In December, the world will meet in Paris to decide what is to be done about climate change. There’s a heavy expectation that nations will bring with them meaningful, binding emissions reductions targets, and be able to articulate the policies to make them happen. These pledges are known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC).
The EU announced back in March that it would reduce domestic EU greenhouse gas emissions by “at least 40 per cent” by 2030, against a 1990 baseline.
Last month China, the world’s sootiest nation, told Paris officials it means to reduce its carbon emissions by between 60 and 65 per cent by 2030 from 2005 levels. Barack Obama, meanwhile, has pledged to cut US emissions to between 26 and 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025.
So Tim Groser’s announcement yesterday – that New Zealand would agree to haul emissions back to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 – would seem to put us somewhere amid the play. “This is a significant increase on our current target of five per cent below 1990 emission levels by 2020,” claimed the Minister for Climate Change Issues.
It’s nothing of the sort, as Prof. James Renwick of Victoria University quickly pointed out; “This target ... translates to about an 11 per cent reduction compared to 1990. This is in line with the previous target of five per cent by 2020, and 50 per cent by 2050, so there is no ‘strengthening’ of New Zealand’s position. This new target is as weak as previously-announced ones, and does not come close to what is required if New Zealand is serious about keeping warming to less than two degrees (as the Government have said we are).”
In fact, New Zealand had already floated a conditional target of between 10 and 20 per cent reductions by 2020. Against that, our pledge to Paris looks negligible.
Commentators have learned to pay close attention to Groser’s language, because in his asides and qualifications lie important clues to the policy position Cabinet has already decided upon, sham consultations notwithstanding. We knew a weak target was coming, telegraphed by these lines from him back in May: “Increasing our commitment after 2020 will be a big challenge ... The easy gains have already been made...”
This is the sort of apologist talk we’ve come to recognise as a reliable precursor to bathos, and it lurked in yesterday’s announcement too: “I think in 5-10 years we’ll be in a good position to reduce our emissions in both agriculture and transport.”
Using this ruse, Groser sets us up to expect nothing from this Government, despite a very clear and pressing need for urgent action. Groser talks as if Whanganui isn’t only now drying out after its worst flood on record. As though the weather didn’t cost New Zealand insurers $20m in May alone. As though farmers don’t have to contend with drought across much of the country, most summers and autumns. As if the sea isn’t starting to surge through Wellington. As though Cheviot didn’t experience 21.7ºC on June 1st (and Tara Hills didn’t get minus that on June 24th).
Said Groser yesterday; “...we are keen to make a fair and ambitious contribution to the international effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the most harmful effects of climate change.”
But as Renwick points out, the international science community has long understood that if we’re to stand any chance of averting the chaos of a two-degree increase in mean global temperatures; “...we need about a 40 per cent reduction by 2030, 90 per cent by 2050 (New Zealand’s 2050 target is 50 per cent), and 100 per cent by 2060 – and then negative emissions (removal of CO2 from the atmosphere) for the rest of the century.”
Eleven per cent, then, doesn’t begin to come close. And five to 10 years’ time is far too late. “If all countries followed New Zealand’s lead, we would be in for very significant climate change impacts and catastrophic damage to the New Zealand and global economy,” concludes Renwick.
Motu’s Catherine Leining points out that the Government hasn’t even released an emissions budget to account for how we might achieve the cuts it proposes, much less any firm policy to decarbonise New Zealand sufficient to stop short of that two-degree limit.
Instead, the Government’s INDC hints at unquantified cuts supposedly won from conjectural advances sometime in the future: “Transformation of the transport and agriculture sectors will take longer than the 2021-2030 period covered by this INDC. New Zealand’s long-term emission pathway anticipates accelerated emission reductions post-2030, once agricultural mitigation technology becomes more widely applied and uptake of low-emission transport technology increases.”
It’s difficult to understand just how any cuts can be “anticipated” when there are woefully few policies or mechanisms in place to prepare any ground for them, but Groser insists the necessary steps will be taken. This is going to get interesting because for now, all we have is a $48m programme to reduce livestock emissions, a moribund emissions trading scheme, and airy predictions from Groser about electric and hybrid car uptake.
The Government continues to frame climate change as something we really must get round to in the coming decades. Talk of ‘transitions’, ‘innovation’, ‘long-term trajectories’, all are carefully contrived subliminal undertones calculated to convince people that there’s no need to rush – that we shouldn’t expect too much too soon.
