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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]

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.

Now the dust has settled, what did Lima bring? cindy Dec 22

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For many of us, after each climate COP it’s the time to ask not so much “what did we lose and who do we blame,” but rather “what did we get, what can we work with?” My last update was on the Saturday afternoon, and the talks were to go on late into the night. I always laugh when looking at updates the next day announcing a final press conference at 2.30 am. Who books a press conference at that time of day, except at the outcome of a climate talks?

Yes, it was disappointing. The very bare bones of what we need going into Paris next year. There have been so many think pieces, so much analysis that everyone will have read by now, that it’s probably better to point to them rather than do my own. Carbon Brief did a great overview, the BBC a reasonable piece, and the Union of Concern Scientists’ Alden Meyer a detailed look.

The final text of the ADP key agreement is here.

The one big thing we can all work with is the aggregate number. The word “aggregate” snuck back into the text of the final outcome, deciding that the UNFCCC Secretariat must add up all the emission reduction commitments on the table, and work out how they look compared with the global agreed warming limit of 2ºC.

Also good is the removal of the “review” that, by the time it got to its most recent iteration, had been reduced to a weak “dialogue” with governments “willing to do so.”   At least it’s now mandatory for those numbers to be added up.

But what information needs to be in these submissions? What level of detail? Will we get a range of numbers based on differing base years, or GDP, or changes in energy intensity, or peak years? How will we compare them to know who’s doing better? Will we be able to?

This is not the ideal way to get to where you want to be. But at least we will have a number we can work with.

That the final deadline for these commitments is 1 October and that the UNFCCC has only one month to do this work is troubling and difficult. That’s not much time for any campaign at national level to try to get higher ambition from a government, not much time for international shame to be wreaked on an individual country not doing enough.

How New Zealand behaved in Lima was a little like that story of that Emperor with a new set of clothes. Tim Groser was at pains to point out to anyone who was listening that we have a great ETS that’s working, and that we will meet our 5% cut in emissions by 2020. Neither he nor our presentation to the COP gave any rationale as to how this will be met other than trading our way out of the problem.

The MFAT head of delegation Jo Tyndall gave a rousing presentation of – erm – tourism slides – to the Multilateral Assessment. It’s worth a watch for anyone interested in seeing how we present our terrible climate policy to the rest of the world.

All the other countries presented their figures in clear tables and figures. But New Zealand’s presentation had just one slide with a table in it (pictured above) – that stayed on the screen for about ten seconds. Had she lingered on this slide a little longer, the audience might have been able to see that our net emissions are set to rocket over the next 20 years.

Under questioning, Tyndall admitted that the way New Zealand measures our emissions profile means that we cannot measure the impact on our emissions profile of specific policies. Yup, that’s right. New Zealand can’t actually measure the effect of policies on our emissions profile.

How can that be? I still don’t have answers as to how we’ve managed to do this and get away with it. But it raises an obvious question: if we can’t measure the impact of policies, how do we know what are the right policies to reduce emissions. Or does the Government not really plan to introduce them?

Next year will present two challenges for our Government on the climate front. The first is the review of our Emissions Trading Scheme. Will it actually be strengthened? Will it bring in agriculture? Then we will have to review and increase our reduction target to 2025 or 2030.

Big emitters like China are now on board. China has already made a pledge that, while difficult to count, still looks like it’s going to make a huge difference to global emissions, Mr Groser has no reason to hold back our own emissions reduction target.

China has been the Big Bad Excuse for doing nothing back here in NZ for a very long time. But now it’s moving. What will we do to catch up?

Jo Tyndall also stated that the Government would be working out a “carbon budget” for New Zealand from now until 2020 – this will be a very interesting exercise.

So many questions. But one thing we do know is that a particular set of words remained in the final Lima text, to be negotiated next year: a global goal of zero emissions from fossil fuels by 2050. How does this sit with Simon Bridges’ fossil-fuel-engorged energy agenda?

There are so many challenges for us over the coming year. Let’s hope there are many here in Aotearoa who are willing to hold our Government’s feet to the fire and get a strong climate push towards Paris.

