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Posts Tagged Climate politics

NZ’s Paris emissions commitments should be 40% by 2030 and 100% (or more) by 2050 Gareth Renowden Jun 08

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Submissions for the New Zealand government’s half-hearted consultation on post-2020 emissions targets closed last Wednesday. I managed to sneak my contribution in just before the 5pm deadline. It remains to be seen whether it will be read. I heartily recommend reading the Royal Society’s submission – a very clear statement of the issues and NZ’s responsibilities. The Generation Zero submission is also well worth a look (pdf here). Morte than 4,600 people used G0’s automated submission tool, which should ensure that the MfE is well aware that this is an issue people take seriously. In the meantime, here’s what I had to say…

Context

New Zealand’s Climate Change Target: Our contribution to the new international climate change agreement, the discussion document produced by the Ministry for the Environment to accompany the consultation process, is in my view misleading and misguided. It presents a distorted and unhelpful view of the dimensions of the challenge NZ faces. In order to arrive at a pragmatic understanding of how NZ’s domestic policy settings on greenhouse gas emissions should be adjusted to best align with a solution to this huge global problem, it’s necessary to consider the scientific and geopolitical context. NZ’s policy solutions should flow from, and work with, our best understanding of the science that underpins the need for action to cut emissions and to stabilise and reduce atmospheric CO2 loading. NZ also needs to consider the direct climate and strategic risks it faces as a result of inevitable climate change and design policy that limits those risks and increases resilience to them.

Science

Evidence from studies of past climate conditions suggests that the last time atmospheric CO2 stood at 400 ppm — 3 million years ago, during the Pliocene — global sea levels were around 20 metres higher than today, and global average temperature was 2-3ºC above pre-industrial (the global average temperature of 200 years ago). As atmospheric CO2 continues to climb above 400 ppm, the only practical question is how long it will take the ice sheets of Greenland and the Antarctic to melt. It may take hundreds to thousands of years to see the full extent of the sea level rise implicit in current CO2 levels, but it’s worth noting that for every 1 ppm we add above 400 ppm, we add to the warming and the final amount of sea level rise. We have already committed future generations to a world with radically different shorelines. We are already heading for substantial warming and increasing damages from climate change.

 

Emissions policies are usually expressed as percentage reductions in emissions compared to an historical or projected baseline. This presents emissions cuts as a flow problem. If we can turn the tap down a bit, we can address the problem. But atmospheric carbon — as the paleoclimate data shows — is not a flow problem, it’s a stock problem. Every tonne of carbon we add to the atmosphere makes two things worse: long term warming and the sea level rise that results from it, and ocean acidification.

The best evidence available to us from modelling studies suggests that it is possible for the world to limit warming over the next century to between 1.5ºC (the target endorsed by 100+ of the nations of the world) and 2ºC (the target endorsed by the rest of the world – including NZ), but that the reductions in emissions from current levels will have to be steep and start now. The carbon budget left — the amount we can burn and still hit those targets is not big, and the world is getting through it at great speed.

In order to have the best chance of hitting those temperature targets, we will have to go beyond cutting emissions to creating a global economy which is below net-zero emissions (this is explicit in the most aggressive IPCC emissions scenarios). This means that to limit near term warming, in the second half of this century we will have to start reducing atmospheric greenhouse gas levels. Every tonne of CO2 we emit today will eventually have to be removed from the atmosphere. If we want to prevent the full extent of the sea level rise suggested by the historical data we will have to return atmospheric carbon loading to near pre-industrial levels — a huge task for us to bequeath to our children.

Equity

The available carbon budget has to be allocated equitably between nations. NZ, as a rich developed country with high per capita emissions will be expected to shoulder a greater burden than rapidly developing and underdeveloped countries. This is both a moral and an ethical issue, as well as a matter of realpolitik in relations with China, India, the US and Europe.

Risk

There are two sorts of climate risk that face New Zealand. The first is of direct and indirect climate change impacts. Climate change is already being felt all round the world in increasingly damaging extreme weather events, and this will only get worse as warming continues. NZ may (or may not) escape the worst of those direct impacts, but our trading partners almost certainly won’t. We are at least as vulnerable to the impacts of climate change on our key export markets as we are to — say — an outbreak of foot and mouth disease damaging our beef and dairy exports.

Some of these direct impact risks are unavoidable. Due to the huge heat capacity of the global oceans, initial “fast” warming lags behind CO2 levels by up to 30 years. If we could somehow freeze atmospheric CO2 at 400 ppm, the planet would continue to warm for another three decades. Every year we delay cutting emissions adds a year to the end of the process — when the damages being experienced both here and overseas will be much greater than today.

The only way to deal with the unavoidable warming is to increase national resilience to the direct impacts of extreme weather, sea level rise and climate warming, and to create an economy that is less vulnerable to climate shocks in export markets.

There is also risk associated with the accuracy of our projections of future change. Paleoclimate tells us where we’re heading, but modelling gives us our best guess of how fast we’ll get there. Essentially, this risk can be characterised as three options:

  • Climate change turns out be slower and less damaging than currently projected
  • Climate change turns out as we currently project (IPCC AR5)
  • Climate change happens faster and is more damaging than expected

The preponderance of scientific and expert evidence is handily summarised by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its regular reports. The most recent, published last year, makes for grim reading, but also makes it clear that it is possible for the world to limit the worst impacts of climate change, and do so at affordable cost.

To assume that the IPCC is wrong, or “alarmist” as some would like to suggest, and that future climate change will be less damaging than currently projected, is to fly in the face of the evidence. From a risk analysis perspective, basing climate policies (global or national) on a gamble that the experts are wrong could have terrible consequences in both the near and long term.

