropping down from above… and into the beverage… Meanwhile rats scuttle along fighting for crumbs…
            Perhaps some Possum trading (dead ones) accross the ditch would help.

          2. What, you mean they weren’t shrieking at you like demented Klingons, repeatedly raiding your food store, trying to rip open your tent, carrying off your pots of honey, attempting to pull the door seals off your car, insisting on their right to drink your washing up water, or making repeated runs at your legs? (All of which I’ve experienced.)

            Sounds like the good life in NZ has made your possums soft! 😉 I don’t think they’ll cope if you manage to send them back here…

            1. Oh yeah! They raid the tent alright! A friend of mine (some 40 years back) on varsity hols was scrub cutting and camping on the job . He tells the story of slowly waking up one morning with this amazing sensation of someone softly swishing a “feather” over his face. He was finding this rather pleasant, until he became fully conscious, and wanting to know who the sensual creature was, opened his eyes to the sight of a possum’s tail wafting back and forth, and the possum sitting on his chest eating a biscuit from the larder! He doesn’t relate who got the bigger fright – he or the possum. 🙂

            2. These possum stories are cracking me up! So, just so they won’t get declared OT – what will be the effect of global warming on the possums of Oz and NZ?

              My story: I was newly installed in my first bed-sit, living all alone, when I heard what sounded like a dirty old man wheezing outside my window. I trembled under the quilt all night long. In the morning the girls upstairs asked me, did I hear that wretched possum last night?

            3. Carol, I don’t reckon AGW will be kind to possums, in that their range tends to be forest and tall woodland, particularly around water, and as the Hadley Cells expand and Australia’s deserts inexorably drift south they’ll probably experience much the same habitat pressure as humans.

              Isn’t it lucky they’ll have their stronghold in NZ, then? 🙂 (ducks)

              I sometimes wonder if there’ll be human refugees from Australia looking for liveable habitats in NZ later this century. Given Australia’s own reaction to refugees in the early part of this century this could be a situation rich in irony, though I suspect no-one will see the funny side…

Leave a Reply