At the end of every UNFCCC meeting, on the last day, there’s a grand prize: the Colossal Fossil. So proud: New Zealand took top prize for the first time, shared with Canada. For a country whose emissions are similar in scale to the Canadian tar sands, New Zealand has demonstrated exceptional blindness to scientific and [...]
Posts Tagged UNFCCC
Dear Negotiators… Nov 30Join the conversation at Hot Topic
Guest Post by Sam Sharp, a member of the NZ Youth Delegation in Doha This morning I stood with 40 other youth from all around the world to represent the voices of 1.5 billion youth who are not directly represented here at the climate change negotiations in Doha. We stood for one and a half hours, [...]
People send me stuff. Imagine my surprise when this morning’s mail included the text of a round robin email from Tom Harris — the Canadian PR man who heads the Heartland-funded denialist lobby group the International Climate Science Coalition [full text here]. It gives an interesting insight to how these groups work behind the scenes. Here’s Harris appealing for signatures to a letter to UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon:
Time is short if we are to mount a significant counterpoint to the scientifically invalid assertions already being broadcast by the 1,500 journalists and 7,000 environmentalists attending the UN climate conference now underway in Qatar.
Please find below our “Open Letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations” to which we are inviting your endorsement. We have 61 qualified endorsers as of 9 pm EST, about 19 hours after we started to ask people.
Because we have an agreement with a major media outlet to publish the open letter on Thursday, I will need to know of your support within the next day if possible, please.
The denialist spin machine in action. The usual suspects queuing to sign up to a letter that’s going to be published — where? My guess would be the Wall Street Journal. Even more interesting is the nonsense these luminaries are so keen to endorse…
It’s worth noting that Harris is not giving anyone the chance to change his proposed letter. The usual suspects are expected to sign up without quibbling about wording. And they’re signing up to a thoroughly modern catechism of climate crank disinformation. Here are the key claims in the letter:
UK Met Office data shows “there has been no statistically significant global warming for almost 16 years”.
Global warming that has not occurred cannot have caused the extreme weather of the past few years. Whether, when and how warming will resume is unknown. The science is unclear. Some scientists point out that near-term natural cooling, linked to variations in solar output, is also a distinct possibility.
“Some scientists”? I suspect only the signatories to Harris’s letter expect a “near-term natural cooling” caused by the sun1.
The “even larger climate shocks” you have mentioned would be worse if the world cooled than if it warmed.
A remarkable (and unsupportable) assertion. I will allow that an ice age might be an inconvenience, but as our emissions have effectively postponed the next one for the foreseeable future, that’s the least of our worries.
The incidence and severity of extreme weather has not increased. There is little evidence that dangerous weather-related events will occur more often in future.
The letter goes on to quote from last year’s IPCC special report on climate extremes (SREX), but ignores the key findings of that report: that increased extremes of hot weather and rainfall are being recorded, and are “virtually certain” to continue as the climate warms.
We also ask that you acknowledge that policy actions by the UN, or by the signatory nations to the UNFCCC, that aim to reduce CO2 emissions are unlikely to exercise any significant influence on future climate.
Harris and his tame signatories can ask, but to expect the UN secretary general to reject the advice of his own organisation and the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists on the basis of an error-ridden screed put together as a stunt by PR flacks for fossil fuel interests is a bit of stretch, I’d have thought. Harris’s letter will be just as effective as all the other letters he’s sent to UN secretary generals at climate conferences, and that is not at all.
- The phrasing recalls similar pronouncements by NZ’s very own Bryan Leyland, a veteran of several climate science coalitions. I wonder if by any chance he had a hand in the letter?
Climate Change Minister Tim Groser gave a substantial and intelligently argued speech recently to an informal meeting in Auckland of international climate negotiators met to discuss the way forward to a new agreement in 2020. Groser makes the case for political realism in climate negotiation. He records his sense after attending a COP conference at Poznam a year before Copenhagen that the negotiation was not on track and that if more reality did not prevail Copenhagen might be a train wreck. It was, and he says that it was only some superb political leadership by the Mexican hosts at Cancun which got the UNFCCC process back on the tracks. “My conclusion is simple: negotiating scenarios which are developed without any political realism behind them cause great and unhelpful friction.”