NZ: pushing the world to go beyond 2 degrees cindy Dec 05

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head-in-the-sandNew Zealand is coming under increasing scrutiny in Lima, not least because it’s our turn to be reviewed by the UNFCCC process.

Early next week our representatives will have to defend our position and our lack of action to 190 governments in our first “multilateral assessment.”

Already, there have been some tough questions, coming especially from the EU and China. New Zealand’s answered them, but will have to more to defend itself than these carefully fudged answers.

Our negotiators have been trying to promote our position around the meeting, including a botched attempt in a science discussion yesterday, when they were interrupted halfway through a blatant PR presentation. They were told to get back to the issue at hand (science, not promotion of a country’s so-called “efforts”), after a number of governments objected to our highjacking the agenda.

Right now, our ballooning emissions are on track to be at least 36% above 1990 levels – instead of the 5% below 1990 that we’ve promised, and they’re going to continue going up. In short, we’re in trouble. And we’re going to get hammered for this next week.

But let’s turn for a minute to our efforts to actually solving this problem at the global level.

At the centre of NZ’s proposal for the Paris agreement is the notion that while elements of the global deal should be legally binding, targets for cutting emissions should not be legally binding.

Everyone should just add up what they feel like doing, put them in a schedule, and the sum total should be the agreed global target. And the national targets should not be legally binding.

This proposal drew praise from Obama’s climate envoy Todd Stern a few weeks back, and the idea is also supported by a band of the most recalcitrant countries on climate change: Australia (where “coal is good for humanity”) and Canada, home of the tarsands, who have, like NZ, walked away from the Kyoto Protocol.

On the other hand, the EU, in their first press conference in Lima this week, were unequivocal in their opposition to the idea. Elina Bardram, head of the EU delegation told reporters that:

 “The EU is of the mind that legally binding mitigation targets are the only way to provide the necessary long-term signal, the necessary confidence to the investors … and provide credibility in the low carbon transition worldwide.”

This is the EU’s negotiating position on a global deal. The EU is one of the few who have actually put a target on the table – with a cut of 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, so they are backing this with action at home.

But here’s a funny thing about New Zealand’s proposal.

NZ’s “unconditional” target is to cut emissions by 5% by 2020 (below 1990). We have spelled out a specific set of conditions under which we’d improve this to 10% – or even 20%, although these two improved targets tend to cause hysterical laughter if one looks at our emissions projections.

Nick Smith told the UNFCCC on 31 January 2010 that, among other conditions, this agreement must:

“…[set] the world on a pathway to limit temperature rise to not more than 2˚C.”

That seems reasonable, right? On the face of it, it looks like NZ’s keen to keep to this globally agreed temperature limit (even though we know 2˚C of warming will wreak a fair level of havoc on the planet).

However, there appears to be a discrepancy between our conditions – and what we’re actually proposing for a Paris agreement. And this discrepancy has been pointed out by none other than the New Zealand Treasury.

Treasury’s advice to the incoming Climate Minister in November went to great lengths to explain our proposal, explaining in detail how we should only do our “fair share” – a line that is Tim Groser’s mantra, yada yada yada. But even Treasury admits:

“This may mean that the level of action is less than is required to limit global warming to two degrees, but negotiators have chosen to prioritise participation at this point in time.”

So let me get this right:

We are holding out on increasing our international commitment to climate action because we want to see a strong 2020 agreement that keeps the world on a below 2˚C pathway.

Yet even Treasury says our proposal for the Paris agreement will not achieve this.  Have our negotiators had a brainfade? Did they forget what they agreed just a few short years ago?

Or do they have instructions to do their best to avoid a 2˚C pathway so that we don’t have to increase our target?   Perhaps next week’s questioning could focus on this issue. I look forward to the event.

But one thing is clear: our Government has its head firmly planted in the sand on climate change, as activists across the country will be pointing out on Sunday.

China and US reach emissions deal, NZ govt warned its policies are failing Gareth Renowden Nov 13

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Today’s news that the US and China have agreed a long term policy to reduce carbon emissions is being hailed as a “game-changer” in international climate negotiations. China has agreed to cap its emissions in 2030 — the first time it has committed to anything more than a reduction in the carbon intensity of its emissions, while the US will aim to cut emissions by 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2025, up from its current target of 17% by 2020. [BBC, Guardian, Climate Progress.] Meanwhile, NZ’s third term National government is being warned by its own civil servants that its current emissions policy settings commit the country to substantial emissions increases over the same time frame.

