Weakened ETS now law

The government’s amendments to the Emissions Trading Scheme became law this afternoon, thanks to support from the Maori Party [Stuff, Herald, Reuters]. Nick Smith called the changes “workable and affordable” and said that they struck “the right balance in protecting the future of our economy and our environment”, but Labour climate spokesman Charles Chauvel was scathing:

It is economically irrational, socially inequitable, environmentally counter-productive and fiscally unsustainable. And its hallmark has been one of poor procedure and hasty consideration.

But what does the new ETS mean for New Zealand’s emissions? The Science Media Centre is collating responses from the science community, and first out of the blocks is VUW associate professor Ralph Chapman:

The passing of today’s Climate Change Response amendment bill through the House is deeply disappointing. Every week, emerging climate science underlines the need for urgent action to cut emissions drastically, with developed countries especially needing to make cuts right now to avoid a global warming drift above 2 degrees, the guardrail against dangerous change. The Government’s amendment bill does way too little to bring down New Zealand’s emissions. The bill has good aspects (e.g. agriculture is included, eventually) but its overall weakness and lack of clarity about its impact on emissions will undermine New Zealand’s reputation and positioning for Copenhagen.

Deeply disappointing. Pretty much my reaction. NZ has now has a much steeper hill to climb in future than was necessary.

Update 28/11: Additional responses from science community, courtesy of the SMC:

Dr Jim Salinger, an Auckland-based climate scientist, comments:

“At present we appear to be bogged down in emission reduction schemes and targets. This thinking is short-term as the high emissions industries in the long run are doomed. We have the low-carbon technology –- which include many forms of renewable energy such as solar electric, solar thermal, wind, wave, tidal, geothermal and bio-energy. All we need to do is scale these technologies up rapidly and harvest the economies of scale.”

Suzie Greenhalgh, Senior economist in the Sustainability & Society team at Landcare Research, comments:

“The passing of the ETS ammendments sends positive signals about New Zealand’s desire to address global climate change, providing greater certainty to business and the population about the path New Zealand will follow. Given that most of the debate so far has been around the risks New Zealand faces with adopting the ETS, now perhaps the debate can switch to where potential opportunities may lie. The inclusion of agriculture, despite its omission in other national schemes, is also an important step for New Zealand’s management of greenhouse gas emissions and may just provide some of these opportunities.”

Associate Professor Euan Mason, of the School of Forestry at the University of Canterbury, comments:

“It is good that New Zealand has begun to address climate change, and if the energy sector is required to surrender credits earned from genuine CO2 sequestration then the ETS should begin to change our behaviour in helpful ways. In its deal with the Maori party the Government implicitly acknowledged that the ETS legislation markedly devalues pre-1990 forest land and that the few credits offered to owners of such land are inadequate compensation. Offering owners of pre-1990 forests the option of replanting elsewhere after land use conversion as an alternative to paying conversion tax would have gone some way to softening the impact on land values. As it stands only a proportion of these land owners have been adequately compensated, and the remainder, both Maori and Pakeha, no doubt feel a sense of injustice.”

National snub to Labour on ETS: part 2 – the fallout

Carbon News has a special update tonight with the gory details of the government’s snub to the Labour opposition on negotiations to amend the emissions trading scheme. CN has also made available the full text of Labour’s proposed memorandum of understanding with the government (PDF) — which reveals that substantial incentives for agriculture were on the table. Commenting on the news of the deal with the Maori Party, a surprised Charles Chauvel told Carbon News:

“Negotiations with Nick Smith were … (pause) …I’m not sure now we had any discussions in good faith. We’d need to be very careful about whether or not we’d have any discussions with them at any time.”

Labour leader Phil Goff accused National of a “major breach of faith” over the handling of the negotiations, and Chauvel indicated that ETS policy was now likely to become a political football.

Under Labour’s proposed Memorandum of Understanding, Carbon News reports that the agriculture sector would have been given:

…free units for emissions reductions made by farmers before the sector entered the scheme on January 1, 2013. The offer would be worth hundreds of millions and encourage early emissions cuts by farmers who would then have free units to trade on the international market.

[Disclosure: registered users of Hot Topic can claim a discount on subscriptions to Carbon News.]