The claim to political realism is always difficult to argue against, particularly with someone who has spent literally decades in difficult international trade negotiations, as Groser has. But those of us who aren’t negotiators or politicians can’t allow the question to be arbitrated only by those who are.
To be fair to Groser he doesn’t push political realism to the point of helplessness in addressing the problem:
“Our objective must be to aim for a high quality comprehensive agreement that actually deals with the problem of global emissions, not finds a political fix to a diplomatic problem.”
“Fresh thinking is possible.”
“As we look towards the task of delivering a long-term comprehensive agreement that might actually deal with global, not regional, emissions, the first order requirement is around participation. And by ‘participation’ I mean mitigation — the ultimate and agreed objective of the Convention. I am convinced this can be achieved within the framework of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”
He also stresses that the eight-year transition period between now and when the new agreement is timed to come into effect should not be treated as of little consequence:
“Well, my strong view is that ‘the transition’ is not a vacuum, and the way that we all shape our actions, the way we report them, and the way we are held accountable for them — now and over the next few years — will be critical to whether we can succeed in building a new global agreement.”
To turn to his argument for political realism. At its heart is the notion that we must first get everyone on board the mitigation bus before we worry about picking up speed:
“In political language — ie, not to professional negotiators — I have often talked about the importance of ‘getting people on the bus’, rather than worrying about the speed limit. If we get more and more countries on the mitigation bus, doing what they can to drive towards a lower carbon future for their own country, we can later look at the speed limit, or pace of adjustment. The logic of this is straightforward: we are trying to get lower carbon economic strategies embedded administratively and politically. There is huge resistance to this, for a variety of reasons. Look at the debate over comprehensive carbon pricing proposals in any number of countries if you are in any doubt. It is still unsettled in many countries.”
It sounds sensible enough, but it founders because it doesn’t properly reckon with the urgency now required. Groser’s reply to that objection is clumsy and overlooks not a political reality but a scientific reality:
“I know the counter-argument. It starts by taking the most extreme of the IPCC scenarios of future climate change and arguing that ‘nothing less’ than immediate and drastic action will suffice.”
It’s significant that he goes on to make a slight acknowledgment that the scenario issue may be a little more complicated than that, while at the same time affirming that even if it is, the political reality is not affected and that “later” is the time to consider a more serious economic response.
“What I know is that there is a range of scientific views about the time dimension of the risk and which scenario is the more probable. But the one thing that will absolutely guarantee failure to develop a meaningful response to this global challenge is if we do not get most of the large emitters, plus a large number of small emitters like New Zealand who are absolutely prepared to join in genuine collective action, on board the mitigation bus. It is a global problem; only global action or something close to it, can work.
“Further, at this stage in the evolution of a global response, you are more likely to persuade countries, where climate change policies are very immature, to get on board the bus if they can persuade their political masters that the commitments are realistic and doable. Later, when lower carbon strategies are more deeply embedded, then we need to return to the matter to the pace of adjustment and the development of a global carbon price.”
That is too complacent about the level of risk. Groser’s use of the word “extreme” in relation to some scenarios carries the suggestion of exaggeration, of pushing something further than is necessary. As I understand the projections of climate science, though they cover a range of possibilities none of them are fanciful and it is not safe to dismiss any of them on the grounds that they must be extreme. As George Monbiot wrote in in his column on the same day that I read Groser’s speech:
“As I’ve warned repeatedly, but to little effect, the IPCC’s assessments tend to be conservative. This is unsurprising when you see how many people have to approve them before they are published.”
Groser’s appeal to political realism needs to far more disturbed than it appears to be by the magnitude of the threat that climate change is already disclosing. His wide experience of international negotiations is not as relevant as he appears to think. Monbiot again:
“There are no comparisons to be made. This is not like war or plague or a stockmarket crash. We are ill-equipped, historically and psychologically, to understand it, which is one of the reasons why so many refuse to accept that it is happening.
