So much to say (so little time)

NZETS.jpgGareth has suggested I might like to post on Hot Topic my submissions to the ETS Review committee.  I am doing so because the closing date for submissions has been extended by two weeks – it is now 27 February – and I would like to urge readers who haven’t done so to consider making a submission. You will see from what follows that I operate from a slighter base than Gareth, and that may encourage others in a like position. For this post I have chosen four of the terms of reference to which I responded, to keep it within reasonable length.  You can make a submission without responding to every term of reference. And you can be quite brief.  There will be some heavy artillery brought to bear on the committee – indeed it seems that the extension is to accommodate them – but think of what sniper fire can accomplish. The terms of reference are here. Extraordinarily, submissions are required to be posted (two copies) to Committee Secretariat, Emissions Trading Scheme Review, Parliament Buildings, Wellington.  There is helpful material on making a submission here. If you have queries you can ring the Secretariat at 04 817 9560 – they’re servants of the public remember.  (If you get a recorded message I suggest going to reception and asking for the assistant, who I found helpful.)  

Here are my submissions on four of the terms of reference:

identify the central/benchmark projections which are being used as the motivation for international agreements to combat climate change; and consider the uncertainties and risks surrounding these projections

 The projections are surely at very least those provided by the IPCC. The only uncertainties and risks surrounding their projections are that they have perforce been very conservative and look like falling short in their projections, for example, of sea level rise. The committee should acknowledge that some of the IPCC projections may have been overtaken by events such as the much earlier than expected melting of Arctic sea ice and the threats becoming apparent to parts of the West Antarctic ice.  Publication after publication by scientists and science writers points to the increasing seriousness of the trends identified by the IPCC.  The committee’s findings should emphasise this and issue a clear warning call to the public that it is becoming ever more apparent that the consequences of anthropogenic global warming will be disastrous for the human future if greenhouse gas emissions are not drastically curtailed, even reduced from the current level as some scientists are now saying will be necessary.  The committee should give no consideration to the unscientific and often ideologically motivated denialist claims that global warming is not happening or is part of a natural cycle.

consider the impact on the New Zealand economy and New Zealand households of any climate change policies, having regard to the weak state of the economy, the need to safeguard New Zealand’s international competitiveness, the position of trade-exposed industries, and the actions of competing countries

This looks like a timorous list of reasons not to do anything. The weak state of the economy should not be seen as any reason to back-pedal on policy changes; indeed as the US administration has made clear it provides an opportunity to boost employment in green jobs.  New Zealand’s international competitiveness will not be safeguarded by any perceived go-slow on emissions reduction.  Trade-exposed industries can be monitored and protected to the extent necessary within the framework of an emissions trading scheme.  The actions of competing countries can be part of the monitoring, and it is to be hoped that a post-Kyoto agreement will include opportunities to challenge actions which take unfair advantage.

examine the relative merits of a mitigation or adaptation approach to climate change for New Zealand

There are no relative merits. These are not choices.  We must handle both with determination.  New Zealand cannot avoid having to adapt to changes which are already in the pipeline and will become increasingly apparent over coming years. The likely changes for us have been well signalled, ranging from weather and temperature patterns to a rising sea level. But to suggest that adaptation could replace mitigation is to ignore the catastrophic level of consequence which would ensue globally if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. It would be a counsel either of ignorance or despair -  the one inexcusable, the other premature. 

If there is a suggestion in this term of reference that NZ can sit on the sideline while the rest of the world tackles mitigation it should be summarily rejected.

consider the need for any additional regulatory interventions to combat climate change if a price mechanism (an ETS or a tax) is introduced

 Additional regulatory interventions are essential. Price mechanisms are important in a market economy, but it would be foolish to rely on them alone. The current economic crisis has revealed the inadequacy, indeed danger, of unregulated markets for the health of the world economy.  The price mechanisms of an ETS or of carbon taxes are means to an end, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and regulations will be required to ensure that they move us in the right direction.  Prohibiting the building of further coal or gas-powered electricity plants, for example, would direct market energies unambiguously towards renewable sources for energy generation.  Regulating a biofuel requirement for transport with a preference for NZ sources would give a boost to a developing NZ industry which may otherwise be starved by lack of demand.  Regrettably the government has moved away from the proposed mandatory phasing out of incandescent light bulbs – an incomprehensible backtrack given the energy savings from compact fluorescent bulbs. Many energy efficiency measures can be put in place quickly by regulation and the market will quickly follow – vehicle emission levels, household applicance standards, new building energy efficiency requirements, smart meterage of electricity supply, and much more.  Greater energy efficiency is a simple and effective step in the drive to emission reduction and regulation should be used to help speed it along. There is no conflict between such regulation and market activity, unless in the mind of purist ideologues.  In a different direction, dairy farming may require regulatory caps on its further development if price mechanisms appear to not be having sufficient effect.

[Rod Stewart]

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