Low hanging fruit and lost opportunity

I hope the New Zealand Government feels shamed by the news that incandescent light bulbs can no longer be sold in Europe. It could have been so here but following the 2008 election, proclaiming the sanctity of consumer choice, one of the early actions of the then Minister of Energy Gerry Brownlee was to reverse the Labour Government’s decision to phase out incandescent light bulbs. Almost equally dismaying was the statement by the Leader of the Opposition Phil Goff in 2009 that the Labour Government decision was a mistake in the first place. “We’d stopped listening to what people’s priorities were,” he said.

It’s hard to make any sense of the reversal of former Government policy on incandescents other than in the most cynical of political terms. It is in direct contradiction to any concern they express to tackle climate change. Lighting has been estimated to use nearly 20% of the world’s electricity and six years ago the International Energy Agency produced a report which concluded that a global switch to efficient lighting systems would trim the world’s electricity bill by nearly one-tenth. It is a low-hanging fruit in the reduction of carbon emissions. Even the US is to phase out incandescents.

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The gas don’t work

“L&M Energy Limited is pleased to announce that it has identified five areas of interest in the South Island of New Zealand that hold significant shale gas potential analogous to some of the most productive shale acreage in the USA.” This statement headed a press release from L&M Energy on Friday. I first heard the news on the radio the next morning. My heart sank at yet another indication that we are determined to extract and use all the fossil fuel deposits we can lay our hands on. The Minister for Economic Development, Gerry Brownlee, on the other hand, no doubt felt buoyed up by the announcement. This is what he wrote in the introduction to the Draft Energy Strategy last year:

“For too long now we have not made the most of the wealth hidden in our hills, under the ground,  and in our oceans. It is a priority of this government to responsibly develop those resources.”

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Wind, water and sun are all we need

Climatechallenge Wind, solar and water sources are sufficient to provide the world’s energy by 2030. Scientific American has a front cover article coming up in November to demonstrate that. Written by Mark Jacobson (left) and Mark Delucchi, it’s heartening information according to a Stanford University report. Turning away from combustion to electricity from renewable sources results in a striking lowering of global power demand. The reason is that fossil fuel and biomass combustion are inefficient at producing usable energy. For example, when gasoline is used to power a vehicle, at least 80 percent of the energy produced is wasted as heat. With vehicles that run on electricity, it’s the opposite. Roughly 80 percent of the energy supplied to the vehicle is converted into motion, with only 20 percent lost as heat. Other combustion devices can similarly be replaced with electricity or with hydrogen produced by electricity. The authors estimate a consequent 30 percent decrease in global power demand, which is a promising start and helps to make renewables ultimately cheaper than fossil or nuclear generation.

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Tangled up in blue (first reprise)

Key.jpgThe government’s demolition of New Zealand’s climate policy is continuing apace. This week, as part of cost-cutting and restructuring at the Ministry for Environment, they have chopped the carbon neutral public service programme. This comes on top of Gerry Brownlee’s removal of the moratorium on new thermal generation, the curious case of the ETS scheme that’s on hold and yet being reintroduced at the same time, and prime minister John Key’s apparent lack of conviction about the severity of climate change. Commenting on the changes at MfE, environment minister Nick Smith offered these pearls of wisdom (Stuff):

“It’s not government policy that we should move to a carbon neutral public service. That was a cheap slogan from the previous government. I’ve heard awful stories of senior public servants … spending an hour on how they might reorganise their rubbish.”

Smith appears happy to decide policy based on hearsay. Not a good look for a senior politician. The carbon neutral public service (CNPS) scheme was never going to make a huge difference to New Zealand’s emissions, but it was a way for the apparatus of government to show that it was taking the problem seriously. By acting — and crucially, purchasing goods and services — with lower carbon emissions in mind, it was sending a useful economic signal into the world beyond Wellington. Take that signal away, and the message is all too clear. The Department of Conservation will also be left in the lurch, as a number of their trial native bush regeneration for carbon offset schemes were earmarked for the CNPS.

Another worrying sign is that Smith has appointed a former Business NZ climate policy analyst to his political team. According to Carbon News, George Riddell played a key role in developing Business NZ’s climate and emissions trading policy — which is currently to delay implementing the ETS to 2013.

Put all this together and you get a very clear impression of a government that does not have a real grasp of the danger of climate change, or the need to implement coherent climate policy. Worse, they give every impression of being in the pockets of the big emitters and big business interests. So far, all the new government has done is to pull down the climate policy of the last administration, but has given no hint of what it might put in its place.

It’s high time John Key and Nick Smith stopped playing politics and started taking this issue seriously. A coherent statement of their appreciation of the size of the problem and the policy levers they intend pulling might be a good place to start.

[KT Tunstall, and very good indeed…]

Ignorance in high places

BrownleeThe Minister of Energy, Gerry Brownlee, was reported on National Radio this morning as stating that the energy strategy policy of the last government is going to be altered, because it subsumed energy policy under climate change.  I was appalled by what I heard and tracked down the text of his speech, hoping it wasn’t as bad as it sounded.  It was. Here is the section in which he dealt with the subject:

The current Energy Strategy represents the high point of the total subsuming of energy policy into climate change policy.  The whole Strategy is an idealistic vision document for carbon neutrality.

You need only read the foreword of the NZES to get a sense of this. “Sustainability” and “sustainable” are mentioned thirteen times, “greenhouse gas” is mentioned four times, and “climate change” is mentioned three times. That is all very good, but security of supply rates only one mention. Affordability is not touched on at all. Nor is economic growth.

The National-led Government believes a refocusing of the Energy Strategy is required. The new strategy will focus on security of supply, affordability, and environmental responsibility, with the overriding goal of maximising economic growth.

The Energy Strategy  involved widespread public consultation.  I certainly made a submission on it.  It is an overly cautious, but still relatively hopeful document, carrying the subtitle “Towards a sustainable low emissions energy system.”

There is an air of ignorant complacency to Brownlee’s statement. Energy policy can’t be decoupled from climate change policy.  They belong together. The whole world knows this. The new Secretary for Energy in the US, Steven Chu, is in no doubt about it. He states quite clearly that his interest in energy has grown out of his concern about climate change. But much of what Brownlee has done so far reveals how threadbare his understanding of climate change is. He has lifted the ban on fossil-fuel powered electricity generation. He has reversed the decision to ban incandescent light bulbs. He has wiped the biofuel obligation only months after it was legislated. And now this statement.

Is this an example of what John Key meant when he said during the election campaign that economic growth takes precedence over environmental policy?  I wrote about that at the time.

The government needs to bring itself up to date with the science, or even with what policy makers in some significant countries (like the US) are now saying.