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Posts Tagged Gerry Brownlee

TDB today: up a blind alley (without a paddle) Gareth Renowden Mar 12

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In this week’s post at The Daily BlogUp a blind alley (without a paddle) — I ruminate further on the message to be gleaned from last week’s flooding in Christchurch, and how ignoring the shape of things to come makes for bad government and worse politics:

What happened in Christchurch was not a consequence of climate change (though the heavy rainfall is something expected to increase in a warming world), but an early warning of what will happen to coastal cities as sea level rise takes its toll over coming decades. With CO2 nudging 400 ppm, the planet can expect the sea to eventually stop rising when it is 15-20 metres higher than today. It might take a few hundred years to get there, but if we don’t act to reduce atmospheric carbon it’s not just a distant threat, it’s a long term certainty.

With another storm bearing down on the country from the tropics and severe weather on the cards for much of the country over the weekend, the government may well have to confront another flood emergency. We can only hope they learn something more than how to deploy the prime ministerial mop.

Lost in the flood Gareth Renowden Mar 09

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CantyfloodsNASAEO

This morning’s NASA Earth Observatory image of the day shows the impact of last week’s heavy rain in Christchurch and Banks Peninsula on the sea around. The light blue colours show sediment washed off the land. If you visit the EO page, they provide a helpful reference image: the region snapped from space in late February, when there’s no sign of any sediment at all.

The heavy rain brought flooding to many parts of Christchurch, as NASA notes:

Christchurch’s flood control infrastructure has been under increasing pressure in recent years because a series of earthquakes struck the area in 2010 and 2011. According to University of Canterbury researchers, the quakes caused land in some areas to drop, while narrowing and uplifting certain river channels. The result is an increased risk of flooding.

This rainfall map from NIWA shows rainfall over the last 15 days (right) compared with the average for the same period (left) and the anomaly (centre). The rain event is immediately obvious as the blue thumb sticking out of the South Island east coast:

CantyfloodsNIWA15day

The Weather Underground’s Christopher Burt provides numbers for the storm:

The powerful storm pounded the Christchurch area between March 3-5 with wind gusts up to 119 km/h (74 mph) and rainfall of 151.6 mm (5.97”) as officially measured at Christchurch’s weather station. Of this amount 100 mm (3.94”) fell in just a single 24-hour period on March 4-5. The suburb of Lyttelton received 160 mm (6.30”) in 24 hours and other suburbs reported storm totals of 170 mm (6.70”). The normal monthly rainfall for Christchurch in March is just 45 mm (1.77”).

For a selection of pictures, see these galleries at Stuff.co.nz: Christchurch, Lyttleton and Banks Peninsula.

The severe flooding in parts of Christchurch – notably the “Flockton Basin” – was caused or made worse by a number of factors. The earthquake sequence caused ground levels to fall by up to half a metre in parts of the eastern suburbs and along the Avon River (see map here), raised and narrowed river and stream beds and damaged or destroyed storm water infrastructure. Add to that a heavy rainfall event that would have taxed the drainage system in pre-quake times, not to mention the tail end of a sequence of high spring tides causing water to back up in the estuary, and you have all the makings of a historic flood event.

Local and national politicians have rushed to promise action to address the flooding, but Christchurch’s problems will not be solved by a crash programme to defend homes that now flood every time there’s a rainstorm. Continuing sea level rise and increasing rainfall intensities — both already observed and projected to get much worse — suggest that serious consideration should be given to managed retreat in some areas, rather than rebuild and defend. How high should you make a stop bank when you expect sea level in a hundred years time to be a metre higher than now?

Christchurch is facing the sort of problems that all coastal cities are going to have to confront over coming decades, brought forward by the earthquake sequence that caused so much death and destruction. Unfortunately for the citizens of the city, the earthquake recovery programme is being overseen by Gerry Brownlee, a cabinet minister who is on the record as a climate sceptic. If he fails to consider the big picture, and neglects to plan for a future when the waters have risen far above today’s levels, then Christchurch will be even deeper trouble every time it rains old women and sticks1.

