Friday, November 03, 2006

In the ballot XVIII: tinkering with climate change

In response to tomorrow's International Day of Action on Climate Change, the Greens have released a "six-pack" of Member's Bills aimed at addressing some aspects of the problem. A summary and links to the actual bills is here. The bills aren't actually in the ballot yet (and as I noted last week, there may not be any ballots for some time), but I thought I'd get in early.

Previous editions of "In the ballot" are archived here.

Climate Change (Government Vehicle Procurement) Bill [PDF]: This would require the government to lead by example in reducing vehicle emissions by purchasing smaller and more fuel efficient cars.

Climate Change (Electricity Fixed Charge) Bill [PDF]: This would amend the current regulation-making powers in the Electricity Act 1992 allowing the government to require electricity retailers to offer a low-fixed charge tariff option for low-income customers to allow them to require companies to charge only on the electricity used - thus giving domestic consumers a clear indication of use and strengthening the incentive to conserve electricity. As a side-effect, it would also ensure completely transparent pricing, allowing people to determine easily and precisely which retailer was cheapest. It's not a bad idea at all, but the electricity companies are likely to fight it tooth and nail - energy conservation is the last thing they want, unless they fear a carbon charge.

Climate Change (Airline Emissions) Bill [PDF]: This is an interesting one - it would require airlines operating in New Zealand to provide an annual inventory of emissions and removals, and by 2012 reduce gross emissions to 2007 levels, and net emissions to 1990 levels. Air travel is responsible for 1.3% of New Zealand's total GHG emissions, and is a growth area, so it needs to be targeted. but I'm not sure that this is the best way of doing it. The problem is that by targeting each airline individually, it ignores one of the major sources of emissions growth: new airlines entering the market and flying to new Zealand. At the same time, it leaves loopholes you can drive a jumbo jet through (the baseline is 1990, or the average of the first three years for those airlines entering the market later. So, switch corporate shells every three years, and you're subject only to the inventory costs without any emissions cap). What we want to do is cap total emissions from air transport, and reduce that total, not cap each individual airline.

Alternatively, we could impose a carbon tax on aviation fuel (modified for the additional effects of high-altitude burning) - that would force airlines to include the cost of the damage they were doing in their prices, reducing demand and creating an incentive to reduce emissions. But that's probably barred under international law (apparently there is an international agreement providing that aviation fuel be tax free). So we're left with regulation, which is a rather clumsy tool.

Climate Change (Public Transport Funding) Bill [PDF]: This would amend the Land Transport Management Act 2003 to require a rising proportion (up to two thirds) of the National Land Transport Fund to be spent on public transport, demand management, rail etc rather than roads.

Climate Change (NZ Superannuation Fund) Bill [PDF]: This would require the Cullen Fund to consider climate change in its investment decisions, and include a "statement of ethical investment" in its annual report, identifying each of the companies it has invested in, the return on those investments, their impact on climate change and the environment, and any companies the fund has decided not to invest in (and reasons why). This should be redundant - consideration of climate change is already part of prudent asset management, and the government seems to be looking at formalising it. But this should at least give the issue some traction.

Climate Change (Rail Electrification) Bill [PDF]: This bill sets explicit targets for the electrification of the rail network - the Auckland region by 2010, the Main Trunk from Wellington to Otaki by 2012, Arthur's Pass by 2015 etc. It will also require all trains (other than heritage operators) operating on the rail network to run on electricity or biodiesel by 2012.