“What we are seeing, here and now, is the transformation of the atmospheric physics of this planet. Three weeks before the likely minimum, the melting of Arctic sea ice has already broken the record set in 2007. The daily rate of loss is now 50% higher than it was that year.”
Or from our own climate scientist James Renwick, who describes the break-up of Arctic sea ice as “just jaw-dropping”:
“This event unfolding in the Arctic Ocean right now should be a wake-up call to governments world-wide, that climate change is a serious threat, and it is not distant menace, it is on our doorstep today.”
Groser’s claims about political realism do not seem to have been exposed to the full impact of scientific realism. He does not say that human society is in grave danger. I have not heard that from any government Minister. Maybe the political realities will remain problematic even when that is said, but we would have more confidence in our negotiators if we knew that our government was fully cognisant of what climate change is threatening. We would also expect such cognisance to put a dampener on the government enthusiasm for an increase in fossil fuel exploration and mining which sits very ill with the claim that we are attempting to persuade others to get on the mitigation bus.
In the eight years before the new international agreement we should not just be sitting on the bus waiting for it to fill up with passengers. We should be acting vigorously on our own account with serious mitigation measures because we understand the great danger of climate change.
The WWF report this week on how New Zealand has handled its responsibilities since the first Earth Summit 20 years ago is damning on the matter of greenhouse gas emissions. We have failed to measure up to our undertakings given back in 1992 and again in 2002. New Zealand signed up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on the first day of the that Rio meeting, and subsequently ratified it. We committed in Article 4 to:
“Adopt national policies and take corresponding measures on the mitigation of climate change, by limiting its anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and protecting and enhancing its greenhouse gas sinks and reservoirs. These policies and measures will demonstrate that developed countries are taking the lead.”
The WWF report points out that nothing happened here for the next fourteen years and the country’s greenhouse gas emissions continued to increase. They flattened off after 2007, but that was mainly due to a major drought affecting agriculture and then the subsequent recession. The report considers the Emissions Trading Scheme enacted in 2008 and weakened in 2009 has had limited impact on emissions.
We have clearly failed to set emissions on a downward trajectory.
Transport is selected as an obvious example of New Zealand’s lack of action. At the 2002 Earth Summit, along with other governments we undertook to:
“Implement transport strategies for sustainable development…so as to improve the affordability, efficiency and convenience of transportation, as well as improving urban air quality and health, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
But since the 2002 commitment transport emissions have continued to rise, except during the recent oil spike, and are projected to continue climbing between now and 2020. Emissions have also increased in the agriculture and industry sectors. They rose dramatically in the electricity sector for some years due to an increase in coal and gas-fired generation, but have now dropped back closer to the 1992 level, albeit still 7.5 per cent higher.
The report sees no relief in the projections for emissions forward to 2020. The Government’s own projections show a modest increase in gross emissions during these years, and a larger increase in net emissions (which include forestry and other land use changes). Net emissions are bound to fluctuate over time due to the structure of New Zealand’s plantation forests estate and the report sees gross emissions as the figure we should pay most attention to. It is the gross emissions figure which tells us whether or not we are making the transition to a low carbon economy across the different sectors of energy, transport, industry and agriculture.
The projection of a modest increase in gross emissions looks highly optimistic anyway. Current policy directions don’t support it, the report points out, evidencing plans to expand oil drilling, a major road building programme, facilitating the expansion of dairy farming and encouraging the exploitation of lignite, the dirtiest form of coal. Indeed the proposed industrial facilities to convert lignite into urea and diesel could alone increase New Zealand’s gross emissions by 10 per cent beyond the projection.
The report is suspicious of the Government’s position on carbon accounting. WWF’s analysis strongly suggests that the intention is to create a system of calculating emissions reduction commitments up to 2020 that will enable New Zealand to continue with business as usual – which means steadily rising emissions rather than emissions reductions.
It’s a dismal picture the report paints, suggesting that the Government in fact has no intention of making good on its promises of twenty years ago, thus both contributing to the climate crisis and also damaging the economy by not pursuing low carbon development.
There’s little likelihood that the Government will be moved by WWF’s analysis. The Minister for the Environment Amy Adams claims New Zealand has reason to be proud of its record on the environmental issues raised at Rio:
“I think in terms of other countries and the work that we have done … we can hold our heads very high.”