[Brooce, at his best.]

  1. Mae hi’n bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn – It’s raining old ladies and sticks: Welsh idiom.

Lip service: NZ government infested with climate denial Gareth Renowden Nov 15

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Over the last few years I’ve documented the current NZ government’s lackadaisical attitude to climate change policy. They’ve gutted the emissions trading scheme and dismantled sensible initiatives, ensuring that NZ emissions are on course to grow steeply. Last night, TV3 News asked three senior cabinet ministers whether they believed in the reality of climate change, and two of the three couldn’t quite find it in their hearts to endorse simple reality. Here’s my transcription of their responses:

Gerry Brownlee (minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, Transport, Leader of the House, #3 in the hierarchy):

Well, I think climate change is something that has happened always, so to simply come up and say, look, it’s man-made, is an interesting prospect.

Bill English (deputy PM, finance minister, #2 in the hierarchy):

There’s some impact… [edit] we should uncritically follow the Green’s extreme views about these things, well, many of us don’t.

By way of contrast, climate change minister Tim Groser was unequivocal:

Absolutely, the evidence is overwhelming — you’d have to be denying reality…

Given that I’ve been critical of Groser’s stance on NZ climate policy, it’s refreshing that he feels free to be so blunt in his acceptance of the reality of the problem. He is, after all, a skilled diplomat, and knows that if he were to tell the world that climate change was “an interesting prospect”, his peers in the international community would consider him to be a complete tit. It’s perhaps a good job that English and Brownlee don’t have to front up to the world on climate matters, or their self-esteem might suffer.

Here’s a simple explanation of the issue that even a woodwork teacher could understand. The fact of climate change, the reality of the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet’s climate system, is not political. Acknowledging that the evidence supporting that position is overwhelming is not a political act. It’s called living in the real world.

The politics is in what you do about it. That’s where the debate is, where international negotiations are proceeding (or not).

The only argument worth having that has any basis in science is how bad it will get, and how soon. There are legitimate differences of opinion about that amongst the people with the most expertise — the earth scientists who study the issue.

But you are not let off the hook of having to devise and implement effective emissions reductions and adaptive strategies by assuming that climate change is somehow not going to be too bad. That would be appalling risk management — akin to underinsuring your house and then lighting a bonfire on the back deck. We need policy that prepares for the worst that climate change can throw at us, while at the same time aiming for emissions reductions that minimise the long term damage.

To do that, we need a government that really understands the gravity of the problem the world confronts. There’s no shortage of evidence, but around the cabinet table there appears to be a considerable lack of willingness to take it seriously. That’s bad management, bad politics and bad government.

[Mr Costello and The Attractions]

NZ’s climate policy omnishambles – gerry brownlee’s anti-carbon tax Mr February Dec 19

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Gerry Brownlee, formerly a minister of energy and fossil fuel, and currently the Minister for Transport and for bulldozing democracy, heritage and social order in Christchurch, today announced that petrol duty will be increasing by 3 cents a litre annually for the next 3 years to fund new roads.

Specifically mentioned are the Rangiriri and Tamahere-Cambridge sections of the Waikato Expressway, the Mackays to Peka Peka section of the Wellington Northern Corridor and the four-laning of the Groynes to Sawyers Arms (Johns Road) section of the Western Corridor in Christchurch.

The reason given for this policy is that the funding is needed for the Roads of National Significance programme and some upper North Island transport projects. I guess that means more spaghetti motorway in Auckland.

This is crazy policy.

The first level of craziness of the petrol duty hike is that it will affect the benefit-cost analysis (BCA) of each Roads of National Significance (RONS) project. Projects like Transmission Gully Expressway, have already been justified to hearings before the Environment Protection Authority on very marginal benefit/cost ratios. Julie-Anne Genter of the Greens said the benefit/cost ratio of Transmission Gully was 0.6. The RONS don’t even break even in BCA terms.

Now with the added petrol duty, the marginal benefit/cost ratio would be even worse. However, I bet that won’t make Gerry Brownlee or Steven Joyce any less obsessed with them.