Looking at the above, with the exception of the Public Transport Funding Bill, they mostly seem to be tinkering around the edges. Partly, this is because major sectors such as electricity are going to be targeted by the government (watch for the New Zealand Energy Strategy later this month), and partly it is due to the limitations of a Member's Bill (they need to be short and sweet and address one easy topic; a full-fledged "cap and trade" scheme is probably too much, not to mention beyond the Greens' legislative-drafting resources). There's also a clear failure to tackle one of the major culprits: agriculture. The Greens have some good ideas on this in their Turn Down The Heat policy package, and I'm surprised they didn't try and put any of them forward. There's also a clear preference for regulation, though again I think this is primarily due to the limitations of Member's Bills. Law is a fairly blunt instrument, and a lot of what is advocated could be achieved by simple ministerial direction - but that requires being in government (or at least having the Minister's ear), and sadly the Greens are not. Still, these bills are a useful starting point for discussion on how best to tackle emissions in some areas, and some at least are worth serious consideration.


Do you have similar concerns with the Climate Change (Public Transport Funding) Bill as you did with Rodney Hide's New Zealand Taxpayer Bill of Rights Bill?

And which bill will Rodney have in the next ballot? Has he decided against forwarding his Rates Poll Demand one?

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 11/03/2006 06:54:00 PM

Graeme: well, it doesn't try to be superior law, but its still worrying. I'd like to see more public transport funding, but I'm not sure of the exact balance, and in any case its something that would vary by need, rather than being a fixed percentage.

But as I said, a lot of this could be better done by Ministerial direction; its only because the Greens aren't in government that they're forced to resort to such blunt instruments.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/03/2006 07:36:00 PM

"its only because the Greens aren't in government that they're forced to resort to such blunt instruments"

Likewise Rodney?

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 11/03/2006 08:27:00 PM

Graeme: I think Rodney really does want to stick government in financial irons and bind successive parliaments (again, see his pretensions at superior law), wheras the Greens are just tyring to use the limited tools available to the excluded.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/03/2006 08:35:00 PM

I would hardly call the railway electrification bill "tinkering round the edges".

It is actually the most visionary step in infrastructure development since Think Big.

Posted by millsy : 11/03/2006 11:47:00 PM

Guh. I wish that the greens would start focusing on emissions of pullutants and not fertilisers.

What if... the climate models are incomplete, and the current observations since 1998 that the world is cooling are not just a "blip", and that CO2 is not the demon that some people think it is?

And why is it that when good news is released, like scientists revising their findings such that the global climate trend is actually not significantly increasing in the last 25 years, that so-called "environmentalists" still cling to the old figures?

Environmental catastrophes we might have, but bourne from CO2 they are not.

Posted by Sam Vilain : 11/03/2006 11:58:00 PM

Millsy: Sure - but in emissions terms, its still tinkering. if they wanted to do something bold and visionary on that front, they'd be targeting agriculture.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/04/2006 12:36:00 AM

I'm not sure that aviation fuel is tax free by international agreement.

But if we taxed it and Australia or Fiji (for instance) didn't, then it would be worthwhile airlines making an otherwise unwarranted stop to fill up with cheap fuel, thus using *more* energy and emitting more carbon.

Posted by Rich : 11/05/2006 12:52:00 PM

sam vilian said
"And why is it that when good news is released, like scientists revising their findings such that the global climate trend is actually not significantly increasing in the last 25 years, that so-called "environmentalists" still cling to the old figures?"

I am aware to two scientific organisations that measure global temperature - NASA and the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (URLs below). Neither of them have are reporting this astonishing result. Can you please provide a URL or Journal Reference?

Posted by Anonymous : 11/06/2006 02:30:00 PM

Sam Vilian is talking about the fact that we haven't seen a year that has so far beat the extreme of 1998. As always, someone on RealClimate has said it better than I have here (comment 8). But I spose if people stopped commenting on things they know nothing about, the world would be a quiet place!

Posted by George Darroch : 11/06/2006 04:59:00 PM

Anonymous, there is another data set linked from this posting from the University of Alabama in Huntsville's National Space Science and Technology centre. You can download the data sets from their site and examine them yourself, even if you "know nothing" about climate change.

Posted by Sam Vilain : 11/24/2006 08:25:00 AM

btw, I probably meant to say "in the southern hemisphere" with my 3/11 comment..

Posted by Sam Vilain : 11/24/2006 08:45:00 AM