They would say that, wouldn’t they…

This week it’s the turn of the Greenhouse Policy Coalition to trumpet a report urging a go-slow on emissions trading. The GPC, of course, are the nation’s big emitters (NZ Aluminium Smelters, Holcim, Solid Energy, Fonterra etc), and they are lobbying hard on behalf of their members. The usual suspects (Business Roundtable, Business NZ) weighed in behind the report, while Greenpeace and the Business Council For Sustainable Development took the opposite view. Brian Fallow at the Herald provides an overview – but not much in the way of substantive criticism.

The report, The New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme: How do we make it work? [PDF], by Alex Sundakov at Castalia, is pretty obviously a bit of special pleading on behalf of big emitters – primarily agriculture – and in that respect its conclusions are hardly surprising. These are the key suggestions (from the press release):

  • Adopt a more realistic timeframe for transitioning to a lower carbon economy, in keeping with our trading competitors
  • Set within-scheme emission caps that reflect our emissions profile and limited abatement opportunities
  • Introduce a price safety valve to avoid volatility and exposure to high carbon prices that would cause economic damage
  • Use intensity based rather than absolute emissions targets for firms – so that NZ firms are judged on world’s best practice benchmarks and can continue to grow as long as they are at world’s best practice.
  • Retain a focus on protecting competitiveness and limiting carbon leakage.
  • Establish a new entrant reserve of free allocation to industry; otherwise New Zealand will fail to get any new investment in our most important income earning sectors.

Also from the press release:

Sundakov doesn’t think that any scheme posing such risks will be credible. ”New Zealanders won’t be willing to face real economic costs for the sake of arbitrary international targets and illusory environmental benefits.”

Some glimmer of the underlying position here, perhaps? “Arbitrary” targets are all we’ve got, and they’re going to get stiffer if any post-Kyoto deal is to have a chance of working. And the environmental benefits of saving the world? It might be illusory to think we can save the world, but if we do the benefits are rather obvious.

The report is – however contentious its conclusions – clever and effective lobbying, because it makes some reasonable points. There’s much to be said for keeping some credits in reserve for new companies starting up here, or taking a flexible approach to phasing out free credits, and for some sectors these may be really important objectives that can be achieved in negotiation with government.

Ultimately, though, the report suffers from obvious shortcomings. It makes the sweeping assertion that there’s little that can be done to reduce agricultural or transport emissions cost-effectively. That’s a convenient assumption if you want to argue for a go-slow on emissions trading, but it’s hardly supported by the facts. Nitrification inhibitors alone could make a big dent in pastoral emissions, and land use change – swapping high emitting systems like dairying for more sustainable, but comparably profitable crops – could do a lot more. Not something that Fonterra wants to hear, perhaps… I think the report also completely misreads the international situation (as did the NZI “fast follower” effort of a couple of weeks ago). You have the strange dichotomy of Fonterra supporting a call for a go-slow on the ETS, while at the same time playing an active role in the Sustainable Food Exports Group (formerly the Food Miles Group), the working party looking at how to respond to climate issues in our export markets – at a time when the dairy industry may be losing some of its competitive advantage.

It might be a bit utopian of me, but I think there’s real merit in New Zealand following the French example: setting up a large scale, cross party, all sector effort to build consensus on action. Current government policy looks a good place to start, but if we can stop the to-and-fro of self-interested lobbying we might be able to start getting some work done.

3 thoughts on “They would say that, wouldn’t they…”

  1. It is puzzling that there isn’t a drive amongst our political and business leaders to build a strong consensus on tackling emissions. I assume it is because not enough of them feel the degree of alarm that has been communicated to me since I started reading climate change literature. If they did they would have no problem moving economic prosperity to a lower priority behind addressing climate change. The message from science needs to keep being hammered home. It affects us all and ought to make our usual divides of less consequence. We should be able to work together on mitigation. One hopes it will not be too late when we realise it.

  2. As both Rod Oram. BryanW, you and I say. Proposals by governments, big business, corporations etc are too little, maybe too late. What do we do to get folk to take global warming seriously? We need some visionary leaders as something needs to be done NOW!
    Personally I think it would be nice if NZ could look at energy descent and become the first Transition …country in the world!
    In my own little existence I am a voice in the wilderness with my reduce, recycle mantra! However, when one waver’s I think of my children and the kind of world we are going to leave for them if we do not act now.

  3. It’s funny Brian that we both read climate change literature however come to a completely different conclusion. This also suggests there are many more like us. So maybe the Business sector think as I do and I certainly have no agenda.

    Dawn people like me will never take the AGW argument seriously because we see the IPCC as a joke. We see the CO2 culprit as a joke also. Why, because of a lack of overwhelming evidence and despite the MSM propaganda, a lack of concensus. Not to mention the fact that an unneeded global carbon TAX paid into the world bank and IMF will do absolutely nothing to address climate change.

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