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Posts Tagged Tim Groser

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…

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.

Dead rats and circumcision cindy Dec 14

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IMG_3372 - Version 2Saturday afternoon in Lima.

On the good side, the one place selling good coffee is still open (the proper machines, rather than the horrible little Nescafe machines that the locals call ‘no es café.”) And I’ve managed to eke out my stack of kiwi Dark Ghana chocolate, saving the last big block for today.

On the not so good side, there’s rumours of the meeting reconvening from anywhere from 6pm to 9pm this evening. Goodness knows when it will end. Conversation turns to whether this will beat the record of Durban, which ended at 6.30 am on the Sunday morning.

Being a bit of a COP veteran, I left the centre at 8.30 last night, got dinner and a good night’s sleep, coming back for 10 am this morning to see a lot of bleary-eyed people who’d been up all night to witness a complete lack of agreement.A couple of hours later plenary begins. There’s a draft Chair’s text before us, and let’s see what governments really think of it. This is the text on the “ADP” the discussions on the bones of a main agreement to be hammered out over the coming year and finalized in Paris.

It’s a horrible piece of text, a twisted compromise that nobody likes, but some people like it less than others, of course. We waited for the reaction. And there was quite some reaction.

Ian Fry from Tuvalu begins with his analogy: “the text needs a little surgery; we need to don gowns, get scalpels and carefully insert the vital organs needed for the agreement.”

He expresses a concern held by many, that the references to “loss and damage” had been removed, and was now only recognized by the Lima meeting in a reference that had the issue lumped in with adaptation.

There are many reasons why Loss and Damage should be a separate issue – but it’s very clear: you cannot “adapt” to the loss of a life, or a coastline. Loss and damage is a whole new area that needs to attract funding that’s separate to finance going to help the world’s poorest countries adapt to climate change.

Many of the governments who speak say that while they’re not happy with the text, they can live with it, in a spirit of compromise.

New Zealand’s lead negotiator Jo Tyndall adds her charming point: “there are dead rats that have to be swallowed.” New Zealand could accept this draft text, she says.  But this isn’t surprising – we know NZ was one of the countries firmly opposed to the inclusion of loss and damage. And the text is weak, which is presumably why New Zealand. along with other recalcitrant developed countries like the US, Canada, Australia, can live with it.

The main group objecting has been the “Like Minded Developing Countries” a group of big developing countries and Arab states, including China, India, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, who are insisting on inclusion of the age-old “CBDR” mantra of these countries: the “Common But Differentiated Responsibilities” enshrined in the convention, where they agreed that the rich countries needed to act first.

This hardline attitude has prevailed for 20 years, despite turning a corner in Durban where they agreed that these bigger countries have to bite the bullet and also take action.   Some see them as defending the poor. But a friend of mine sat next to an Indian NGO when India was talking about poverty, who almost exploded with rage: “India doesn’t give a s*** about our poor.”

Then Singapore, another LMDC,  takes the surgery analogy to a place nobody wants to go, talking about how “when circumcision becomes amputation.”

Things fall apart. It turns out that the “agreed text” wasn’t – at least half the world hadn’t been consulted – indeed the only governments the Peruvian Environment Minister HAD talked with were the US, China and some other members of the “Umbrella Group”.

Back they go to the drawing board.

You can’t manage what you can’t measure

At the centre of this text is what governments will do with their  “INDC’s” – the “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” – the action they will all take and put on the table sometime before the Paris agreement next year:  what’s in them, how do they get measured, do they get measured at all?

Before last night, the text had a huge list of bullet points outlining what needs to be in them – a lot of technical points with a list of what a government needs to put forward with its INDC.   It included wording about what a technical review of these INDC’s would entail.

Overnight, that list disappeared. And the review went through an extraordinary transformation. It was replaced with very, very weak text around a review that would conduct a “dialogue” with countries “willing to do so.

Also, and even more worrying, was the disappearance of a fundamental task for that review – that it would calculate the aggregate effect of these INDC’s and compare them against the globally agreed warming limit of 2˚C.

Why should this matter?