Come together

ANZlogo.jpg Signals are beginning to emerge (from the 5th Australia-New Zealand Climate Change & Business conference in Melbourne this week) that the “harmonisation” of New Zealand’s emission reduction policy framework may take longer than expected (or feared). Following a breakfast with his Australian counterpart Penny Wong, both ministers were reported to be playing up the difficulties of linking the two schemes. The Stuff report quotes Wong:

“The first step for both of our governments is to get our legislation in place, to get our trading schemes in place,” Ms Wong told reporters. “The second point is this — we are doing the work to explore options for harmonisation. There is obviously a lot more work that needs to be done.”

Smith was equally cautious:

“That is why the two governments are in a pretty common space in saying we are going to start these two schemes separately but in time it is our ambition to bring them closer together.”

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that businesses on both sides of the Tasman are urging their governments to get a move on.

“You don’t shift significant billions of dollars of investment on the basis of what’s likely to happen,” said Barry Harris, director of milk supply for Fonterra, the world’s biggest dairy exporter and a pillar of the New Zealand economy. “The financial consequences of reacting to the wrong signals are absolutely massive,” he told the conference.

In NZ, Labour’s climate spokesman Charles Chauvel today warned that softening up the current ETS arrangements to match Australian proposals could cost taxpayers up to $200m a year. But perhaps the most telling statement to emerge this week is this line form Nick Smith’s speech to the Melbourne conference:

It is just unrealistic to continue to pretend we are, or can be, world leaders in reducing emissions.

To some, that may be admirable pragmatism. To me, it demonstrates a catastrophic lack of vision and a failure to rise to a challenge. If Smith wants no part of leadership, he should resign his cabinet post immediately.

[Lennon, J]

Do you remember the first time?

NZETS.jpgThere’s a first time for everything, and today it was making an oral submission to a parliamentary committee — the ETS Review committee. I made my written submission public a while ago, so I won’t repeat that here, but in my 15 minute slot (5 mins for initial presentation, 10 mins for questions), I chose to emphasise four key points:

  • That the effects of climate change are being observed now, ahead of expectations. I quoted from the recent Copenhagen conference closing statement in support: For many key parameters, the climate system is already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which our society and economy have developed and thrived. These parameters include global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise, ocean and ice sheet dynamics, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events. There is a significant risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.
  • That the emissions reductions New Zealand will have to make are likely to be much steeper than currently envisaged, because the science is beginning to suggest we need to move beyond stabilisation of GHG levels into active sequestration (I mentioned Hansen and 350 ppm), and because simple equity demands that the developed world adopts a “cap and converge” approach to emissions in order to engage China and India.
  • That the climate commitment — the fact that we have 20 to 30 years of warming in the pipeline whatever we do means that New Zealand has place considerable emphasis on adaptation. We need to build resilience to the direct impacts of climate change here (which with luck won’t be too bad), and to the actions that other countries take to address change (counter food miles arguments and so on).
  • Finally, that early action on reducing emissions would be significantly less costly than making drastic forced changes later.

I closed by reiterating my first recommendation: that the government should seek to build a consensus of business and consumer interests on both the need for action, and the direction to be followed.

The questions were interesting. Charles Chauvel, Labour’s climate spokesman, asked me to elaborate on the matter of targets. John Boscawen (ACT) commented that my evidence flatly contradicted the previous submitter, Dr Bruce McCabe (which appears to have been along the lines of “cooling since…”), and asked if I would examine that evidence and explain to him why it was wrong. Peter Dunne asked me to do that on behalf of the whole committee, and I happily agreed. Should be an interesting exercise… 😉 Jeanette Fitzsimons (Green) then asked me to explain the significance (if any) of 8 year trends in climate data — obviously making a point to Boscawen. Finally, Nicky Wagner (National) asked me to elaborate a little on why regulatory action was required to complement the emissions trading scheme: I mentioned efficiency measures.

Looking at the full list of submitters the committee is hearing (available at Carbon News), it’s clear that more than a few of the usual crank suspects have got through: Bryan Leyland’s there, as is Vincent Gray and the NZ CSC. Plenty of debunking to come, as their submissions are made public… 😉