The Ministry for the Environment declares that New Zealand’s 2020 climate target will be achieved with “no change to existing policy settings” and with “no additional costs on households, businesses or government.”
By this, they mean we’ll probably weasel out of our obligations by buying up “hot air” carbon credits and banking pine trees that have yet to be planted. In the past, hot air credits have been cheap as chips, but Treasury warned the Government last year that prices have since skyrocketed: should it try the same ploy again come 2030, the bill could run to $52b. That is a decidedly additional cost.
And as last month’s devastating floods showed us, as the damage from Mt Maunganui’s tornado graphically illustrates, as the Wellington storms proved, our shamefully cynical target will be met (or missed; it’s so inconsequential that it doesn’t really matter) at crippling cost.
To the planet. To everybody.
I think we need to understand that this target, just like its predecessors, is a complete fiction. Groser and National have no intention of ever adopting any measure that will make NZ's greenhouse gases deviate from continued 'business as usual' growth.
Note that the Ministry for the Environment website says;
Brian Fallow says the MFE's (dodgy) economic modelling assumes 80% of the "reduction" will be "met" by buying international carbon units.
From May of this year NZ has no access to international carbon markets due to NZ's inept posturing at Doha about not signing up for a second Kyoto committment period. When NZ did have access, traders imported millions of "hot air" units at prices as low as eleven cents a tonne. Obviously Groser wants more access to dodgy cheap emission units.
For the other 20%, they can then just repeat the Kyoto Gross-Net forest accounting fudge of saying the baseline is 'gross' or total emissions and that the target will be 'net' including credits for afforestation and reforestation. There we have it! Zero domestic reductions in emissions.
Note also the very conditional language in the INDC sent to the UNFCCC and in Groser's press release.
The target is provisional and conditional on 1) access to carbon markets, 2) land use and forest rules NZ agrees with (presumably to keep the Kyoto Gross Net fudge), and 3) effective and affordable mitigation technology for agriculture.
On that basis, NZ might start to reduce domestic emissions but only if the rest of the world at the UNFCCC Paris December 2015 meeting bends over backwards to meet Tim Groser's unattainable provisos.
Whatever approach Paris 2015 takes and whether it "succeeds" or not, the rules of whatever agreement, if there is one, will probably take several more years to thrash out. All of which enables NZ to claim the conditions haven't been met, so no reductions. Even if some perfect rules appear, NZ can say "Sorry our little-battling-punching-above-its-weight Agricultural Research Centre still hasn't given us affordable mitigation for pastoral agriculture.
This is really is a "heads we win, tails the atmosphere loses" approach.
Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4 posts Report
Gross-Net accounting isn't going to help NZ this time, because the existing Kyoto-compliant forests will probably be a net source by 2030 (and possibly a very large one). So unlike the 2020 target, we'll find it hard to sleep-walk our way anywhere close to meeting this one, as derisively tiny as it may be. Unless the government is planning to expose agriculture to the ETS (unlikely) or impose draconian regulations on forest management (would surprise no-one in the forest industry), it really does all seem to come down to a massive gamble on the magic methane pill and the future price of carbon credits.
dunedin • Since Jul 2008 • 254 posts Report
Yup, it's embarrassing. Do they still use "clean and green" on tourism promotions?
Canberra, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 701 posts Report
Greenpeace activists protest on our research ship Tangaroa.
They claim that the taxpayer funded $24million refit was to enable the Tangaroa to look for oil and gas deposits in New Zealand waters.
If this is correct....
Key will go to Paris and say, "Hey, this is what we're doing about global warming!".
So proud to be a Kiwi right now.
Waikato, or on the road • Since Apr 2014 • 1346 posts Report
Ian Dalziel, in reply to
I think the modern iteration would have to be 'glean and screen'...
Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7953 posts Report
It should be 'pretty good & not bad'
Whakatane • Since Jan 2012 • 877 posts Report
Changing Climate (BBC Radio 4)
Interview transcripts are available from the Open University website.
Links to each episode
(Like most BBC radio science content, these should be available to stream indefinitely; but there doesn't seem to be a downloadable podcast for this series.)
Episode 1: The Science (2015/11/16)
Episode 2: The Solutions (2015/11/23)
Episode 3: The Politics (2015/11/30)
Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1944 posts Report