The scientists I work with on the Climate Action Tracker have, this last week, looked at how the pledges and policies made by Governments actually add up and measure against the globally agreed limit of 2˚C warming.

They did have some good news on the new pledges by China, the EU and the US, but they also had some problems, both with China, which hasn’t provided enough data so the scientists could calculate the effect of its pledge, and also Australia, who’re notorious in their fudging of numbers and gaming of the Kyoto Protocol rules.

Australia is confident of meeting its (tiny) Kyoto target, despite Tony Abbott’s unraveling of the comprehensive climate legislation introduced by Julia Gillard. NGO’s have been puzzled at Australia’s confident statements about meeting their target – but now we know why: Kyoto rules allow Australia to increase their energy and industry emissions by 47-59 percent above the 1990 baseline – but still meet their target.

So. If all these Governments submit their intended climate actions to the UNFCCC in April, but nobody actually looks at what they add up to, how will we know how good the Paris agreement will be? If the scientists can’t add up these figures, how can anyone else accurately judge the climate action they’re all so desperately trying to avoid anyone scrutinising?

Night is now falling. There’s no sign of anybody agreeing anything right now. I’m off to dinner, while the media lurk around the conference centre, waiting hopefully for an outcome that may or may not be soon, and may or may not be good.

To finish on a lighter note (well, sort of): one mantra of the youth seen at the talks today is that
we’ve been negotiating all their lives.

image

(HT: the fabulous perudeawakening tumblr)

Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to this…

more to come …

 

Carbon News 8/12/14: NZ’s multi-billion carbon blowout Gareth Renowden Dec 09

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We’re facing a $3b carbon crisis … and it could be worse

New Zealand has a $3 billion carbon headache looming – and Treasury says that’s the conservative estimate. Carbon emissions in the period 2021 to 2030 could cost the country as much as $52 billion. Official briefings to the incoming Government acknowledge that the costs of meeting emissions reductions targets after 2020 were likely to rise significantly because “our emissions are forecast to increase and carbon prices are likely to be higher”.

The country needs a carbon budget, says pressure group

A climate change lobby group is calling for a national carbon budget and legally binding emissions reduction targets. The Sustainability Council’s paper comes as it releases figures showing New Zealand is facing a carbon liability of between $3 billion and $52 billion by 2030. Drawing on Government documents and its own work, the research and advocacy trust paints a picture of a country running a creative carbon accounting process, in which carbon liabilities have been shunted off to a time when carbon prices are predicted to be much higher.

Groser has a cunning plan (but he won’t say what it is)

Climate Change Minister Tim Groser says New Zealand will “push the envelope” on post-2020 emissions reductions. But he still won’t say what that means. New Zealand has to announce its 2021-2030 emissions reduction target before the negotiations for a new international climate treaty in Paris late next year. Groser, who is now in Lima for UN climate talks, told TV’s The Nation at the weekend that the target didn’t have to be settled until the middle of next year.

Ocean heat drives surge to global warming record

It’s official, even though it won’t be conclusive for a few months yet: if present trends continue, 2014 will be one of the hottest years on record − and quite possibly the hottest of them all.

Investors back clean coke with close on $700,000

New Zealand clean-tech pioneer CarbonScape raised nearly $700,000 through its crowd-sourcing campaign.

Why our ‘silent ally’ soils are on the endangered list

The world is not paying enough attention to its soil – our silent ally – says the United Nations.

Outlook bright for UK’s solar power potential

Solar energy is sometimes dismissed as a fanciful idea with little to offer so far in such a cloudy country as the United Kingdom, but a new report says power from the sun could thrive in Britain in barely five years’ time − without the need for any subsidy.

It doesn’t take much to turn up the temperature

Start the car, turn on the gas under the kettle, shovel some coal on the fire. Each time that happens, another pulse of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.

Australia should export more ideas and fewer greenhouse emissions

As climate negotiators meet at the US-China climate deal United Nations’ Lima summit, which comes hot on the heels of the landmark

Paper mill sets new benchmarks for best practice

Manufacturing benchmarks achieved by a rural South Australian factory are being shared and instituted across the world by global manufacturing giant Kimberly-Clark.

