Wednesday, July 17, 2019

We should not subsidise fertiliser emissions

Yesterday the government released its discussion document on action on agricultural emissions. As sadly usual, it proposed enormous subsidies for farm emissions, including for nitrogen-based fertiliser.

This is a huge mistake. In addition to being one of the chief drivers of dairy intensification and freshwater pollution - things we want to stamp out - nitrogen-based fertilise ris in the ETS because it decomposes to nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide is a potent and long-lived greenhouse gas, between 268 and 298 times worse than carbon dioxide, depending on what timescale you measure it over. Both farmers and the Independent Climate Change Commission are arguing that we should focus on long-lived gases, as they pose the greatest threat in the long-term. I don't think we have a long-term to average over anymore (in the long-term, we are dead, to riff on Keynes), but even with a short-term focus, reducing nitrous oxide is a hugely effective way of reducing warming, and one of the highest-impact things we can do to save the climate, to save ourselves.

So rather than subsidising farmers to produce this gas, we should instead be making them pay the full price of the emissions it causes - and removing the artificial cap on ETS prices so that the price can increase to its natural level. Farmers will no doubt complain that if they have to pay the full cost, they'll have to stop using it. Good. That's the fucking point. If there are high-value uses which justify the emissions cost, then they'll be able to afford to keep using it (or they'll make out like bandits by switching to alternatives). But for low-value uses, like fertilising marginal grass to grow cows and pollute rivers, we are all better off if people stop doing that.

The Youth Parliament votes for a future

Back in May, Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick tried to put a motion to have parliament declare a climate emergency. National denied leave, and have since made it clear that they oppose any such motion. But today, the Youth Parliament did what the "responsible" adults refused to:

Simon Bridges will probably dismiss this as "irresponsible yoof" or some such bullshit. But who's being "irresponsible": the people voting to take the biggest policy challenge to face our country (and our species) seriously? Or the people who stuff farmer and oil company money in their ears and try and pretend it doesn't exist?

Time for a people's review of the OIA

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Justice conducted a public consultation exercise on whether to hold a review of the Official Information Act (this replaced their previous plans to hold a secret consultation with handpicked people). 285 people submitted on it, but their submissions disappeared into a black hole, as the Minister put back a decision. So, someone used FYI, the public OIA request site, to request them. As a result, you can read them all here.

There's over 600 pages of documents there, including comments from a number of government agencies. It'll take a while to digest. But since the Minister is sitting on his hands, one obvious thing those of us who want to fix the OIA could do is go through them, identify the primary issues raised, and how to fix them - effectively to conduct a people's review of the Act, with recommendations reflecting the will of submitters rather than the public service elite.

Climate Change: National isn't serious II

The planet is burning. The ice-caps are melting. People are dying of heat waves, storms are getting more intense, huge areas are catching fire every year, and cities are running out of water. We seeing a climate-related disaster every week. So what does National party leader Simon Bridges think of all this? Here's what he said about it this morning:

I don't believe there is a climate emergency.

And that's the problem, right there. We have a huge, global problem, and the leader of our major opposition party refuses to accept that it exists.

National simply isn't serious about climate change. And until they are, until they advocate the sort of emissions reductions we need, and the sort of policies we need to get them, they are unfit for office. If you're wondering what personal action you can take on climate change, here's an obvious one: vote out National, and vote only for parties who will actually do something.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Putting agriculture in the ETS

The Interim Climate Change Committee's report on Action on agricultural emissions: Evidence, analysis and recommendations was finally released today, and as you might guess from the title, it is recommending that we actually act, rather than let farmers keep on polluting. While the headlines are focussing on the long-term plan for a farm-level levy system in 2025, the report actually recommends that agricultural and fertiliser emissions be brought into the ETS at the processor level as soon as possible. Which is a crude way of doing it, which obviously ignores all the things individual farmers can do to reduce their emissions, but its fail-safe, in that we get a price signal ASAP, rather than allowing it to be endlessly delayed by design questions and political cold feet (which was the story of the ETS: proposed in 1995, implementation dragged out until 2008, and arguably not properly implemented yet).