However, it should be pointed out that the IPCC is itself regarded by many in the climate science community as a conservative presentation of the evidence. Since the publication of the Fifth Report, for instance, it has become clear that large parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet may already have passed the point of no return and could be committed to large scale melt over the next century. In other words, it might be wise to assume that we should be planning to avoid the worst case. It is often suggested that we should prepare to cope with 4ºC of warming, but mitigate (by aggressively cutting emissions) to give us the best chance of staying under 2ºC.

The second dimension of climate risk facing NZ is the geopolitical risk – the consequences that our climate policy actions have in terms of our international relationships. The present government has defined itself as a “fast follower” — not seeking to lead on actions to reduce emissions, but prepared to follow overseas efforts as they ratchet up. The recent agreement between the US and China on emissions demonstrates that the overall level of global climate ambition has increased. Any target that NZ sets has to be seen to be both ambitious in that context, and should represent a significant increase on the targets currently tabled.

In the wider context, if international action to cut emissions is going to accept the reality that the global economy will have to go beyond net-zero emissions in the second half of this century, then NZ should be positioning itself to reach net zero emissions by 2050 — preferably earlier — and perhaps aim to be a global centre of excellence for carbon sequestration.

From a strategic perspective, the government needs to realise that climate policy is not an optional extra. The climate problem is not going to go away, and while it may be possible to delay implementing effective policy for a few more years, the longer it is left the more expensive introducing those policies will be because faster and steeper cuts will be required. It will be much more economically efficient to make sure that a wide range of policy tools are put in place and their impacts ramped up over time, than to try to slam on the brakes in a few years time when international action — perhaps as a result of damaging climate impacts — really ramps up.

Costs versus opportunities

The discussion document issued by the MfE makes considerable play of the costs to NZ taxpayers of actions to reduce emissions, though as I and others have pointed out, the assumptions underlying the economic modelling are flawed and unhelpful when considering any sensible cost benefit analysis of emissions policy settings.

In one respect – and one respect only – the economic modelling commissioned to examine the costs of various emissions targets is very useful. If we take the emissions targets currently adopted by the government as the baseline (rather than the ridiculous base case of no action to cut emissions by anyone, anywhere), then we can see that the costs of increasing the ambition of targets is actually rather small.

If the necessity for emissions reductions were to be spread across the whole economy — rather than excluding half of national emissions by assuming that the rest of the economy is prepared to subsidise agricultural emissions, then the costs would likely drop further.

There are also considerable benefits to be obtained by moving towards a low emissions economy. There will be economic benefits from technology development, innovation and transitioning to clean fuels, as well as encouraging agriculture to diversify out of high emissions farming systems and into high value, low emissions crops with greater resilience to the impacts of warming.

Carbon sclerosis

The Ministry’s discussion document makes little or no mention of the costs of inaction, despite the fact that Treasury has calculated that they could be as large as $52 billion by 2030. With current emissions policy settings — a weak ETS that effectively subsidises big emitters and deliberately excludes emissions from agriculture — there is a danger that the economy will become locked in to a higher emissions profile than necessary. If the likely future cost of carbon is not factored into current infrastructure and capital investment decisions, then NZ risks creating an economy riddled with carbon sclerosis — a disease that will be ever more expensive to cure as global action to emissions tightens.

Policy tools

The government appears to be planning to meet NZ’s current commitments by purchasing emissions reductions on the global market, and seems to expect that this will be the most cost-effective way of meeting future emissions targets. This increases the future economic risk to the country by effectively encouraging the domestic economy to take a high emissions pathway. NZ will therefore be vulnerable to any steep rises in the cost of emissions trading units. Since a tightening of future international emissions policies is practically certain if worst-case climate impacts are to be avoided, this amounts to a strategic blunder of considerable proportions.

To reduce that risk exposure, the government should as a matter of urgency put policies in place to ensure that the domestic economy is set on a low-carbon pathway as soon as possible. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Tighten up ETS settings to reduce grandfathering of emissions for big emitters and increase the carbon price signal to all emitters currently covered by the scheme.
  • Bring agriculture into the ETS as soon as possible, in order to allow farmers and foresters to make sensible investment decisions.
  • Require that a minimum proportion of NZ emissions units are used to settle ETS positions.
  • Encourage afforestation and native bush regeneration to enlarge NZ’s standing carbon stock.
  • Expand the permanent forest sink initiative and encourage co-cropping in permanent forests (fungi, plants, biofuels). Put in place rules that allow selective timber harvest that doesn’t reduce standing carbon stock.
  • Phase out all fossil fuel electricity generation as soon as possible.
  • Phase out all non-essential road building and divert funds to rail and coastal shipping and public transport networks to encourage a shift of freight from road to rail and sea, and greater use of public transport systems in urban areas.
  • Phase out all support for coal production and oil exploration.
  • Step up research into biofuels and incentivise the roll-out of practical systems to reduce liquid fossil fuel use.
  • Introduce minimum fuel efficiency standards for all imported vehicles.
  • Expand support for electric vehicle use.
  • Continue and expand energy efficiency initiatives for all buildings, domestic and commercial, and encourage insulation of existing housing stock.
  • Incentivise renewable energy installations at all scales, and fund the development and installation of smart grid technologies that allow domestic and small-scale renewable generation projects to integrate with the national grid.

These policies will require a whole of government approach to emissions management and reduction. Implementing them will need a mixture of market mechanisms (via the ETS or carbon taxes) and carefully designed regulation.

Certainty

It is important for all New Zealanders that government delivers a consistent set of policies that are designed to allow NZ to reach net zero emissions over the next 35 years. To this end, I strongly believe that climate policy should not be a political football, liable to constant change after every election. The government should work to build a cross-party consensus on emissions policy tools and settings, a “climate accord” that allows NZ to implement meaningful emissions reductions over the long term and to build social and economic resilience to the climate changes that are now inevitable.