Pesky organisations like WWF are selling the country short:
“The work isn’t done, we still have more to do, but there are always going to be groups that want to go around bringing down New Zealand’s reputation and I think that’s unfortunate.”
Ministerial bluster is no substitute for the truth of the matter. The accusation that WWF wants to bring down New Zealand’s reputation is contemptible. Government gives no sign that it is serious about emissions reduction. It says it accepts the science, but its efforts, such as they are, appear to be confined to offsetting emissions by tree planting, a good thing in its own right but a temporary expedient in terms of fighting climate change. There can be no substitute for gross emissions reduction. The Government will no doubt trumpet that we have met our Kyoto obligation on net emissions, but that is a smoke and mirrors illusion: our emissions are considerably higher than they were in 1990.
Dr James Renwick, principal climate scientist, NIWA, offers straight talk in his comment on the report for the Science Media Centre:
“The report notes, quite rightly, that New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions have climbed significantly since the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992, despite all the rhetoric to the contrary. Like most nations on earth, we have talked the talk but we have yet to really walk the walk. Instead of tackling the problem, we have squandered the last 20 years and are now in a very difficult position, as a global community. To have any chance of keeping global warming below 2 degrees (as promised in Copenhagen and elsewhere), developed countries need to achieve 50% reductions in emissions this decade, and 80-90% by 2050.
“New Zealand is better placed than most countries to achieve this, which represents a massive opportunity for New Zealand businesses and industry. Failure to act is likely to commit the globe to a climate not seen for millions of years, with grave consequences for global food production and economic stability.”
The climate change section of the report ends by urging the Government to develop a low carbon development plan. Along with other nations we made a commitment at Cancun to draw up such a plan, but WWF says we have since reneged on it, claiming it was not a binding promise. The report points to other countries which have moved ahead in developing their strategies and plans for achieving low carbon economies, including Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Scotland, South Africa and the UK. Whether such plans survive such pressures as the excitements of natural gas fracking remains to be seen. According to George Monbiot the UK has already abandoned its coal and gas emission targets. (Denied by Secretary of State Edward Davey.)
Nevertheless making a plan at least forces a government to work out what a realistic process of reduction would involve, which is presumably why the New Zealand Government doesn’t want to do it. It would show up the inadequacy of our response to date and make it more difficult for the Government to fall back on propagandist assurances. All the more reason to undertake the preparation of a plan. It could bring some clarity and honesty into a currently murky scene.
Alphabet soup in Bonn May 16Join the conversation at Hot Topic
Emma Renowden is attending the first few days of the UN climate change conference in Bonn. In this guest post she looks at how negotiations are progressing, what the major issues are likely to be, and what New Zealand’s up to.
After the near-failure of Durban in December last year, the current Bonn Climate Change Conference promises to be interesting. With the Kyoto Protocol commitment period ending this year, the development of a second commitment period is perhaps the most important objective that needs to be met. A number of states have already submitted their Quantified Emissions Limitation and Reduction Objectives (QELROs), signalling their continued commitment to the KP, but it has become clear that not all countries are so eager to sign themselves up again.
States were ‘invited’ to submit their QELRO figures, leaving it as a matter of choice. New Zealand, for instance, has yet to do so, and is ’still considering whether to take its target under a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol or under the Convention.’ When NZ’s submission does come, it is expected to demand a number of conditions, mainly around forestry rules (the LULUCF) and the carry-over of surplus emissions units. However, NZ faces a lot of criticism for its current stance. The Alliance Of Small Island States (AOSIS) called on it to submit its QELRO without such limitations, on the grounds that the KP is not the place for conditional commitments.
The Climate Action Network (CAN) also urged NZ and Australia, to fulfil their commitments and not to follow in Canada’s ’dirty footprints’ by pulling out of the treaty.