So, that's the good news: the ICCC has recommended action which will see farmers at least partly paying their way from next year. They'll have enormous free allocation, of course - apparently we can't expect New Zealand's tough, independent farmers to stand on their own two feet and pay the full cost of their pollution, unlike us weak city-folk who already pay the full cost of petrol and electricity - but there will at least be a marginal price signal. And even at the producer-level, that will shift the profitability of various actions, and maybe provide Fonterra with an incentive to start pushing its farmers to adopt best-practice to minimise their bills. With fertiliser, there will be a direct incentive to use less, just as there is for petrol.

The bad news? The government's discussion document isn't committed to this, and offers a "sector-government agreement" to support on-farm behaviour change as an alternative. I wonder which one farmers will vote for? But in addition to continuing to subsidise rural pollution, this is also not fail-safe, and instead provides a strong incentive for farmers to drag out and challenge the on-farm system so they can keep getting a free ride for as long as possible. Just as they've done with local government efforts to control nitrogen pollution.

I'd suggest submitting on the discussion document, but MfE's online submisison tool - "our preferred way to receive submissions" - requires a login with no apparent way to create an account (I guess they don't actually want to hear from people after all). You can however submit by email. As for what to put in there, try this:

  • Agriculture and fertiliser should be brought into the ETS at the producer level immediately.
  • There should be no free allocation for either. Farmers should pay for 100% of their emissions, just as people pay for 100% of their emissions from petrol and electricity. If the government insists on free allocation, it should be phased down linearly over a decade at most, so that farmers eventually pay the full costs of their emissions.
  • An on-farm emissions measurement system should be developed to allow the point of obligation to eventually be moved to the farm level to reward efficient producers, but that development should not delay the imposition of a price signal.
Farmers will complain that pricing with no free allocation will cause some of them to go out of business. Good. Driving inefficient, dirty producers out of business is the point of pricing schemes. Its a feature, not a bug. And the sooner it happens, the better.

Climate Change: National isn't serious

Agriculture is our biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for 48% of the total. It follows that meeting any credible emissions reduction target requires cutting agricultural emissions, most likely by having fewer cows. But National thinks people shouldn't be allowed to even discuss that option:

National's climate change spokesperson Todd Muller has criticised Te Papa museum for an exhibition he says is "biased and not science based".

The museum's Climate Converter interactive exhibition has an option labelled 'less dairying' as one way New Zealand can reduce its carbon footprint.

Mr Muller said that was a "kick in the guts" for rural families.

The Climate Converter allows users to pick a conservation option and watch the results on an animated mural.

Te Papa said it was based on a scientific report and the 'less dairy' option was one of 14 possible actions represented.

That report (from the Royal Society of New Zealand) is here. It looks at what our options are and the implications of various sorts of emissions reductions (an "emissions wedge" approach). It does this for every sector: electricity, transport, buildings, and of course agriculture. And because the Royal society doesn't believe in magic, or in hope as a policy, it focuses on things which actually work: like reducing the number of cows, rather than magic emissions-reduction vaccines which don't exist yet.

Todd Muller, the National Party, and Federated Farmers might not like that. But that's the scientific reality: if we are to reduce emissions significantly, we need fewer cows. Its that simple. And their refusal to consider this and opposition to people talking about it suggests strongly that they are not interested in significant emissions reductions. In other words, they are simply not serious about climate change, our biggest policy challenge. They're simply a pack of deniers and foot-draggers, unfit for government.

The UK commits fraud to deport people

How scummy is the UK Home Office? This scummy:

The Home Office lied to EU member states to remove victims of human trafficking and modern slavery in breach of European law, according to whistleblowers.

Legal experts have said the practice is “unthinkable” and “a disgraceful and illegal manipulation of the system”. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has urged the sources to contact Yvette Cooper, who chairs the home affairs select committee. “These are clearly serious allegations which must be properly investigated,” said Khan’s spokesperson.