The second level of craziness with the petrol duty increase is the Government’s complete failure to understand carbon pricing (which is what a petrol duty is) and to anchor their transport, energy and infrastructure policy with effective carbon pricing.

I have no problem with the price of petrol or diesel increasing. Road transport has many externalities that are not priced. It is “elephant in the room” obvious that the most important unpriced externality of liquid fossil fuels is global warming. And not a lack of four-lane expressways.

“But we have an emissions trading scheme!” I hear some one say. “Surely, road transport fuels are included in the NZETS?”

Yes we sort of have an emissions trading scheme which includes liquid fossil fuels which sort of prices carbon. But NZ carbon prices have crashed 72% in 2012.

According to estimates by the Energy and Data part of Steven Joyce’s mega-ministry MoBIE, in the three months ended on 30 September 2012, the NZ emissions trading scheme probably accounted for 0.93 cents out of the regular petrol price of $2.09 per litre.

So we may describe New Zealand’s petrol pricing policy as having two mutually conflicting parts. The price includes a component for revenue gathering for unneeded four-lane RONS expressways (3 cents/litre). The price also includes a component for the NZETS carbon price (0.93 cents/litre).

And the four-lane expressways part exceeds the carbon-pricing ETS part by a factor of 3.

This is the complete opposite of effective carbon pricing. Brownlees’s petrol duty, to coin an expression, is an anti-carbon tax. What a shambles!

Unsafe assumptions guide expansion of drilling in NZ Bryan Walker Sep 22

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A Close Up interview on TV One this week looked at the economic desirability of the proposed expansion of drilling exploration in New Zealand weighed against the environmental concerns. I had just finished my post on the feasibility of renewable energy fully powering the world’s economies by 2050 and it interested me that both the Government and the industry spokespeople chose to make much of the assumption that any change to renewable sources of energy is a long way off. A safe distance, one might say. The assumption was used to buttress the case for expanded exploration. Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee:

“This is a revenue [stream] for the Government that’s very very large. You’ve got to realise that the world is not going to go away from being a hydro-carbon economy literally for decades.”

David Robinson of the NZ Petroleum Exploration and Production Association:

“I’m as keen on the clean green technology as anyone. I’m very much an environmentalist myself. The reality of the world energy supply at the moment though is that renewables struggle to get to 30  percent…the reality is that the world’s oil and gas is what is fuelling the world today and it will be quite a number of years, many decades in fact, before it is replaced by some  of  the newer technology. Which will be wonderful when it happens but for the time being the world is very heavily reliant on oil and gas.”

Rick Boven, economic and environmental strategist, agreed that there was likely money to be made from exploiting oil and gas but pointed to the bad consequences for the climate if this course is pursued around the world, which ultimately meant bad consequences for the economy as well. He pointed also to the economic risk, for example, of a binding global climate agreement which would restrict our output and leave assets stranded.

It’s not my concern to follow the discussion so much as to point up the blandness of the assertion that we will rely on oil and gas for decades to come. Even in their own economic terms it’s hardly a reliable prediction. In climate change terms it’s a recipe for disaster. Obviously we can’t stop using oil and gas overnight, but the kind of aggressive roll-out of energy efficiency technologies and renewable energy technologies that the Ecofys and other reports envisage and common sense demands, puts big economic questions, let alone climate change questions, over the notion that we have a bright future in oil exploration and production. Prudent investors must surely be starting to ask themselves such questions.

The oil world and its political allies may be full of confident assertion. But there are counter currents which they and their investors would do well to heed.

Rebuilding on a rising tide Gareth Renowden Jun 15

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It’s been a shaky week in Christchurch and Canterbury. Another M6.3 shock hit the city on Monday afternoon — renewing the misery for many in the city’s eastern and seaside suburbs, but thankfully not adding to the death toll. Attention has now turned — with some force — to the question of which suburbs should be rebuilt, and an excellent feature by David Williams in last Saturday’s Press on sea level rise and its implications for the rebuilding of Christchurch should cause some pause for thought. Williams interviewed James Hansen during his visit to the city last month (shortly before I did, in fact), and uses Hansen’s views on sea level rise to kick off his discussion:

Hansen says a multi-metre sea level rise is possible this century if greenhouse gas emissions, caused by things such as coal-fired power plants, vehicle engines and agriculture, are not reduced.