One of the key disagreements over the second commitment period is about the time frame. Many groups would prefer a five year Kyoto period, and we have seen strong statements from AOSIS, the Africa Group and the Philippines in favour of this. On the other hand, many Annex 1 countries and their relevant groupings insist on a more conservative eight year period. The European Union, for example, called for ambitious targets and across-the-board participation in the KP, but still called for an eight year time frame. However, as the African Group pointed out in the AWG-KP plenary, this time frame would internalise low ambition within the climate process, which would be disastrous for Africa, and the rest of the world. This issue is unlikely to be resolved in Bonn, and will remain a major — and possibly decisive — negotiating point in Doha in December.
Another key issue in this session is the development of National Adaptation Plans of Action (NAPs and NAPAs), and in order to facilitate these plans, a review of the Adaptation fund. Adaptation deserves to funded and maintained in the same way that mitigation is in order that developing countries can carry out well-designed and participatory planning. This review has been encouraged by the Philippines, the G77/China and the least developed countries (LDCs). Related to this, the issue of loss and damage will be discussed, as there is a need for an effective international loss and damage mechanism and climate risk insurance facility. This was especially stressed by AOSIS and the LDCs in the opening plenary.
New Zealand’s inclusion of reduced subsidies for fossil fuels in their Durban Platform submission is positive in regards to building climate ambition. However, this is not enough. It is essential that they fully commit to an unconditional second commitment period and support a five year time frame.
It will also be interesting to see how the issue of an aviation emissions trading scheme pans out during the next two weeks. It has already been a contentious issue outside of Bonn, and should continue to be so within negotiations.
On a side note, as one of the younger people present, I admire the statement of Camilla Born on behalf of YOUNGO, who called on states to increase their ambition in these negotiations. Ambition is an essential component of the UNFCCC talks. Youth movements around the world have called on leaders to acknowledge our generation as the future, and act in our interest as well as their own. There are some states that seem to agree with us, with the Philippines stating in the opening plenary session that ’the youth are vigilantly watching us.’
Overall, it is critical that the ambition gap — and the equity gap — are closed in order to make progress in these negotiations. Bonn provides countries with the opportunity to take significant and positive steps before COP18 in Doha later this year. Let’s hope that they take those steps, and make concrete commitments before it’s too late.
Follow Emma’s occasional live tweets from the Bonn conference at @emmarenowden.
This article by David Schlosberg, professor of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney was first published earlier today at The Conversation. It’s an excellent and forthright overview of the challenges we will face in coming to terms with the reality of climate change.
When thinking of the challenges we face in responding to climate change, it is time to admit that our political focus has been fairly narrow: limiting emissions and moving beyond carbon-based energy systems. For 30 years, prevention has been the stated goal of most political efforts, from UNFCCC negotiations to the recent carbon tax.
For anyone paying attention, it is clear that such efforts have not been enough. And now we have entered a new era in the human relationship with climate change, with a variety of broad and different challenges.
The first of our current challenges is to admit that we will not stop climate change. Prevention is no longer an option. The natural systems that regulate climate on the planet are already changing, and ecosystems that support us are shifting under our feet.
We will be a climate-challenged society for the foreseeable future, immersed in a long age of adaptation. What we might have to adapt to, what an adapted society might look like, and how we design a strategy to get there are all open questions.
One of the hopeful signs is that, even if many national governments are not preventing climate change, there is a growing concern for adaptation at the local level.
Climate change challenges the whole enlightenment project — the dream that reason leads us to uncover truths, and those truths lead to human progress and improvement.
We imagine we live in a rational, enlightened society. In such a place, experts would identify issues to be addressed, and goals to be reached, in response to our creation of climate change. Scientific knowledge would be respected and accepted (after peer review, of course), and policy would be fashioned in response.
The reality is that we frequently have direct intervention explicitly designed to break the link between knowledge and policy; we have seen just how easy it is for power to trump and corrupt knowledge, on a global scale. In fact, organised climate change denialists, and the political figures that support them, have done more to damage the ideals of the enlightenment than any so-called postmodern theorist.
The key adaptive challenge is to rebuild a constructive relationship between scientific expertise, the public, and policy development. It may be that the necessary engagement of scientific expertise with local knowledges and interests will help rebuild some hope of human progress.
How do we play fair?
Climate change will undermine many of the ecological foundations of our ability to provide for basic needs.