Whistleblowers allege that, while operating as the third country unit, the now renamed Dublin cessation unit (DCU) regularly lied to other member states and manipulated the system by sending them “extra time” letters, falsely claiming asylum applicants had launched appeals. These letters remove the deadline – usually six months – after which someone seeking asylum can no longer be removed from the UK and sent to the EU country determined to be responsible for assessing their claim.

The practice, which started in 2013, apparently continued until at least December last year, the sources say.

The lesson here is that if you give immigration authorities a target for deportations, they will game the system to achieve it, including simply making shit up so they can throw people out and make them someone else's problem. You'd think that this would be a criminal fraud, especially given the consequences (detention and deportation). But I expect that the Home Office staff who falsified these documents will never be held accountable.

Monday, July 15, 2019

We should lower the voting age

The Youth Parliament is being held this week, and some of the youth MPs are campaigning for a lower voting age:

Molly Doyle, 17, is one Youth MP who wants this to change. She is part of a non-partisan campaign run by youth seeking to lower the voting age in Aotearoa.

"Our democracy is based on one person, one vote,” Molly said.

“People who are 16 can work full-time, consent to sex, drive, and own guns. They should also be able to vote."

I find the argument for a lower voting age compelling, and its even more compelling now, with climate change threatening young people's futures. Scotland has done the right thing. So has Austria. We should too. And I'm looking forward to seeing where this youth-led campaign goes.

Meanwhile, you'd expect a supposedly future-focused, transformative government to be supportive of this. Sadly, that seems to be too much to expect. Because at the end of the day, Labour is about preserving existing power structures - not overturning them.

Big solar is coming

Up till now, Australia has made its living by digging up coal and exporting it to other countries, destroying the global climate in the process. But now they have a new option: exporting solar power:

The desert outside Tennant Creek, deep in the Northern Territory, is not the most obvious place to build and transmit Singapore’s future electricity supply. Though few in the southern states are yet to take notice, a group of Australian developers are betting that will change.

If they are right, it could have far-reaching consequences for Australia’s energy industry and what the country sells to the world.

Known as Sun Cable, it is promised to be the world’s largest solar farm. If developed as planned, a 10-gigawatt-capacity array of panels will be spread across 15,000 hectares and be backed by battery storage to ensure it can supply power around the clock.

Overhead transmission lines will send electricity to Darwin and plug into the NT grid. But the bulk would be exported via a high-voltage direct-current submarine cable snaking through the Indonesian archipelago to Singapore. The developers say it will be able to provide one-fifth of the island city-state’s electricity needs, replacing its increasingly expensive gas-fired power.

Singapore is a long way from Darwin - 3800km, apparently. But HVDC transmission apparently makes sending power that far viable. It does invite the question of why not just send it to Indonesia, but I assume the scheme's backers think they can get more money from Singapore.

Similar schemes have been proposed for using solar in the Sahara to power Europe, but they've all been kindof colonial, focused on exploiting a poor country's resources to meet foreign demand, without doing anything for the locals (who probably want electricity too). This doesn't have that toxic dynamic. But if it goes ahead, it will help shift the global energy conversation further away from fossil fuels and more towards renewables - the direction it needs to be going in if we are to save the planet.

Friday, July 12, 2019

New Fisk

Trump’s hissy-fit over Darroch will blow a chill wind across Britain’s embassies in the Middle East

Climate Change: Even airlines are telling people not to fly

Last month I talked about the no-fly movement: people who refuse to fly or limit it to absolute necessity to avoid destroying the climate. Now, that movement has a somewhat surprising new member: Dutch airline KLM:

Dutch airline KLM has launched a campaign asking people to fly less. The video and open letter from CEO Pieter Elbers asks: “Do you always have to meet face-to-face?” and “Could you take the train instead?”