Targets

Given the above, I believe that New Zealand should gazette a “net zero” by 2050 target, and consider all intermediate targets as waypoints on the route to that goal. As a gesture of our renewed commitment to action (and in recognition that the major international emitters are now committed to serious cuts), the current 5% reduction on 1990 emissions by 2020 target should be immediately increased to 15%, a 2030 goal be set at 40% below 1990 and a 2040 goal be set at 70%.

These targets are credible and achievable, but will require the current government to do more than pay lip service to climate policy. It remains to be seen whether that is a credible and achievable goal.

It’s deja vu all over again: NZ consultation on climate target set up to be a farce Gareth Renowden May 26

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NZemissionsconsult.jpgAt the end of last week, with the deadline1 for submissions on a post-2020 target for New Zealand emissions rapidly approaching, the Ministry for the Environment released a second set of economic cost estimates for various emissions targets.

These cost estimates are substantially lower, the Ministry admits, than the costs in the consultation document issued by the MfE on May 7th. As it happens, neither the Infometrics modelling used in the consultation document or the newly-published Landcare Research is terribly helpful when considering policy options, as I shall discuss later, but for the time being consider the usefulness of a “consultation” process where the following is true:

  • Announce a four week consultation period on May 7, starting then, to conclude four weeks later.
  • Publish a consultation document that plays up the costs of action and plays down the costs of inaction — calculated by Treasury to be up to $52bn.
  • Conduct a rushed series of consultation meetings around the country to which no ministers front up.
  • Release the economic modelling relied on for the cost estimates in the consultation document 10 days after the process begins, well after the consultation meetings have started.
  • Release a second economic modelling report showing costs to be less than the original document presents just over a week before submissions close.

If that’s not a prescription for a Mickey Mouse consultation process that’s designed to pay only lip service to public concern, a disgraceful political sham that should have officials — who are expected to be resolutely non-partisan and to serve the public interest — hanging their heads in shame, then I’m a maker of fine Low Country cheeses.

But it gets worse. An examination of the economic modelling commissioned by the MfE shows that the whole process was set up to exaggerate the costs of cutting New Zealand’s emissions.

 

I am not an economist, and I am most certainly not an economic modeller, so I will not comment on the accuracy or predictive skill of economic models, except to note that they are 1.6 million kilometres2 removed from climate modelling. I always find it most instructive to look at the assumptions fed into economic models, and to assume that the the results the models generate are reasonable within their own limits. So what are the assumptions baked into the Infometrics modelling MfE relies on for its costs projections?

These are what the Infometrics report presents as its “overarching assumptions”:

Given time and budget constraints, the scope of this research does not include any analysis of:

  1. The net impacts of NewZealand’s greenhouse gas emissions on climate change and what the economic and social effects of a changing climate might be.
  2. Non-market policies to reduce emissions, such as restrictions on fossil-fuel generation of electricity and biofuels obligations.
  3. What action consumers or governments in other countries might take against New Zealand if it was perceived that New Zealand was not doing enough to reduce emissions.
  4. Likely trends in global carbon prices.

There are a couple of extensions to that list: the Infometrics modelling excludes any domestic pricing of agricultural emissions over the next 15 years, but assumes that they will be included in international emissions accounting. It also ignores — ignores! — what could be achieved by incentivising forestry planting:

Uncertainty in accounting settings makes it difficult to quantify the effect of forestry and land-use emissions and removals for the purpose of the modelling. To avoid distorting the results, mitigation through forestry and land use has not been quantified or included in modelling estimates presented in this report.

Let’s summarise. This is what the economists at Infometrics (and Landcare Research – their assumptions are not too different) were asked to test:

  • we will ignore the likely costs to society and the economy of a changing climate
  • we will ignore any non-market tool for achieving emissions reductions by regulation
  • we will ignore NZ’s international exposure to climate risk
  • we will ignore anything that agriculture can do to reduce emissions, and assume that the rest of the economy will be happy to subsidise farming
  • we will ignore anything that our forestry industry can do to plant trees and remove carbon from the atmosphere
  • and we will assume that we can only meet our emissions obligations by buying overseas emissions units.

In other words: if we assume that we proceed for the next 15 years with a blindfold over our eyes and our arms tied behind our back, we find that action to cut emissions will be expensive. Who’d have thought it? What a surprise…

That’s bad enough, but there’s more that the MfE’s economic consultants refuse to price. The consultation document points out that there opportunities to be had in a transition to a low carbon economy, and suggests that electric vehicles are an example of beneficial change that’s already happening. But there are many more to be found in low carbon technology development, both biological and physical. NZ is already recognised as a good platform for testing software and services — and that could be true for more than iPhone apps or accountancy services.

What’s worse is that every year we continue down a path that ignores the inevitability of a transition to a net-zero carbon economy, we make action when it finally comes all the more expensive. There is a very real price to be paid for being locked into a high-carbon economy. Tim Groser and John Key are — unwittingly, one hopes — busy turning a drama into a crisis. And it won’t be them that pays the price.

The current government should not be allowed to play silly games with all our futures. They are embarked on an economic and strategic governance failure of epic proportions. I suspect that nothing anyone says in this sham of a consultation will be listened to: but at least what we do say will stand in the public record. Not everyone sank the ship. Not everyone turned a blind eye. Not in my name, Tim Groser.

[Headline, of course, and also Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, though given where we’re heading Wooden Ships is probably more appropriate.]

  1. Submissions close at 5.00pm on Wednesday 3 June 2015.
  2. A million miles.

Federated Farmers: sticking their heads in the soil? cindy May 12

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Dryland farmingFederated Farmers says farmers don’t need to worry about the causes of climate change, they only need to cope with the impacts. Feds President William Rolleston says they have “no position” on whether mankind is influencing global warming, and say that looking at the causes is not that helpful. No position?