Environment projects win financial boost

A travelling caravan collecting environmental pledges, an inner-city school creating an ecological island, and a university study monitoring landslides are the 2014 recipients of the Canon Environmental Grants programme.

Lines company loves its electric cars

Auckland lines company Vector says its electric vehicles are proving to be immensely popular with staff.

On the web: ‘They say that in 30 years maybe Kiribati will disappear’

  • Adapting to a warmer climate could cost almost three times as much as thought, says UN report

  • German government approves €80 billion climate package
  • Local buddy scheme to help boost renewables and energy efficiency
  • Global emissions scheme talks renewed
  • Major new study confirms wind farms do not harm human health

Spot NZUs maintain recent highs

Spot NZUs closed Friday at $4.95 on volumes of just over 100,000 tonnes, a rise of 50 cents, OMFinancial reports.

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.”

The great climate voter debate Gareth Renowden Sep 07

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Last week’s Great Climate Voter Debate is a must view for anyone wanting to understand NZ’s mainstream political parties stance on policies to address carbon emissions and climate change. Moderated by TV3’s Samantha Hayes, the debate features climate change minister Tim Groser, Labour’s deputy leader David Parker, Greens co-leader Russel Norman, NZ First’s deputy leader Tracey Martin, John Minto from Internet-Mana and Nancy Tuaine from the Maori Party. The ACT Party and Conservatives couldn’t be bothered to send representatives — no surprises there.

It’s an excellent discussion, covering all the bases. Every NZ voter should take the time — only two hours — to watch it through.

We Play Dirty at the Climate Talks Too: New Zealand’s Dirty Politics of Climate Gareth Renowden Sep 01

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This guest post is by David Tong, an Auckland based community lawyer working on his Master’s in Law on the UN climate talks. He chairs the P3 Foundation and co-chairs the Aotearoa New Zealand Human Rights Lawyers Association, and last year tracked New Zealand’s climate negotiators as an Adopt a Negotiator Fellow.

Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics and the subsequent revelations have shaken New Zealand’s Government. On Saturday, Minister of Justice Judith Collins resigned, facing allegations of interfering with Serious Fraud Office investigations. On Sunday, the Inspector General of Security and Intelligence summonsed the Prime Minister — or perhaps just his Office — to appear before a hearing into the Dirty Politics allegations on 11 September 2014, just nine days before the election.

But three key ministers have escaped remarkably unscathed from the scandal: Ministers Tim Groser, Nick Smith, and Amy Adams. Tim Groser, our Minister for Climate Change Issues, has danced past the scandal without a speck of dirt. Minister for Conservation and Housing Nick Smith, who resigned as Minister for the Environment after admitting two relatively minor indiscretions must be spitting mad at how many final warnings Judith Collins flouted before resigning. Of the three, only Amy Adams faced a substantive allegation in Hager’s book, which alleges that she printed, scanned and forwarded an invitation accidentally sent to her by the Labour Party to Judith Collins, who then leaked it to the far right blogger at the heart of the scandal.

But compared to the other allegations in Dirty Politics — or even the past conflict of interest allegations levelled at Adams — these matters are minor. Hager’s book only mentions climate change once. Other emails show at most that Slater ran an ineffectual smear campaign against Generation Zero, which may or may not have been encouraged by Government figures. All this could be interpreted to mean our Government plays cleaner on climate change than it does at home.

That suggestion is wrong. Our domestic and international politics mirror each other. Dirty politics at home are mirrored by dirty tricks at the climate talks. The last few rounds of negotiations brim with examples.

My first exposure to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations came when I attended the 2011 Durban Talks with the New Zealand Youth Delegation. Three days into the talks, small island negotiators torpedoed my naiveté when I was lucky enough to get into a closed door Alliance of Small Island States briefing. Hearing representatives from some of the most vulnerable states describe New Zealand as “pulling the Kyoto Protocol down to the lowest level of ambition, and the lowest level of cooperation” by taking “deliberately inconsistent” stances sank my idealism about my country without a trace.

