It looks like its not just greens who are upset at the government's about-face on climate change. Kevin Patterson, a senior energy modeller for the Ministry of Economic Development, has publicly criticised "chaotic policy" in the area:
Dr Patterson was distraught at the dropping of the carbon tax, which he said would have solved about 75 per cent of our global warming problems.
The decision meant New Zealand had no realistic hope of meeting its protocol targets, as other policies, like projects to reduce emissions and encourage more efficient use of energy, were "not very effective".
"They're dreaming if they think it's going to make a difference."
Unfortunately, our climate change policy never seems to have been about making a difference - instead, it's always been about collecting windfall profits from the sale of carbon credits. And now that those credits have disappeared, we're left rather exposed. It's immensely frustrating when you consider that effective measures - one way or another of internalising the cost of carbon and making emitters pay for what they are doing - have been developed and then repeatedly delayed over the past decade. We were supposed to have a carbon tax in 1997 as a way of meeting our UNFCCC obligations. It was paradoxically put on hold at the last minute because we'd adopted a binding emissions reduction target under the Kyoto Protocol. We had another chance in 1999 when the National government wanted to introduce one as an interim measure to precede a full emissions-trading regime. It was dumped on the floor by the incoming Labour-Alliance government. Labour's carbon tax, hashed out over 2001-2002, was to be introduced in 2007, only to be dumped before even having a chance to work. The first two times, policymakers could appeal to the mirage of anticipated carbon credits. Labour has no such excuse.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, we are required to either reduce our net greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels, or take responsibility for the excess by acquiring credits off other parties. While the government is promising new climate change policies after the review (which finishes up sometime this month), if they're ruling out a broad-based carbon tax, then its hard to see what they can do which will make a real difference. Instead, we now seem to be firmly committed to the latter path of buying credits. Given the opportunities we have squandered, I can understand Patterson's frustration.