“We [farmers] need to basically adjust to the realities that are being dealt to us, and why it may or may not be happening isn’t really as important, as actually being prepared for what we actually do get dealt,” their “climate change spokesman” Anders Crofoot told Radio New Zealand today.

You can’t have “no position” on the climate science — it’s like telling your bank manager you have “no position” on your finances, despite the numbers being there for all to see. I’m calling it climate denial. I’ll come back to that later, but let’s look at WHY they’re saying that.  If you were to take a position, that is, agree that climate change is real and caused by humans, you’d have to act. You’d think.

 

So I guess it’s blindingly obvious why Federated Farmers want to avoid talking about the causes of climate change, because farming, at 48 percent, is the largest contributor to our burgeoning greenhouse gas emissions, and the present government has exempted them from the emissions trading scheme, the one they’re consulting on at the moment.

But let’s look at impact of climate change on farmers — what they might be “dealt” as a result of the climate change they’re contributing to but not willing to do anything about, and what they have to look forward to.

One climate impact we can look forward to in New Zealand is increased drought. We’re starting to experience droughts here already, like never before. One obvious problem with increased drought is lack of water. And the expansion of industrial dairy farming — often chopping down forests that used to act as carbon sinks — is driving a massive investment into irrigation and increased water use.

In February this year, during the worst drought experienced by the South Island farming community, maybe ever, Fed Farmers’ Environment and Water spokesman Ian Mackenzie was on the radio slamming the Government’s Crown Irrigation Fund for providing loans for famers, rather than actual investment for irrigation schemes.  The pressure is going on, with both Federated Farmers and Irrigation NZ both pushing hard for Government — and therefore the taxpayer — to front the costs.

What is climate change costing us?

This year’s drought has shaved 0.5% off GDP growth, according to ANZ. Farmers freaked out in February as the unprecedented Canterbury drought forced the shutting of the Opuha Dam for irrigation.  

Meat prices dropped as farmers, unable to feed their animals, had to cull them.

Even Bathurst Resources, which, in the face of plummeting coal prices, is having to rely on supplying coal domestically, reported a drop in income in the first quarter of this year because its main customer, Fonterra, had less milk to dry and therefore used less coal.

The 2013 drought in the North Island was the “worst in history” according to scientists and cost the country around $1.3 billion.  This drought has now been confirmed by scientists to have been made worse by climate change.

The 2007-08 drought had a $2.8 billion economic impact, in on-farm and off-farm costs.

And that’s just the droughts

Let’s turn now to the damages from floods and storms — the type of extreme weather events that are expected to come from climate change. By September 2014, weather-related Insurance had cost $135.4 million. The Insurance Council of NZ predicts that this type of event will cost, on average, $1.6 billion a year, as climate impacts kick in.

Of course not all of this cost will be laid only at a farmer’s door, but if you look at the Insurance Council’s list of big disasters the insurance industry has had to pay out for in recent years, it’s clear that farmers have certainly suffered their fair share of impacts.

Back to the science

Given that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening, and that we’re causing it,  and we’ve now had no less than five IPCC reports, the question has to be asked: where has Federated Farmers been?

Its leader-with-no-position, William Rolleston, is supposedly a smart man. According to this profile, “his appetite for all things science is fuelled by reading on the origins and workings of the universe, biology and natural history.” He sits on the Ministry of Science, Business and Innovation’s Science Board.

So you’d think he’d maybe have read the IPCC summaries, or consulted some of his colleagues on that board about the science of climate change, its causes and its projected impacts, and realised that you can’t have “no position” on climate science. If you are a scientist, you don’t get to pick and choose which bits of evidence you believe in. You live with the facts.

For a group that purports to be acting on behalf of farmers, one would think that in 2015 Federated Farmers would be taking this issue, and its causes, extremely seriously.

The droughts that farmers are feeling today, at 0.8ºC of warming, are already having a serious economic effect on their industry and, given that current projections are that we’re heading to 4ºC of warming, you’d think they’d be going all out to do what they can to stop it. But denying its very existence? Seriously?

I just hope that the rest of the country’s farmers, ie the 85 percent who are not represented by Federated Farmers, aren’t quite that stupid.

But if Federated Farmers refuse to take any responsibility for — or do anything about the causes of climate change — and instead continue upping production without paying any attention to emissions, the question has to be asked: why should the taxpayer, and the Government, continue to give them handouts for drought relief or storm relief, or give them a free ride on the costs of their emissions to the rest of the economy? Why should we stump up for massive irrigation schemes to pay for even more irrigation so they can ramp up production further?

NZ government to consult on Paris emissions target Gareth Renowden May 08

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NZemissionsconsult.jpgClimate change minister Tim Groser announced yesterday that the government is to consult on a post-2020 emissions target to present at the UNFCC conference in Paris in December. The consultation process is open to written submissions now, and there will be a series of public meetings and hui starting in Nelson on Wed May 13, finishing in Christchurch on May 20. Submissions close on June 3. In his press release, Groser said:

“New Zealand wants to set a target which is environmentally credible and reflects our particular circumstances.  But we also need to consider the possible impacts and costs to our economy.”

Reasonable enough, but Groser then starts a pitch that sounds suspiciously as though he’s preparing the ground for an unambitious target:

“Increasing our commitment after 2020 will be a big challenge, as nearly half of New Zealand’s emissions come from agriculture and 80 per cent of our electricity already comes from renewable sources. The easy gains have already been made. But we are expected to make a fair contribution to combating this global problem.”