Clearly, one of the key challenges is going to be how the burden is distributed, and how we respond to the vulnerability of people to climatic shifts and adjustments — from drought and floods, to health issues ranging from disease to heatstroke, to food security, to environmental migrations.
Even more challenging, however, is the reality that our emissions undermine the environments of vulnerable people elsewhere: Bangladesh, the horn of Africa, small island states, New Orleans.
And, of course, our actions now — given the delay between emissions and impact — will harm people in the future. So our responsibilities of justice now extend over vast stretches of geography and time.
That’s a lot of ethical challenges to face up to — or not. So how might we begin to address the challenges of climate justice?
Importantly, local communities can be thoroughly involved in both mapping their own vulnerabilities and designing adaptation policies. Perceptions of vulnerability will differ across stakeholder groups — indigenous peoples, farmers, and tourism managers might have a different sense of what is made vulnerable through climate change.
Local participation and deliberation — basic rights themselves — can help us to understand and determine the distinct and local environmental needs of various communities, and so plan for adaptation.
Such adaptation strategies can help to address climate justice.
For all of those conspiracy theorists who think climate change is a leftist conspiratorial plot to develop a UN-based world government — you have got to be kidding. The UNFCCC represents a failure of global governance on a scale we’ve never seen before.
We may be dealing with an issue with a level of complexity that human beings are simply not capable of addressing. Climate change will certainly challenge our adaptive abilities more than anything else the species has faced.
The issue represents a different kind of problem for governments. It will demand multi-scale, widely-distributed, networked, flexible, anticipatory, and adaptive responses on the part of governments from the global down to the local. Climate change will require a radical re-thinking of the very nature of governance, and the adoption of new forms.
We need to take a long, hard look at ourselves (and nature)
But the major challenge of climate change, of course, is whether or not we are capable of changing our currently destructive relationship with the rest of nature. Key here is the reality that, in bringing climate change upon ourselves, we have demonstrated that the very construction of how we immerse ourselves in the natural world, and how we provide for our basic needs, is simply not working.
In fact, our relationship with nature is undermining the lives we’ve constructed. We imagine ourselves removed from the systems and relationships that support us, and so cause these massive disruptions in the life processes around us.
Our continued refusal to recognise ourselves as animals embedded in ecosystems has resulted in the undermining of those systems that sustain us. That’s our key problem, our central challenge.
Thankfully, there are growing examples of alternatives, and of models for adapting to a climate-challenged society. Many groups and movements are rethinking and restructuring the ways we interact with the natural world as we provide for our basic needs — around sustainable energy, local food security, and even crafting and making.
These new materialist movements offer alternative ways of relating to the nonhuman systems that sustain us, and illustrate the possibility of redesigning and restructuring our everyday lives based in our immersion in natural systems. After 30 years of failing in our response to climate change, we may yet demonstrate that human beings still have the capacity to adapt.
It’s getting embarrassing here in Durban. I’ve had a veritable flood of people come up to me in recent days saying things like “what the hell is your government doing?”
The NZ Government has been pretty bad in these negotiations over the last few years, but things appear to have taken a turn for the worse, in multiple directions. I’m wondering what’s going on.
Let’s take the “easy” one first. Kyoto.
With Canada, Japan and Russia on their way out of the Kyoto Protocol, there are a lot of discussions on how one could carry it forward without them.
One possible solution is the idea of “provisionally” implementing a new commitment period, from 2013-2017. This would mean that it wouldn’t legally “come into force” but parties to the Protocol could agree the new rules, and implement it anyway, if they all agreed to do so.
This can happen under the “Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties” (1969), that NZ has signed up to. Not so, says the NZ delegation. This would be a breach of the constitution.
But a quick look on the MFAT website makes me think they are being a bit daft. Maybe they were too busy to read the MFAT document: “International Treaty Making: Guidance for government agencies on practice and procedures for concluding international treaties and arrangements” written in August 2011. That’s – erm – about four months ago.
This guidance, presumably for delegations like this one in Durban, spells out the rules of the Vienna Convention, ie, that: “Provisional entry into force of a treaty may also occur when a number of parties to a treaty that has not yet entered into force decide to apply the treaty as if it had entered into force.”