Williams goes on to put that into the context of a city where the baseline has shifted:

But the sea-level implications of his predictions are particularly significant for low-lying, quake-hit Christchurch.

The city has two rivers snaking through it and much of it is drained swamp land. As it is, the city’s main surveying marker — a stone in the foyer of the city’s broken Anglican cathedral, 8.5 kilometres from the beach — is barely five metres above the high tide line.

Since the run of earthquaked began last September, the city’s eastern and riverside suburbs are living with a new normal:

Tidal flooding from the Lower Styx River has swamped some Brooklands properties twice a day since the February earthquake.

Last month high-tide flooding hit Christchurch’s river suburbs and residents are anxiously waiting to see if it’s a wet winter.

GNS Science geophysicist John Beavan, of Wellington, has been surveying post-quake Christchurch. He confirms that isolated areas, rather than whole suburbs, have dropped by up to a metre.

Modelling done after the quake – quite a bit of which has been verified by surveying – showed that the Avon- Heathcote Estuary and part of the Port Hills has risen by “several tens of centimetres”. Meanwhile, land to the north of the Estuary, such as Bexley, has gone down by maybe 10cm. Subsidence because of liquefaction is on top of that.

It remains to be seen if Monday’s shock has added to those figures, but it would be unwise to presume that things haven’t got worse. Williams also digs out the views of another Williams who is taking a precautionary view of where sea level will eventually end up:

Former Christchurch man Nigel Williams, a traffic planner who now lives in Auckland, follows Hansen’s work closely and is developing a retirement property, with solar panels, well out of harm’s way.

Williams, 64, has a blog called The 100 Metre Line, which urges people to move to higher ground while they still can. He says 10 metres above mean sea level passes through St Andrew’s College, in Papanui, and parts of Halswell.

“If by 2050 there has been half a metre of sea level rise, we’ll be up to our arses by 2100,” he says. “I’d move to Geraldine.”

Nice place, Geraldine. Any city rebuilding plan which fails to take account of projected sea level rise over the next 150 years will not be worth the paper it’s written on, but given that the process is being supervised by coal-loving former energy minister Gerry Brownlee, I don’t hold out much hope for common sense and forward thinking being properly applied. [I should note that chez Hot Topic is 170m above sea level -- and a rather large earthquake-prone fault is expressed as a cliff about 30 metres from where I write this. I'm not sure which will get me first.]

Lignite: dirty brown forbidden fruit Bryan Walker Feb 20

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Two items during this week highlighted the continuing progress of Solid Energy’s intentions to develop the Southland lignite fields. I therefore provide this depressing update to two Hot Topic posts on the issue late last year. Don Elder (left), CEO of state-owned enterprise Solid Energy, appeared before the Commerce select committee during the week and announced that the proposed lignite developments will be worth billions. And it appears that this will be the case even if they don’t receive free carbon credits under the ETS, which they appear to nevertheless hope for. There was a slight acknowledgement that there were carbon footprint issues still to be resolved and some soothing suggestions, reported in the Otago Daily Times, that approaches such as mixing synthetic diesel with biofuels, carbon capture and storage, and planting trees, could reduce the net emissions. With a convenient fall-back — that the company could pay someone elsewhere in the world to do this for it. There is little evidence that carbon capture and storage will feature as anything more than talk in this scenario. The wildest extremity of the CCS option was touched on outside the committee when Elder spoke of the possibility of eventually piping carbon out to sea and pumping it into sea-floor oil or gas wells, after the Great South Basin has been developed.

Claire Browning at Pundit describes in lively language being present at the committee hearing. She was fascinated by Solid Energy’s definition of sustainability:

’For our business to be sustainable in the long term we must carry out all our activities in ways that achieve our current business objectives without unreasonably compromising our ability to meet our future objectives.’