This impression is confirmed by a quick reading of the discussion document issued by the Ministry for the Environment to accompany the process. Much is made of the difficulties of cutting emissions, and the costs they will impose on the economy, but there is no apparent effort to quantify the risks of inaction, or the benefits to be delivered by the economic transformation to a low-carbon economy.

One of principal reasons that cutting emissions will be “challenging” is of course that Groser and his cabinet colleagues dismantled a comprehensive set of emissions policies inherited from the previous Labour-led government, mismanaged the emissions trading scheme so as to create a laughably low effective carbon price, stymied new forestry planting, and refused to bring agriculture into the ETS. It’s always harder to get somewhere if you’ve spent the last six years pedalling in the wrong direction.

I’ll be commenting further on the discussion document in due course, but as Brian Fallow in the Herald notes, I am not alone in finding Groser’s approach unpersuasive.

Being a cynic, I suspect that this whole rushed process is being offered as a fig leaf for a lack of ambition — about managing expectations downwards, rather genuinely seeking ideas with a view to creating good and effective policy. In the meantime, I urge Hot Topic‘s readers to prepare submissions, make an effort to attend one of the public meetings, and lobby the government for an ambitious set of emissions targets. We can but try…

Milk cow blues: dirty dairy costs NZ dear, but methane cuts might work Gareth Renowden Apr 30

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There’s good news and bad news for New Zealand’s dairy industry this week. On the one hand, research has found a number of compounds that can cut methane emissions from ruminants (cows and sheep) by up to 90% by reducing populations of the bacteria that produce the gas. On the other hand, research into the external costs of dairying — the costs not currently born by dairy companies — suggest that dairying’s value to the NZ economy may amount to a “zero sum” game. At the very least the national income generated by dairy sales is significantly offset by the costs of remediating the environmental impacts caused by that farming — costs that are born by the general tax payer, not agribusiness — according to a team from Massey University.

The good news on methane was announced this week at the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Conference 2015. Agresearch Principal Scientist Dr Peter Janssen told Radio NZ:

It’s a very exciting result but there’s still a lot of checking to be done before you actually get something that a farmer can use safely.

Interviewed by the NZ Herald, Dr Rick Pridmore, chairman of the NZ Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, was upbeat:

The results are significant for two reasons. First, because they work on livestock consuming a grass-based diet and, second because the short-term trials showed such dramatic results,” he said.

However, it might take up to 5 years for these treatments to reach farmers, as the compounds are tested for the possibility of residues in meat and milk.

Cutting methane emissions might reduce diary farmers’ liability under an emissions trading scheme that included agriculture — they are at present excluded — but would have no impact on the other external costs calculated in a new paper, New Zealand Dairy Farming: Milking Our Environment for All Its Worth, which suggests that the costs of repairing the environmental damage done by intensive dairying approaches the value generated by the activity.

One of the authors, Dr Mike Joy told Stuff:

A strong message from the study is that avoiding pollution is far cheaper for everyone than trying to clean it up afterwards and there is now ample evidence that farmers can make more profit and pollute less when not myopically chasing increased production.

Unsurprisingly, the costs calculated in the paper are vigorously contested by farming organisations and some academics, but will chime with New Zealanders concerned that the rapid expansion of industrial dairying is significantly degrading important rural environments and chipping away at what’s left of NZ’s so-called clean green image.

[The Kinks]

Climate battle at NBR: Rodney’s rubbish versus Wiggs wisdom Gareth Renowden Apr 26

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New Zealand’s leading business media outfit — the National Business Review — has long dallied with climate denial, providing a platform for former ACT party leader Rodney Hide (amongst others) to push climate tosh. Last week Rodney used his regular opinion column to attack the government’s emissions policies (behind paywall) — fair enough, given that they are rubbish — but his rationale was that it was a waste of time because climate change wasn’t happening:

So what about the temperature record? Where is this being reported? Where is the headline? It’s the easiest question to ask, the best news to report and the only salient fact in an ocean of green wash and government propaganda.

And what’s that news? No global warming for nearly 20 years.

So far, so predictable… and so wrong. Here’s the latest news:

GISStemp20153

The last 12 months have been the hottest in the long term record. So was the year ending in February. With an El Niño event brewing in the Pacific, 2015 is on course to set a new record for hottest calendar year. 14 of the 15 hottest years have occurred this century. And that’s just if we look at surface temperatures. If we look where most of the heat is going — into the oceans — there’s no sign of any pause at all.

Rodney’s column attracted a comment from another NBR columnist, Lance Wiggs, a man with some real business chops and a respect for scientific evidence. That in turn sparked a battle of the columnists in this week’s NBR: Rodney’s rubbish, versus Wiggs’ wisdom.

 

A comparison is instructive. Rodney doubles down on his denial, blustering away for all he is worth: taking umbrage at being called a denier, dissing the models, moaning that costly action now will impoverish future generations. Wiggs prefers a more measured tone, provides plentiful references, and on the cost issue makes this telling observation:

Rodney Hide does not want to spend money, but it’s pretty easy to see that if we don’t invest now in combating and mitigating change, then we will be passing an ever-increasing burden on to the future. We advise people to start saving early for retirement because of the compounding effect of interest, and it’s the same with action on climate change – as CO2 emissions increase the job we all have to combat the crises gets harder and harder.

To rub salt into the wound, Wiggs advocates a carbon tax as the best policy to price emissions — exactly the policy Hide advocated in parliament before his Damascene conversion to climate denial.

Wiggs also notes that “the climate damage is already done”, and that we will have to live with the consequences by investing in resilience to climate change as well as cutting emissions. His final paragraph is something I am happy to endorse in full:

So what’s the worst that could happen if we work together to reduce carbon emissions? More business efficiency, lower emissions of the other nasty pollutants and power generation that is driven by free resources. That’s a future I’d like to live in.