With the world’s two largest emitters — between them they account for 45% of total emissions — agreeing to work together for the first time, prospects for a global deal in Paris next year look brighter than before. However, the cuts on the table do not look like enough to keep the planet on a trajectory to 2 degrees of warming or less. Associate professor Peter Christoff of the University of Melbourne explains (via The Conversation):

These commitments will frame the levels of ambition required of other states at Paris next year. Climate modellers will no doubt now be rushing to determine what these new commitments, if delivered successfully, will mean for combating global warming.

The US and Chinese cuts, significant though they are, will not be enough to limit the total increase in the atmospheric carbon dioxide unless other states engage in truly radical reductions.

In other words, global emissions are likely to continue to grow, probably until 2030, which will make it impossible to hold global warming below the world’s agreed limit of 2ºC above pre-industrial levels.

In New Zealand the briefings for incoming ministers in the new government — same as the old lot, in climate relevant ministries — have been remarkably blunt in their assessment of the task the country faces.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) Briefing to Incoming Ministers (BIM)1 is blunt about the importance of dealing with climate change (pdf here):

Climate change and resource scarcity are challenging core elements of the global ecosystem. Climate change is the most urgent and far-reaching threat we face, and the current negotiations on climate change are the most important multilateral negotiation now under way. Positions taken by countries on climate change and their readiness to contribute to global solutions will increasingly define the way that others perceive them politically and economically.

The Ministry for the Environment BIM2 points out the huge gulf between fine words and inadequate policy settings:

…We have an established price on emissions and market infrastructure in place through the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS), although current settings are not driving meaningful emissions reductions. In 2015 the NZ ETS is scheduled to be reviewed to assess whether the settings remain suitable for delivering on government objectives.

That ETS review will have to consider the reality shown in this graph from p22 of the MfE BIM.

NZemissionsMFEbriefing

The only way the government can reach its unconditional target of a 5% cut on 1990 levels by 2020 is by using carried forward emissions reductions from the first Kyoto commitment period (even though it subsequently withdrew from CP2) and by buying emissions units from overseas. Real cuts in emissions in the following decade will require a real carbon price — not an ETS that rewards polluters for their pollution.

If NZ is to table emissions cuts that parallel those from the USA, then emissions policy settings are going to need an urgent and dramatic revamp. The good news is that the China and US initiative on emissions means that NZ’s government can no longer point to international failure to cooperate as a reason why NZ should do little or nothing.

PM John Key has said in the past that he wants NZ to be a “fast follower” of the world leaders on emissions reductions. Now is the time to show just how fast a follower he intends to be. We can only hope it’s pretty damn speedy.

  1. The incoming ministers are Murray McCulley (Foreign Affairs), and Tim Groser (Trade and Climate Change Issues), full ministerial list here.
  2. Incoming minister is Nick Smith, same as the outgoing one.

IPCC AR5 completed: science has spoken – cut deep, cut soon Gareth Renowden Nov 03

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The IPCC’s Fifth Report process reached its climax in Copenhagen yesterday with the release of the final “synthesis” report (download here), which pulls together all the strands from the three working group reports on the physical science (Working Group 1), climate impacts (WG2) and how to go about dealing with the problem (WG3). Launching the report, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon was blunt:

“Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.”

Given that it’s based entirely on the work done for the underlying reports, there are no surprises the synthesis report for anyone who has been following climate news over the last year, but what is striking is the emphasis on the need for rapid and deep cuts in fossil fuel emissions – and a corresponding steep increase in investment in renewable energy sources. Ban Ki-Moon emphasised the point in a comment aimed at investors:

“Please reduce your investments in the coal- and fossil fuel-based economy and [move] to renewable energy.”