Rather circular by comparison with what is normally understood by sustainability, as in this UN statement for example:

’Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’

Browning’s excellent discussion also draws attention to the fact that Solid Energy has at long last, under pressure from the Ombudsman, released lignite pollution estimates to WWF showing that the lignite-to-diesel fuel proposals would produce emissions at double the level of already-polluting conventional diesel.  The WWF’s response is on its website. Browning also refers to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s carefully researched report in December in which she gave a clear thumb down to any proposals to develop lignite. Elder claims that the Commissioner’s report failed to address the economics of the proposals, which she evidently doesn’t understand. How economics can trump environmental concerns is presumably a lesson she has yet to learn.

Gerry Brownlee has learned that lesson well, of course, and in question time in the House this week he both acknowledged the magnitude of the emissions from the proposed lignite developments and pointed to the ETS as a way of coping with them. Asked by Green MP Kennedy Graham (who blogs on the issue at Frogblog here) by how many tonnes Solid Energy’s proposed lignite projects in Southland would increase New Zealand’s gross greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 he replied that depending on the scale of technology used, gross emissions could be 10 million to 20 million tonnes per annum. He then immediately added that Solid Energy has said on many occasions that taking full responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions is a key consideration in its lignite developments and it expects its lignite-based plants to achieve full carbon compliance. Asked whether, if by that he meant carbon capture and storage, he could name one suitable reservoir to store carbon dioxide in the Southland lignite region, Brownlee replied that he couldn’t give operational answers on behalf of Solid Energy. But the fact that he immediately added that the government has introduced an emissions trading scheme that will enable carbon compliance suggests that CCS doesn’t matter anyway.

It’s important to appreciate the relative quantity of the increased greenhouse gas emissions which will result from the proposed lignite development. According to the Ministry for the Environment figures, in 2008 New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions were 74.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. The 10 to 20 million tonnes extra from lignite is not a minor addition. It is very large, and since in 2008 we were already 23 per cent up on 1990 levels it’s very difficult to understand how the government can be talking of a 10-20 per cent reduction on 1990 levels by 2020 at the same time as smoothing the way for the exploitation of lignite.

If the ETS is not stringent enough to make the lignite proposals uneconomic then the government should be resorting to regulation. Market-based systems are not sacrosanct. The government’s hands are not tied. It’s absurd that so-called carbon compliance should be compatible with this dangerous development.

What about the economic opportunity we are missing? To my mind it would simply be a bank we hadn’t robbed. We would be missing out on the proceeds of crime. Is that being melodramatic? Not as I see it. It’s not as if the lignite development falls into the category of an unavoidable measure to keep us turning over while we make the transition to renewable energy. There’s no interim necessity attached to it. It’s simply a tempting fruit. And a forbidden one if we have any sense of the consequences which flow from plucking it.

Moving the earth for oil Bryan Walker Jan 11

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Ethical oil. That’s what Canada is producing from its massive tar sands operation, according to the newly appointed Environment Minister Peter Kent. I admit to having missed that dimension in what I have read of the oil extraction from tar sands. I understood that when the CO2 emissions from its production is added to the CO2 from its combustion it emits between 10 and 45 percent more than conventional crude. I also understood that the environmental effects of the mining and extraction process are appalling, that restoration undertakings are more promised than real and that First Nation communities are gravely affected. Most telling of all I understood that according to James Hansen if the world wants to have a chance of avoiding dangerous climate change it must not only rapidly phase out coal emissions but also leave unconventional fossil fuels such as oil from tar sands in the ground.

But I didn’t understand that tar sand oil was ethical. What makes it so? The Minister explains:

’It is a regulated product in an energy superpower democracy. The profits from this oil are not used in undemocratic or unethical ways. The proceeds are used to better society in the great Canadian democracy. The wealth generated is shared with Canadians, with investors.’

He added in a subsequent interview that the Obama administration needs to be reminded that, unlike the energy it buys from other foreign suppliers, oil-sands petroleum ’is the product of a natural resource whose revenues don’t go to fund terrorism.’