The campaign aims to encourage travellers and the aviation industry to consider the environmental impact of flying. It describes the “shared responsibility” of travellers and airlines to “fly more responsibly”, and says those in the industry need to “create a sustainable future for aviation”.

Which is a powerful sign that the airline industry's loss of social licence is extending beyond Sweden to Europe generally. I guess they really are worried about someone running an advertising campaign like this against them.

Climate Change: We need a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty

In the 1960's, humanity faced a terrible threat: global thermonuclear war. Nuclear weapons were uniquely destructive and dangerous, and if more countries got them, the logic of MAD and the pre-emptive strike would put us on a hair-trigger to destruction. So, we did the sensible thing, talked it out ("jaw-jaw is always better than war-war", as Churchill said), and came up with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in which we basicly agreed that we were all going to cooperate to ensure that there weren't going to be any more nuclear-armed states. And while its had high-profile failures - Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea - the NPT has generally been an overwhelming success. Australia doesn't have nuclear weapons, or Japan, or Brazil, or Germany - and its not like these countries don't have the capability or feel threatened by others.

Now, humanity faces a new threat: climate change. If we are to avoid making the earth uninhabitable, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to practically nothing over the next decade. The biggest source of such emissions is fossil fuels - or, to put it another way, the fossil fuel industry is the biggest threat to the global climate and our continued wellbeing (if not survival). If things continue as they are, the fossil-fuel industry's climate disruptions are going to kill hundreds of millions of people by the end of the century.

The NPT suggests a possible answer: a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. First floated in the Guardian last year, there's an article about it today in Climate Change News:

In a paper in Climate Policy, we make the case for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty (NPT). Taking its cue from the non-proliferation treaty for nuclear weapons concluded after just three years in 1968, a fossil fuel version could have three pillars.

These parallel those of the nuclear NPT: non-proliferation (an agreement not to exploit new reserves), disarmament (the managed decline of existing fossil fuel infrastructure) and peaceful use (the financing of low carbon alternatives through a global transition fund).

A process towards this end could start with an assessment of existing reserves, as well as agreement on the principles for the sequencing of production phase-down targets across countries and fuel types, with the aim of aligning fossil fuel use with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C warming threshold.

The paper cites NZ's offshore oil exploration ban as an example of the first step, and we are already a member of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, a group of countries committed to phasing out coal-fired power stations (easy for NZ - we only have one). But if the government really wanted to act like climate change is "my generations nuclear-free moment", then taking a lead role in negotiating an NPT for fossil fuels (and backing it up at home with domestic bans and phasedowns) would be a good start.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Reminder: Submit on the Zero Carbon Bill

Submissions on the government's Zero Carbon Bill close in five days time. Have you made a submission yet?

If you're wondering what to say, both Generation Zero and School Strike For Climate, the general thrust of which is stronger methane targets, shorter timelines, and better accountability mechanisms. If you're interested in freedom of information and our ability to hold future ministers to account, you might also want to argue for the removal of the odious secrecy clause, which would make practically everything the Climate Change Commission does secret. Or, if you feel you don't have time for that, you could add your name to the Generation Zero community submission - but I should point out that an individually-written submission has more impact than a group or form submission.

Submissions are due by 16 July 2019. Act now if you want a future.

Make Matariki a public holiday

Matariki has been and gone, but this year we saw a couple of op-eds arguing that it should be a public holiday, replacing the foreign monarch's fake birthday. And now, New Zealand Republic - a group which campaigns for an independent, New Zealand head of state - has launched a parliamentary petition campaign for that to happen.

The petition is hosted on Parliament's website. You can sign it here.

Its worth supporting. Unlike foreign monarch's fake birthday, Matariki is a day indigenous to New Zealand. Making it a public holiday would be a further way of marking our shift from being a British colony to being our own place.

Meanwhile, if you're interested in joining the campaign for a New Zealand Republic, you can do so here.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Did NZDF lie to Ministers?