Like Hot Topic‘s Durban correspondent Cindy Baxter, I had no idea what we were playing at, but knew we were “cheating and lying”. In particular, we stood accused of proposing a “wild west” carbon market allowing secret, bilateral sales of carbon credits, with no central register to prevent us from selling the same units twice. By the end of the Conference, our veneer of conditional support for a Kyoto Protocol had collapsed, with Minister Groser describing a Second Commitment Period as “actually an insult to New Zealand”.

In the eyes of the NGO community, though, we had improved a tiny bit, narrowly escaping a Colossal Fossil award for disrupting negotiations the most by sneaking into third place, after coming second overall in 2010.

We made up for lost time in 2012, by walking away from the Second Commitment Period of the Kyoto Protocol. In doing so, we further abandoned our past claims of conditional support for a Second Commitment Period and, ultimately, further betrayed the trust of our Pacific neignbours: “Its island partners in the Pacific should think again before ever trusting NZ again.” After our near misses in 2010 and 2011, we cleanly took out the 2012 Colossal Fossil award. The Climate Action Network sledged our “exceptional blindness to scientific and political realities” and accused us of trying to “drown the talks” — and our Pacific neighbours. What credibility we had in the talks, we tossed away with the Protocol. For our dirty deeds, the Doha talks agreed to shut NZ out of international carbon markets from next year.

I went back to the climate talks last year as an Adopt a Negotiator Fellow, tracking New Zealand in the talks. After the beating we took in 2013, we kept our heads down. But, again, I saw a duplicity between domestic politics and international posturing. While ministers laughed at Russel Norman quoting Philippine lead negotiator Yeb Sano and denied the very existence of climate change at home, our negotiators advanced a platform of “Bounded Flexibility” — a nice name for almost pure voluntarism. Jim Salinger described this sort of approach as inviting people to volunteer to pay taxes. And when I was lucky enough to spend a day with Marshall Islands Minister Tony de Brum, I couldn’t help but compare our hollow lack of ambition in Warsaw with our decision to sign the Majuro Declaration on Climate Leadership. At the Pacific Islands Forum — and no doubt this week at the Small Island Developing States Conference — we pledged to stand with our Pacific neighbours, but in the UNFCCC, we don’t — and they know that.

We play dirty on climate change. If our international record wasn’t enough to show this, you just have to look at our domestic emissions trading scheme. Far from cutting emissions, it has subsidised pollution.

The only question is whether a change in Government will change this. Under Helen Clark’s Labour Government, we still copped at lot of flak at the climate talks. Last year, in Warsaw, our lead negotiator said that she did not believe a change in government would change our international stance. Paradoxically, however, we have excused inaction around this month’s Ban Ki Moon Summit because of the uncertainty around our election. Labour and the Green Party have both committed to meaningful domestic action, but this needs to be coupled with cleaning up our international act.

On Wednesday night, the Climate Voter Coalition are hosting a debate, and all the major parties have fronted up. Tickets are sold out, but you can stream it live here. I will be watching it with interest, because our climate politics need cleaning up. It’s time to wash out the dirt.

Lip service: it’s all climate action ever gets from Key & Co Gareth Renowden Apr 16

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As expected, the New Zealand government’s response to the IPCC’s Working Group 3 report on mitigating climate change pays lip service to the science, while maintaining that NZ is doing all that can be expected. Climate change minister Tim Groser’s press release said that the IPCC report’s call for intentional cooperation meant that NZ is “on the right track in pressing for a binding international agreement on emissions beyond 2020″ but failed to note the urgency explicit in the report.

Groser also repeated the government’s standard response when challenged on government inaction on climate policy:

“New Zealand is doing its fair share on climate change, taking into account our unique national circumstances, both to restrict our own emissions and support the global efforts needed to make the cuts that will limit warming.”

Groser’s response to the WG2 and WG3 reports so angered Pure Advantage founder Phillip Mills that he announced he would make a $125,000 donation to the Labour and Green parties. Mills, who has been working behind the scenes for the last five years, lobbying cabinet ministers and National MPs to build a business case for climate action and clean, green business growth, told the NZ Herald:

I’ve been trying impartially to deal with National. I’ve met with John Key around this a number of times … and really I held the hope that I and groups that I’ve been involved with would be able to get National to see sense.