This is precisely what is being proposed. Indeed, we have done this with a number of international treaties already. But is NZ just looking for excuses to get out of Kyoto? Meanwhile I’m off to the printer to get the delegation a few copies.
The “honest, guv” emissions trading regime
Next up, emissions trading. Personally, I don’t think that emissions trading are a proper way to stop climate change.
Doing something to stop climate change somewhere else in exchange for doing nothing at home seems like a weird way to go about things, when we all know that ultimately we should cut our own emissions and be done with it.
It has always seemed a bit cheaty to me and I know I campaigned hard to stop it from happening way back in the day when Kyoto was being negotiated. But setting that aside for a minute, let’s look at the proposal our Government is trying to push here in Durban.
Under the “flexible mechanisms” for emissions trading, NZ is proposing that the rules – erm – have no rules. The environmental groups were onto this, and NZ won its first “fossil of the day” (2nd place) on Friday.
“They want to be able to use any market mechanisms they wish with absolutely no oversight or international review. There would be no way to ensure that the units from one mechanism have not been sold two or three times to another such mechanism. This would likely unleash a wild west carbon market with double or triple counting of offsets and a likely increase of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.” I’m calling it the “honest, guv” rules – ie you just have to believe what we say. I’m sorry, but that’s just nuts, especially from a Government that doesn’t seem to like cutting emissions very much.
The “I’m alright jack” rules on forests
Let’s now turn to the forests. NZ has always been pretty bad in the conversations here about Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation REDD.
That’s the stuff that deals with the emissions from deforestation. First I might remind you that in NZ we have protected our forests. Long, hard battles have been fought – and were resoundingly won with the historic NZ Forest Accord that banned the cutting of native forests on private land. Our native forests are protected – and so they should be. But not everyone is in the same boat.
But when it comes to the REDD discussions, NZ’s perspective is taken purely from the point of view of our pine plantations. They’ve long been a point of contention between forest owners and government. NZ has always pushed hard to get everyone to accept our “special circumstances”. But in Kyoto, someone has special circumstances for almost everything – and that would make for extremely messy international agreements.
The problem is that the forest nations, like Brazil, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, have beautiful old growth forests that MUST be protected, not only for climate reasons, but also for the biodiversity and indigenous peoples who live in them. So it’s important to get the international rules right for these forests, the lungs of the earth.
So it is with the “reference” levels in REDD. These are like a baseline from which to measure emissions from deforestation. NZ has proposed that instead of looking at historical behaviour, (our proven rate of deforestation), the rules are based around “projected reference levels” – what we think we might do in the future.
It’s all incredibly complicated, but essentially the NZ delegation is being very creative in trying to invent new ways of getting more Kyoto credits for our plantations so that we don’t have to cut emissions elsewhere. That’s all very well for us, but if you put this regime onto, say, the Amazon, it is unlikely to stop them slowing the rate of deforestation there, which is one thing we need to do to save the planet.
You just can’t make this stuff up. The rest of the world is trying to come up with a way to deal with the Russia “hot air” problem but NZ is terrified that the solution on the table means we might lose some of our own little stash of hot air that we got from Kyoto’s loopholes around accounting for land use change and forestry. Heaven help us if we have to actually cut emissions instead of carrying over credits that we shouldn’t have in the first place.
I am still struggling to come up with an answer on what the hell “my” government is doing. Nick Smith was coming, now he’s not. Brendan Burns, sorta understandably, isn’t coming as planned, as he doesn’t know if he’s got a seat in Christchurch Central. Tim Groser is apparently coming this week, but my hopes aren’t high that he’ll change much. Is the delegation running loose while their bosses are in turmoil back home?
But what I do know is that these people are definitely not representing my views, nor considering our Pacific Island state neighbours. Cheating and lying doesn’t stop climate change.
Or perhaps they’re too busy representing Business NZ and the Forest Owners Association, both of whom have a representative on the official NZ delegation?
ps the timezones are almost 12 hrs difference to NZ so I won’t be replying to comments in a hurry.