When Nicky Hager revealed US footage of the Operation Burnham raid, obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act, one of the obvious questions was whether Ministers had seen it - and in particular, whether they'd been told that it was edited and that warnings about the presence of women and children had been removed. The Herald (paywalled) got on to this, and the answer seems to be "no":

When launching the inquiry, Parker said he had been shown footage which showed people in the village were armed. He has now refused to comment on whether he was told of the deleted scenes and the US investigation.

Mark told the Herald he was aware the footage had been edited but had no recollection of being told about the missing 12 seconds or the US investigation into it being deleted.

Mitchell has confirmed he was not told of the missing 12 seconds or that an investigation had taken place into the deleted content. He said the footage he did see supported what he had been told about armed insurgents in the village and no inquiry was needed.

Brownlee said he believed he had been told. "As far as 12 seconds being removed, I have a recollection of reading that. I had that report at the time, I think."

English and Key have not responded to requests for comment.

The Inquiry into Operation Burnham has also refused to comment on whether NZDF informed it about the US investigation.

So two Ministers out of four say they weren't told, three refuse to say, and only one says they were. The inquiry I hope will be investigating this, but its looking like NZDF's post murder-spree spin-job, aimed at convincing Ministers that there was no need for an inquiry, tried to bullshit them. They may also have tried to bullshit the inquiry by keeping the US investigation secret (in that if they had informed the inquiry about it and provided the documents, the inquiry would simply have said so). And if any of this is confirmed by the inquiry, then there needs to be heads on spikes at NZDF - because lying to your civilian superiors is absolutely unacceptable in a military organisation, and that shit needs to be stomped on hard.

Equality comes to Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is the Alabama of the UK: a backwards region where women and gay people are denied fundamental rights. But Westminster has just decided to fix that:

MPs have voted resoundingly to extend same-sex marriage and access to abortion to Northern Ireland, bringing the region into line with the rest of the UK on the two significant social issues.

The two historic votes, arriving within little more than a quarter of an hour of each other, were greeted ecstatically by equalities campaigners. With ministers promising to respect the results, they could have vital repercussions for people in Northern Ireland.


The changes came via amendments to an otherwise technical government bill connected to budgets and elections for the devolved assembly. In the first amendment, tabled by the Labour MP Conor McGinn, a longstanding campaigner for equal marriage in Northern Ireland, the Commons voted 383 to 73 to extend it to the region.

Its good news, and yet I'm also disquieted, because this vote violates fundamental UK constitutional norms. Northern Ireland has a devolved administration, and marriage equality and abortion rights sits squarely within that government's jurisdiction. Westminster overriding devolved administrations and legislating for them in their areas of competence without their consent is Not A Good Thing. Instead, it just seems like more odious English colonialism, no matter how well-intentioned.

And on the other hand: thanks to the DUP's antics, Northern Ireland hasn't had a government for the past two and a half years, and Westminster is having to legislate for them anyway out of necessity in order to ensure things keep working. But this goes well beyond keeping things ticking over, and its part of a disturbing trend of Westminster overstepping the constitutional mark and purporting to legislate for devolved regions (e.g. self-governing overseas territories and the Channel Islands on money laundering).

And on the gripping hand: if Northern Ireland doesn't like this, they can always declare independence, or unite with the Republic of Ireland (which has both same-sex marriage and abortion now). Or just stop pissing about, get their devolved parliament working again, and repeal it. Except they won't be able to, because there's in fact a parliamentary majority at Stormont for marriage equality, and the only thing which kept it illegal was the special rights of Ulster bigots under the Good Friday Agreement. So, this law probably isn't going anywhere, and the bigots are just going to have to get used to it.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Australia spies on journalists

When the Australian government passed a series of new spy laws over the last few years, they pinky-promised that they wouldn't use them to spy on journalists and subvert freedom of the press. They lied:

The anti-encryption laws passed by the federal parliament last year have been used to bypass journalist protections in other national security laws, a cybersecurity researcher has said.


One part of the law updated the powers law enforcement have in executing a warrant. Added into the Crimes Act was the power for agencies to “add, copy, delete or alter” data on computers as part of the execution of warrants.