NZ scientists who contributed to the IPCC reports were also critical of NZ’s perceived inaction. The Science Media Centre collated some of their responses.

Prof Ralph Sims, Sustainable Energy, School of Engineering and Advanced Technology, Massey University, WG3 lead author:

…each New Zealander is responsible for emitting around eight tonnes of carbon dioxide a year … we are now the fourth highest emitters per person in the world, behind Australia, the United States, and Canada. New Zealand has set a modest target to reduce our total greenhouse gas emissions by five per cent below the 1990 gross emission level in just six years time, yet no one knows how we will achieve this…

Bob Lloyd, Associate Professor and Director of Energy Studies, Physics Department, University of Otago:

in international climate change negotiations NZ is regarded as a particularly ‘tough’ negotiator. By ‘tough’ read ‘selfish’. … To get global buy-in NZ must act as a global leader in emissions reductions not a selfish backwater.

Prof Susan Krumdieck, Dept of Mechanical Engineering, University of Canterbury:

There aren’t any responsible leaders, competent engineers, or sensible people who would suggest we should exceed safety limits. Who in the world would say that as a matter of convenience, we should push essential systems to collapse? There is also no way to mitigate the impacts of a catastrophic failure.

The only option now is for all responsible, competent and sensible people to demand action from engineers, planners and business leaders to change every system that produces and uses climate affecting materials so dramatically reduce the production and use of fossil fuels and reduce the emissions of other greenhouse gasses.

Tasked with these comments by Green climate spokesman Kennedy Graham, Groser’s response was the scientists should “stick to their knitting” and leave the decision-making to him. Such obvious contempt for expertise seems to be a hallmark of Groser and his colleagues: when the message is inconvenient, how much easier to belittle the messenger than to address the issue.

That’s the real problem: the heart of the National government, from John Key repeating Groser’s mantra at Question Time, to Steven Joyce’s blind spot on green business initiatives, simply cannot pay anything other than lip service to the evidence in the IPCC reports, because if they did they would be forced to recognise that they have their policy settings all wrong.

For Tim Groser, climate change is an international relations problem, to be solved by tough negotiation where New Zealand’s interests — as defined by Key & Co — are paramount. For John Key, climate change is a political problem. If the other side thinks it’s important, then by definition his party has to say it’s less important. Such is the nature of parliamentary party politics, as played by shallow people who don’t understand the breadth of the problem they are supposed to confront.

Of course, the climate problem is an international relations issue, and a domestic political issue, but those are just component parts of a far bigger and much more serious problem. The IPCC reports make it clear that we are already changing the climate, and that we’re currently on course for 3 to 4ºC of warming this century — well beyond any safe limit. Action to reduce emissions now will limit future damage, and be surprisingly affordable, but the window to act is closing fast.

What Key & Co do not appear to understand are the dire consequences of inaction. Nor do they appreciate what risk management means when you don’t know how bad things are really going to get. It might be expedient to punt the problem to future parliaments, while trying to save face in the here and now, but inaction is actively increasing the risk of future damage, and the costs of adapting to it. As Susan Krumdieck points out, “there is [...] no way to mitigate the impacts of a catastrophic failure”.

So how do we persuade the present government to take its responsibilities seriously? One obvious route is via the ballot box, by making climate action a central issue in September’s general election and voting for parties with a commitment to urgent action. But there is another way, and one for which there may be some signs of a groundswell developing — and which will be the only route open if the National Party leads the next government.

The Wise Response group has delivered its petition to parliament, calling on the government to take climate action and green growth seriously. The Royal Society of NZ has also called for a change in direction towards a low emissions, green economy. With influential groups consistently knocking on the door, and with climate impacts in the news and increasingly undeniable, is it too much to hope that Key & Co might accept the need for urgent action and set NZ back on the right road?

[Update 17/4: Peter Griffin at Sciblogs fact checks Groser's comments about Ralph Sims, and finds that the Minister was 100% wrong to suggest that Sims was "palpably wrong on multiple levels".]

[Elvis. The other one.]

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