So the oil is ethical because Canada is a democracy. He doesn’t actually name the countries which produce less than ethical oil, but his characterisation presumably draws on a recent book Ethical Oil by Canadian author Ezra Levant which instances Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria, Venezuela and Sudan as much less desirable sources.

As the Globe and Mail sees it, Kent’s pitch is ’an attempt to beat back efforts by U.S. politicians and activists who want a boycott of Canada’s oil sands owing to its greenhouse-gas-heavy extraction methods and ensuing environmental damage’.

Kent complains that the product has been demonised, but in its support falls back on the sort of argument we’ve heard a lot of in New Zealand. He calls it ’relevant measurements’.

’Oil-sands production accounts, I think, for 5 per cent of Canada’s total greenhouse-gas emissions. It’s less than one-tenth of 1 per cent of global greenhouse-gas emissions and barely 1 per cent of the equivalent greenhouse-gas emissions by American coal-fired power generators.’

Citing the tentative economic recovery, Kent said the Harper government will not impose any greenhouse-gas reductions on the oil patch that would discourage investment across the sector.

’Our focus for the next several years is going to continue to be on maintaining the economic recovery and we will do nothing in the short term which would unnecessarily compromise or threaten to compromise that recovery. It is not our intention to discourage development of one of our great natural resources. We know it can be developed responsibly.’

The Canadian government does have some intentions for emissions reductions — 17 percent down from 2005 levels by 2020. But the rules when they come will be drawn up ’with a sensitivity to maintaining a competitive situation’.

It is clear that the Canadian Government has not faced up to the fact that we can’t both successfully tackle the threat of climate change and also pursue fossil fuels to depletion. That’s the plain fact of the matter, and no amount of bluster about developing natural resources or economic recovery or maintaining competitiveness can alter it.

It’s a fact which many Governments must face, not only Canada’s. Indeed while reading the Globe and Mail report I was struck by the similarities to the position of the New Zealand government. Our Minister of Energy and Economic Development is defending the exploitation of what he describes as our natural resources with equal robustness. He paints a rosy economic future from deep sea oil drilling and lignite coal development. It will, of course, be undertaken with due regard for the environment. In fact, he went so far as to say in his opening address to the NZ Petroleum Conference last September that the development is needed to enable us to care for our environment.

’I would strongly argue that it is only through a strong economy that New Zealand can afford the expenditure required to look after and improve our environment. A strong economy allows the government to spend money on biodiversity, on improving water quality, on insulating our houses, on protecting our endangered species and preserving our heritage. All those things cost money. None of them are free. A strong economy allows expenditure on them…

’So rather than stop ourselves from using our natural wealth, this government has made it clear we want to develop our natural resources in an environmentally responsible way.’

The doublethink is staggering.  The only honest way of putting what both Ministers are saying is that anything we do towards emissions reduction will be token at best, because we are dead set on developing our fossil fuel resources. Why don’t they just put it baldly so that we all know where our Governments stand?  Why the weasel words about environmental protection?  Why talk of reducing emissions when they plan fuelling their increase on a large scale?

We work as rapidly and purposefully as we can to reduce emissions or we make the future climate changes even worse than they already will be.

No doubt I’ll be accused of being simplistic in pressing such questions when the issue is one of great complexity. Well, there may be complexities to be worked through, but the underlying picture is starkly simple. We work as rapidly and purposefully as we can to reduce emissions or we make the future climate changes even worse than they already will be. It was a group of Canadian scientists who have just published a widely reported paper in Nature Geoscience which predicts climate change resulting from even the present level of CO2 will be persisting for centuries. I wonder what Canadian Ministers make of that.

Another newly published Canadian paper was reported on TV3 news last night because of the major shrinkage it predicted in New Zealand glaciers during this century. I wonder if that registered with New Zealand Ministers. All the wealth of the South Island lignite fields or of oil discovered in deep sea drilling won’t suffice to put the ice back in the glaciers.

Greenpeace: speaking truth to power Bryan Walker Jan 02

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I’d like to offer a post in praise of Greenpeace. I’m not an active member of the organisation, though I give modest financial support because I am often thankful for its clear voice and actions on climate change.  A look through Greenpeace NZ’s latest magazine reminded me of the range of its climate change concern and prompted this acknowledgement.