Amen to that. In the meantime, would it be too much to ask NBR’s editor at large Nevil Gibson — himself something of a climate contrarian, to judge by the coverage he gives the subject — to ask Rodney to stick to writing about things he understands. Whatever they might be. Ballroom dancing, perhaps.

NZ’s emissions target scam – Groser & Co’s creative accounting exposed Mr February Apr 20

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Simon Johnson (aka MrFebruary) looks at how climate change minister Tim Groser and the National-led government intend to use creative carbon accounting to ensure that New Zealand meets its 2020 climate change target (a five percent reduction) in spite of emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) projected to increase to 2020 and beyond.

On 10 April 2015, when he was releasing the latest inventory of greenhouse gases, the Minister for Climate Change Issues Tim Groser made this very confident statement about the NZ 2020 climate change target; “We’re well on track to meet our 2020 target”

That target is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to five per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

When this was announced in 2013 the target was criticised as useless, pathetic and inadequate.

The five percent reduction stands in stark contrast to the Ministry for the Environments projections of increasing emissions out to 2020. The Ministry estimates that the increase in gross (total) emissions in 2020 will be 29% above the 1990 baseline (from 60 to 77 million tonnes) and the increase in net emissions (gross less any increase in the stock of carbon stored in forests) to 2020 will be 130% (from 33 to 75 million tonnes). So why is Tim Groser so confident that the target will be achieved?

Simon Terry of the Sustainability Council has commented on the ‘kicking the can down the road’ features of the Government’s climate change policies: the mismatch between the emissions target and the predicted emissions, the absence of a credible plan or carbon budget approach and the deferring of liabilities into the future.

Taking Simon Terry’s work as a starting point, I am going to look at how the Government intends to apply the accounting rules for carbon credits to achieve the 2020 target in spite of the likely predicted increase in gross and net greenhouse gas emissions.

So how is NZ going to reduce emissions by five percent by 2020?

In December 2014, at the Lima, Peru, climate change conference, NZ climate ambassador Jo Tyndall was asked that specific question. Her answer was that NZ had four ways of achieving the 2020 target;

  1. through a combination of domestic emissions reductions,
  2. removal of carbon dioxide by forests,
  3. participation in international carbon markets and,
  4. recognising surplus achieved during the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

Domestic emissions reductions are unlikely. In 2013, Tim Groser told the Herald that his “strong advice” from officials was that the 2020 target could be met without any changes to settings of the NZ emissions trading scheme (ETS). The relevant Cabinet Paper for the 2020 target also states that the 2020 target can be met without changing policies or ETS costs. In other words, the NZ ETS will remain in its current induced coma, and stay ineffective in reducing domestic emissions.

NZ can’t meet the target by buying carbon credits from international carbon markets as access was blocked at the Doha meeting because we didn’t sign up to a formal Kyoto Protocol second commitment period target.

That leaves two ways of meeting the 2020 target; removal of carbon dioxide by forests, and recognising surplus units from the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. I will look at the removal of carbon dioxide by forests next.

Forest carbon and Kyoto gross-net carbon accounting

By saying “removal of carbon dioxide by forests”, politicians and officials actually mean that carbon credits will be accounted for using the Kyoto Protocol’s gross-net forest carbon accounting rule. This sounds innocuous, if a bit sleep-inducing. It is in fact a method of creative accounting that NZ has already relied on to meet the 2008-2012 Kyoto first commitment period target.

The ‘baseline’, 1990 emissions, is “gross” – the sum of all emissions without subtracting any “credit” for carbon absorbed into sinks such as growing forests and land use changes. The target (2008 to 2012) emissions are “net”, as credits for carbon absorbed in growing forests are recognised and are subtracted from the gross emissions. This is called gross-net accounting. This makes the comparison between baseline and target inconsistent – it is not an “apples with apples” comparison.

I have blogged on this before but Professor Martin Manning, an IPCC author and formerly of the Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University of Wellington, explained it better in 2012.

…achieving the Kyoto Protocol target can be quite misleading because it compares net emissions over the first commitment period, 2008 – 2012, with the gross emissions in 1990. If one compares the net emissions in 2012 with those for 1990, then the increase in NZ has actually been more than 100%.

The National Government intends to repeat this gross net accounting for the 2013 to 2020 target. As long as forest growth exceeds deforestation, this will allow both net and gross emissions to increase up to the quantity of carbon absorbed in forests that was ignored in the 1990 baseline.

The Climate Action Tracker website thinks the credit for carbon absorbed in forests could be up to 25 million tonnes CO2e a year and the ‘recognition’ (under Kyoto rules) of all the units would allow NZ gross emissions to increase up to 35% above the 1990 baseline.

Surplus Kyoto units from first Commitment Period 2008 – 2012

Jo Tyndall’s final method of achieving the 2020 target is to recognise surplus units from the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. According to the latest Ministry for the Environment’s net position statement for the Kyoto Protocol, NZ will finish the first commitment period (2008-2012) with a surplus of 90.8 million units.

Even though NZ has no formal 2013-2020 Kyoto ‘commitment’, NZ intends to ‘carry over’ millions of these surplus Kyoto units to the 2013-2020 period in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol rules.

The carry-over rules are of course complicated, but I calculate that NZ will be able to ‘carry over’ almost all of them — 86 million units of the various types of units.

What’s wrong with having a surplus of units? An effective emissions trading scheme with a real cap would never have surplus units. Units would be scarce and realistically priced. A surplus of units is of itself evidence of a failed implementation of cap and trade frameworks such as Kyoto and the EU ETS.

A surplus of units is one consequence of emissions trading with no cap, unlimited access to international carbon markets and over-allocation of units to industry and a rock-bottom unit price. Which is exactly what we have had with the NZ ETS.