Writing in the Guardian, Bill McKibben notes an increase in the urgency of the language being used:

This week, with the release of their new synthesis report, [scientists] are trying the words “severe, widespread, and irreversible” to describe the effects of climate change – which for scientists, conservative by nature, falls just short of announcing that climate change will produce a zombie apocalypse plus random beheadings plus Ebola. It’s hard to imagine how they will up the language in time for the next big global confab in Paris.

The Guardian’s coverage is – as always – exemplary. In addition to Damian Carrington’s news report, they also give good graph. See also the BBC, and Stuff – who take the AP coverage.

New Zealand’s climate change minister Tim Groser issued a press release to welcome the report:

It is the best scientific assessment of climate issues available. I’m delighted that New Zealand scientists have contributed to this body of knowledge.

If that’s really the case, why is Groser enacting policies which are currently pointing NZ towards a 50% increase in emissions instead of deep cuts? Perhaps he should be listening to Ban Ki-moon when he says “”There is a myth that climate action will cost heavily, but inaction will cost much more.”

NZ government climate policy: look, a squirrel! Gareth Renowden Dec 16

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Two major new government reports on New Zealand’s emissions projections and the expected impacts of four degrees of warming on NZ agriculture were released without fanfare last Friday — the timing clearly designed to minimise media fallout from reports that highlight the paucity and ineffectiveness of current climate policy settings.

Climate change minister Tim Groser dutifully issued a press release welcoming the release of New Zealand’s Sixth National Communication under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol, the first such report since 2009. Groser praised government policies, but failed to draw attention to the fact that his own report shows NZ emissions failing to meet the government’s targeted cuts, or that current policy settings will do little to reduce them — let alone achieve reductions by comparison with 1990 levels. This graph1 of actual and projected net emissions out to 2030 tells the story of the Key government’s abject policy failure:

The blue line is actual emissions up to 2008, “with measures” — that is, as affected by policies to reduce emissions. The red line is emissions projected out to 2030 assuming no action to reduce emissions, the green line the emissions that will result after current policy settings are taken into account. Both green and red lines rise substantially up to 2030, and end up at the virtually the same point2 — more than double NZ’s net emissions in 1990.

In other words, Tim Groser and his cabinet colleagues have created a suite of policies designed to increase New Zealand’s emissions at a time when they are supposed to be being reduced, and which will miserably fail to meet the government’s own target of a 5% reduction in emissions (using the 1990 baseline) by 2020.

The second report released last week is much the more interesting of the two, and makes grim reading for anyone trying to play down the seriousness of the likely changes that confront NZ and its farmers and growers. Four Degrees of Global Warming: Effects on the New Zealand Primary Sector (full report and summary available here) was placed on the Ministry of Primary Industries web site last Friday, but was spotted by TV3 News today.

The report is the first study to consider the likely impacts of warming at the upper end of global expectations, and projects climate impacts across the country and on pasture and forest productivity based on two different climate model projections. The pattern of changes is much as described in previous studies — warming spreading down from the north, wetter in the west and drier in the east, greater rainfall intensities, bigger floods and longer droughts — but with much sharper increases in these parameters.

Under the four degrees of warming scenario:

  • frosts are expected to disappear from all but the highest parts of the North Island and much of the coastal South Island
  • the amount of rain falling in extreme events is expected to increase by 32%
  • river flows will experience seasonal changes as snowfall declines
  • periods of maximum irrigation demand are likely to coincide with extended periods of low flows in major catchments
  • a massive increase in the growing degree days experienced in all regions, with Canterbury almost as warm as Northland
  • fruit crops requiring winter chilling (apricots, kiwi) will have to move south
  • wine growing regions will move and different grape varietals will be required
  • significant increase in heat stress on dairy cattle

The report finds that the most positive impact will be on forestry, where a combination of warming and CO2 fertilisation is expected to increase yields in both Pinus radiata and eucalyptus plantations.

This is more than a little ironic, given that the Emissions Trading Scheme policy settings and low carbon price have reduced the attractiveness of forestry planting as a carbon sink. The one thing that might do well in a warmer NZ is the one thing the government seems unable to incentivise with a handout. Perhaps James Cameron could make a film about it?

  1. From p126 of the report
  2. 88 Gg CO2e without measures, 84 Gg with.

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