The backward-looking Gerry Brownlee receives short shrift in a piece which makes my criticisms of him on Hot Topic look timid by comparison. Here’s Greenpeace’s take on NZ reality:

’We are a renewable energy powerhouse with an embarrassment of riches in smart thinking, engineering and scientific capability which enables us to deliver world beating climate change solutions.’

Brownlee, instead of focusing government thinking and support on this reality, proposes:

’…that we reach for the pick axes and start digging for the black stuff — be it coal or oil. Come forth, explore, exploit and burn is his rallying cry as practically no part of God’s Own is exempt from the whims of the highest bidder.’

Brownlee is playing Russian roulette with our pristine coastlines, our international reputation and with the climate. Moreover his focus on resuscitating the dying fossil fuel industry is denying our clean tech companies (more than 250 of them) the opportunity to conquer the clean technology world. The government must wake up to the 21st century.

’It must make clean technology the foundation of long-term economic prosperity and, in doing so, send a clear signal to businesses both at home and abroad that we are serious about becoming a key player in a low carbon world.’

Elsewhere the magazine records that Greenpeace has called on the NZ government to permanently stop all plans to open up NZ’s coastal waters to offshore oil drilling and stop any expansion of coal mining. A petition to that effect is under way. Two actions have highlighted the call. A group of volunteers smeared with fake crude emerged from the sea at Muriwai in July (pictured).  A few days later a bathing-gear-clad group similarly smeared walked through downtown Wellington to deliver the first 18,000 signatures of the petition along with Greenpeace’s submission on the Review of the Crown Minerals Act.

Greenpeace NZ’s campaign against Fonterra for the dairy industry’s use of palm kernel grown on areas of destroyed rainforest has received media coverage, particularly through their disruptive action at the Auckland Fonterra offices. The magazine reports the evasiveness of Fonterra CEO Andrew Ferrier when asked if Fonterra supported deforestation in Indonesia ’…we’ve got, um, plenty of people in our comms  department that you can talk to about that.’ The ’comms people’ were meanwhile putting out a statement mentioning Fonterra’s supply partner who ’we believe follows industry best practice in responsible sourcing.’  Greenpeace comments dryly that ’we believe’ is corporate speak for ’don’t ask, don’t tell’. Typically Greenpeace were on the ground in Indonesia, researching the continued destruction of rainforest by the palm industry and the magazine includes Communications Manager Suzette Jackson’s account of her 27 hours in jail when caught documenting the evidence of widespread destruction.

These examples from the recent magazine are of course just the tip of the iceberg for Greenpeace’s ongoing activism on climate change backed by solid and well-researched reports such as one on the clean energy future possible for New Zealand, or the Greenpeace International publications on their climate vision. From the international level the magazine carried some remarks by Kumi Naidoo who became the Executive Director of Greenpeace in 2009. He describes climate change as without question the greatest threat any generation has had to face, and at one point speaks of the role of civil disobedience, often present in Greenpeace actions, in awakening governments to action on such a crucial matter.

’History tells us that whenever injustice arises — whether that be related to civil rights in the United States, New Zealand’s nuclear-free movement, a woman’s right to vote, Parihaka or the anti-Springbok tour protests — it was only when determined men and women were prepared to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough, I am prepared to peacefully break the law and even go to prison to get our message across’, that change finally happened.

’When all other attempts at negotiation or discussion have faltered, organisations must have the option of turning to civil disobedience and non-violent direct action.’

It is this preparedness that gives Greenpeace’s advocacy the seriousness that climate change demands. All power to them as they continue the battle determinedly in the year ahead.

Can you dig it? Bryan Walker Dec 15

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On the same day that I wrote a post about the proposed lignite development in Southland I emailed the Minister for Economic Development, Gerry Brownlee, to express my dismay at the news. I have received a letter in reply which explains all too clearly how such a development could, and presumably will, proceed under current policy.