We need to remind ourselves why NZ has a surplus of units for the Kyoto Protocol first period. Although net and gross emissions increased, NZ gained surplus units by using the gross-net forest carbon accounting rule and allowing the nearly unlimited import of low-priced international units with dubious integrity which were surrendered by ETS participants to match their emissions.

According to Climate Analytics, internationally, the Kyoto first commitment period ended with 14 billion surplus units; enough to allow all the signatory countries to “comply” with their 2020 targets without restricting business as usual emissions growth. And this is exactly what the Government intends to do.

Each Kyoto unit carried forward will be counted towards NZ’s 2020 target and will allow an additional tonne of domestic GHG emissions above the 1990 baseline.

Similarly, each carbon credit recognised for carbon absorbed in forests between 2013 and 2020 will be counted towards NZ’s 2020 target and will allow an additional tonne of domestic GHG emissions above the 1990 baseline.

Our politicians and bureaucrats could have focused on policies to reduce domestic emissions in order to meet the 2020 target. Achieving the 2020 target won’t be an outcome of policies to reduce emissions. Like fixing the emissions trading system. It will be an outcome of the accounting rules chosen for the carbon credits the Government can hold. NZ’s target is a scam and a sham, the result of dodgy creative accounting.

High Water – NZ climate comic anthology Gareth Renowden Apr 16

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Scientists investigate how climate changes, politicians (should) decide what to do about it. Tough jobs. Artists have just as difficult a job: to comment on the reality and unreality they see in society’s responses to the climate threat, and by doing so motivate us to create a liveable future. In High Water, a new anthology of climate-inspired work by NZ comic artists, pulled together by Damon Keen and Faction Comics, that response ranges from the touching to the frightening, huge vistas seen through little frames — all presented in visually stunning stories drawn by NZ’s finest artists. The book kicks off with a superb little story by Dylan Horrocks, Dear Hinewai:

HorrocksHW

I’m a great fan of Dylan’s work1 — his latest, Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen is a real tour de force — and here he draws beautiful and bittersweet postcards from a future where New Zealanders are exploring a radically altered planet by airship2.

There is a lot of good stuff in High Water, but I have some personal favourites: Damon Keen’s The Lotus Eaters, which takes us on a trip from modern day Auckland through a grim future to the arcadia on the other side of our civilisation reminds me of the comics I grew up with (think Eagle), while Cory Mathis’ My Wife, The Mastodon looks at climate change through the eyes of ice age humans encountering neanderthals (and sabre tooth tigers). Chris Slane’s wonderful Dialogo di Galileo is a powerful poke at climate denial, with a great twist in the last frames.

SlaneHW

There’s an introduction by Lucy Lawless, in which she hits the nail rather more effectively on the head than our Prime Minister:

These eleven incredible artists have not stinted in imagining the gravest outcomes of man-made climate change. Perhaps a visual warning will work better than a written one, that requires imagination from a recalcitrant mind. Gorgeous work!

She’s right, you know. We need all hands to the pumps if we’re going to deal with the inundation coming our way, and High Water is a most welcome contribution.

To see more images from the anthology, and to get more background on the inspiration behind it, see this interview with editor Damon Keen. High Water, featuring the work of Dylan Horrocks, Sarah Laing, Katie O’Neill, Cory Mathis, Christian Pearce, Ned Wedlock, Toby Morris, Damon Keen, Chris Slane, Ross Murray and Jonathan King is being launched this evening in Auckland. Best wishes to all who sail in her…

  1. That’s his image on the cover of The Aviator — see sidebar.
  2. Great minds, etc etc… 😉

The encroaching sea: new NZ sea level rise maps Gareth Renowden Apr 13

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This guest post is by Jonathan Musther, who has just published an amazing series of highly detailed maps projecting future sea level rise scenarios onto the New Zealand coastline. If you live within cooee of the sea, you need to explore his maps. Below he explains why he embarked on the project.

10mSLR-Christchurch480

The effect of 10m sea level rise on Christchurch: say goodbye to St Albans, prepare to paddle in the CBD. Full map here.

For humans, sea-level rise will almost certainly be the most directly observable effect of climate change, and specifically of global warming. As the climate changes, many of the effects will be subtle, or if not subtle, they will at least be very complex. Summers may be warmer, or cooler; we may experience more rain at some times of year, and less at others; tropical storms may increase and they may be sustained further from the equator, but all of these changes are complex, and not necessarily obvious against the background complexity of any climate system. In contrast, there is something obvious and unstoppable about sea-level rise, there is no question that it will send anyone in its path running for the hills.

For some time I have been involved in searching for land appropriate for specific uses such as arable farming, water catchment, and off-grid living. When searching for land in this way, there are many, many criteria to consider, and of course one of these is potential future sea-level. Using GIS (Geographical Information System) software, and elevation models of the New Zealand landscape, it is possible to visualise sea-level rise, and select sites accordingly. Naturally, the next question is what sea-level rise to consider. It is possible to place an upper-limit on sea-level rise – after all, there’s only a finite amount of ice that could melt – but beyond that, we’re limited to informed guesswork.

25mSLR-Christchurch480

25m sea level rise: a sunken city and Banks Island. Full map here.

What is the maximum possible sea-level rise? It depends who you ask. Many sources place the maximum potential sea-level rise at around 60-64 metres, but these figures are rarely referenced, and don’t concur with the latest research. Other sources place the figure at around 80-81.5 metres, and while this appears to be well referenced and researched, it is based on work that is somewhat out of date. The best estimates I’ve been able to locate, based on recent measurements (and lots of them) are around 70 metres, but quite what the margin of error is remains uncertain. Of course, when considering future sea-level, we must remember that here in the South Pacific, we will likely experience increased numbers of more powerful tropical storms, with associated storm surges.

80mSLR-Christchurch480

At 80m, West Melton is a seaside township. Full map here.

The maps I created showing sea-level rise for the whole of New Zealand depict rises of 10, 25 and 80 metres. I have certainly received criticism for not focussing on more modest sea-level rises (e.g. 1 or 2 metres), but there are some good reasons for this: firstly, the resolution of the elevation models of New Zealand do not allow accurate predictions of such small rises. Secondly, larger sea-level rises pose a huge threat, and are therefore worth considering. I made a point of avoiding time frame predictions when producing the sea-level rise maps, partly because the time frame is largely irrelevant (if 80% of our homes are flooded, it’s bad news, no matter when) and partly because the range of expert estimates is huge. Study after study shows that we have underestimated ice-sheet instability, and it is almost universally accepted that large sea-level rise will be a consequence. Unfortunately, most studies place this sea-level rise at some unspecified time in the future – when, we’re not sure, but it’s far enough away that we needn’t worry…

So is a 10 or 25 metre sea-level rise likely? Unfortunately, the broad answer is yes. The Greenland, West and East Antarctic ice sheets are showing growing instability, and many researchers agree that they may have past a ‘point of no return’. Remember, the Greenland ice sheet alone, if completely melted, would lead to approximately a 7 m rise in global sea-level. Of course, we return to the issue of when this is likely to happen, and on that, the jury is out.

I firmly believe that to be good scientists, we must investigate the possibility of large sea-level rise, and its consequences. The time frame is unclear, the absolute rise is also unclear, but there really is something unstoppable about rising oceans. We are now well outside the sphere of collective human experience and expertise, and we should be very careful to prepare, as best we can, for a range of scenarios.

Climate Shock Bryan Walker Mar 12

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Uncertainties attend the predictions of climate science, as the scientists themselves are careful to acknowledge. Reluctant policy makers use this uncertainty to support a “wait and see” response to climate change. Prominent American economists Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman in their recent book Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet are scathing in their condemnation of such a response. They translate “wait and see” as “give up and fold” and call it wilful blindness.

Their own response to the uncertainty surrounding climate predictions is to ask what the worst case scenario looks like.

Here’s what you get: about a 10 percent chance of eventual temperatures exceeding 6 ° C, unless the world acts much more decisively than it has.

This isn’t a figure they’ve made up for themselves. It’s based on IPCC prediction ranges and on the International Energy Agency’s interpretation of current government commitments.

It’s clearly a catastrophic scenario, but with a 10 percent chance of happening it must play a prominent part in our thinking and planning. We take out fire insurance on our homes with a much lower than 10 percent chance of their burning down. It’s called prudence, and most of us don’t think twice about the precaution of insurance.

 

The book urges a level of response appropriate to an existential planetary risk of catastrophic proportions. There’s no blueprint in the lively discussion about what might be done and why it is proving so difficult to do it, but a price on carbon is one of the essentials, a point repeated many times over in the course of the book. What price? The authors see an appropriate price is one which prevents us getting anywhere close to 6 degrees warming, and offer $40 per ton as a start, the figure the US government estimates for the social cost of carbon. But it’s only a starting point.

What we know of the science points to a higher figure than that. An adequate price on carbon will help channel the human drive and ingenuity which is our best hope of getting out of the threatening situation we are in. The authors quote with approval the words of Richard Branson: “I think a global carbon tax is screaming— blindingly obvious and should have been introduced fifteen years ago…And if that happened, we would get on top of the problem.”

There are many obstacles to effective action on climate change. The temptation to free riding is ever present and often succumbed to. It’s at the heart of the global problem of global warming. Incurring costs which result in common benefit doesn’t come easy to most of us. I reflected at this point in my reading of the book that one only has to listen to the evasive words of ministers in the New Zealand government to be aware of how strong the impulse to free riding is. Apparently we are excused from putting a strong brake on emissions because we would lose competitive advantage if we did so; we can continue to explore for more oil and gas because there could be money in it for us; we can overlook agricultural emissions because we are producing food for the world; in the last resort we are too small to make any difference to the overall picture and in any case we’re only doing what everyone else is. So yes, we’d like to see global emissions come down, but we’ll certainly not offer anything that might be construed as a lead.

But if free riding allows atmospheric carbon to rise to the point where the consequences are causing major damage the authors point to the dangers of a different phenomenon – what they call free driving. Geoengineering by countries desperate to ameliorate warming is the scenario the authors fear. It would be comparatively cheap and straightforward to inject large quantities of sulphur-based particles into the stratosphere and produce a cooling effect. Their book includes an extensive discussion of this type of geoengineering, not advocating it, but finding it difficult to see it being rejected under extreme circumstances. What the authors do advocate is international discussion and an attempt to establish international consensus in advance which would prevent rogue action. The seriousness with which they consider geoengineering is a measure of the seriousness with which they estimate the future risk of warming.

More immediately and positively the authors argue for careful and limited subsidies for low-carbon technologies particularly at the early innovation stages of learning-by-doing. They envisage short term subsidies to enable new technology to get over the initial hump between expensive early production and much cheaper later mass production.  They warn of the trap of long-term subsidies, nowhere better illustrated than in the $500 billion global fossil fuel subsidies.

The book is hardly optimistic. But the authors reject any accusation of alarmism:

We see it as our obligation to paint the full picture of what we know, and to show how what we don’t know might play out. We take no satisfaction in doing so. We can only hope that we are wrong.

Wrong on three counts: because the most drastic outcomes the science points to don’t come to pass; because society really does do what is necessary to rein in emissions; because the seemingly unstoppable drive to geo-engineering can be put under some governing mechanism.

No doubt readers will share the hope that the authors are wrong. But for the present they do a valuable service in underlining to a strangely heedless society that we really are facing terrible human danger and need to take drastic action if we’re to avert it.

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