In my email to the Minister I pointed out that simply offsetting the massive emissions from lignite development would hardly be in line with the intention of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and the imperative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I wrote that unless there are clear plans to capture and sequester the carbon dioxide which will be released the company should not be permitted to undertake any of the proposals. The government is the owner of Solid Energy, able to tell the company it is not to proceed with the plans, and if necessary able to legislate to prevent the development of lignite until such time as sequestration technology is established. I spoke of the Minister’s duty to prevent such development at this time, and stated in conclusion that his obligation to protect our descendants from the potentially terrifying effects of climate change far outweighs any responsibility he carries for present economic development.

The Minister’s reply first assured me that, like me, the Government is concerned about climate change and is committed to doing its ’fair share’ in reducing New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. The fair share theme is a constant in government statements about climate change these days. It’s a politically useful term: it reminds those who want to do considerably less than we are doing that we can’t afford to appear laggard, and it also serves to placate those who feel we are less than whole-hearted in tackling the issue. It’s hard to argue with, and I can understand its attraction for the government. Nevertheless it’s hardly the kind of term that immediately leaps to mind if one really is concerned about climate change. It suggests that the Government worry is not so much climate change as political positioning.

The Minister goes on to say the ETS is the Government’s principal policy response to climate change. It puts a price on greenhouse gases, he explains, and provides an incentive to reduce emissions and to encourage tree planting. He then adds that it does not provide a cap for existing (or future) emissions and hence is not prescriptive about what developments should or should not progress. This strikes me as a very clear admission that the ETS may not, in fact, result in any reduction of emissions at all.  It is a remarkable act of faith in the power of incentives, and an abdication of responsibility for the outcome.

That abdication becomes clearer as the letter proceeds. It is admitted that lignite developments of the scale being investigated by Solid Energy will create significant greenhouse gas emissions, depending on the particular projects chosen. However any development will be ’carbon compliant’ with New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emission management frameworks. That looks like meaning that Solid Energy will pay whatever is required under the ETS to cover the cost of its emissions, and if the project remains profitable under such a regime it will go ahead whatever the level of its  emissions.

But if Geoff Bertram and Simon Terry have it right in their book The Carbon Challenge, Solid Energy, far from paying for the emissions from a plant to manufacture urea from lignite, may well be entitled to subsidies in the form of free emission units for its operations provided it meets certain benchmark standards for ‘emissions intensity’. Bertram and Terry estimate that subsidy could go as high as between $500 million and $1 billion dollars in nominal terms over the first twenty years of the plant’s life. This, even though it would be the country’s biggest single industrial emitter of greenhouse gases after the Huntly power station.

Back to the Minister’s letter. A paragraph follows noting that to potentially mitigate against CO2 emissions Solid Energy is actively following the progress of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). The letter referred me to a page on the Ministry of Economic Development website for information about government-industry collaboration on the active investigation of the feasibility of CCS in New Zealand. Maybe I missed something but the page looked pretty sleepy to me. There’s little sign there that CCS is likely to figure prominently in Solid Energy’s lignite projects.

The Minister’s letter then emphasises that projects of this scale have long lead times. He is aware of investigative drilling and pre-feasibility studies, but as yet the decision to commence project construction has not been made. As no formal proposal has been lodged he cannot pre-empt outcomes. I don’t know what pre-empting means in this context, but it seems pretty clear from the rest of the letter that he won’t be looking to create any obstacles.

A final paragraph points out that a development of this scale ’that can effectively manage its emissions profile’ would provide significant opportunities for New Zealand, maybe even bringing about ’a step change’ in New Zealand’s growth.  Given that the bar for the management of emissions is set so low what this seems to mean is that we’re soon to enjoy major economic benefit from the development of lignite. Am I being unfair in drawing the conclusion that this counts for the Minister ahead of any climate change concern?

The kindest thing one can say of the Minister and the Government he represents is that they have as yet no adequate conception of the magnitude of the threats that come with climate change. I’ll do them the courtesy of presuming that if they did they would have made it very clear by now that the lignite will stay in the ground.

[Mock Turtles]

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