It was this new power the Australian federal police relied on, in the now-infamous photos of AFP officers clicking through and reviewing files for hours on end at the ABC headquarters.

The Department of Home Affairs admitted to using the new power in a submission to the review, stating the AFP relied on the power in raiding the ABC and the Canberra home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst in June.

I guess journalists having their information protected and requiring a special warrant under data retention laws means nothing if the government can just steal the information directly and identify their sources from their notes. Its just another step along Australia's road to tyranny - and it seems to be going along that road quite fast.

Justice for Operation Condor

From 1975 to 1989, the spy agencies of South America's right-wing military dictatorships cooperated in Operation Condor, a joint campaign of extermination against the continent's left. Roughly 400,000 people were imprisoned, 30,000 disappeared, and 60,000 murdered - kidnapped, tortured, executed, assassinated, or thrown out of flying aircraft. It was a crime against humanity, and over the past decades, its surviving architects have gradually been convicted and punished for it. And today, another 24 of them went were sentenced to prison:

An Italian court has sentenced 24 people to life in prison for their involvement in Operation Condor, in which the dictatorships of six South American countries conspired to kidnap and assassinate political opponents in each other’s territories.

The trial, the first of its kind in Europe, began in 2015 and focused on the responsibility of senior officials in the military dictatorships of Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina for the killing and disappearance of 43 people including 23 Italian citizens.

Those sentenced on Monday included Francisco Morales Bermúdez, who was president of Peru from 1975 to 1980, Juan Carlos Blanco, a former foreign minister in Uruguay, Pedro Espinoza Bravo, a former deputy intelligence chief in Chile, and Jorge Néstor Fernández Troccoli, a Uruguayan former naval intelligence officer.

Good. And hopefully they'll track down and prosecute the rest of those involved as well.

Meanwhile, the perpetrators of Operation Condor being hunted down and prosecuted like Nazis makes me wonder whether the perpetrators of Guantanamo, and US rendition and torture will be treated the same way in future. It took 25 years after the end of Condor for the prosecutions to really get rolling, so we're probably looking at at least another decade for that to happen.

Correction: It wasn't clear from the original article, but only one of the defendants - Jorge Tróccoli - is actually in Italy and facing prison. The rest were sentenced in absentia and will need to be extradited (though some are reportedly already in prison in their home countries). So its not quite the justice I thought it was. Still, the ruling itself that Operation Condor was a crime is useful, and even if not extradited now, those convicted will have this hanging over them for the rest of their lives, and if they ever set foot outside of whatever country is harbouring them, may find themselves Pinocheted.

Labour chickenshitting on abortion

When she was standing for office, Jacinda Ardern promised she would take abortion out of the Crimes Act. And to be fair, there was some early action on that, with an immediate referral of the issue to the Law Commission to look at options for reform. But the Law Commission reported back in October, and since then, the government has done... nothing. And its still doing nothing today:

[T]he Government has yet to publicly reply to Law Commission advice released in October or confirm what changes it plans to put up to a conscience vote in Parliament.

Last year, Little said he expected to have a Bill ready to go in early 2019, but it stalled in talks with NZ First.

In May, he said an announcement was weeks away, after a breakthrough.

It was still weeks away on Tuesday.

"Constructive discussions have been ongoing regarding abortion law reform and I'm pleased with where it's at," Little said in a statement.

"I expect to have an announcement to make in a matter of weeks."

And he'll probably say the same thing in a couple of weeks as well. Because when it comes to actual action, Labour are chickenshits, unwilling to confront the bigots in their coalition partner, let alone their own caucus. But as the article points out, the bill will be a conscience vote, so it doesn't really matter what those bigots think. They'll vote against, others will vote for, and I'm confident that in today's social environment, it will pass. That is, if MP's are allowed to vote on it.

Meanwhile, from this, and climate change, and poverty, it seems that the value of the Prime Minister's campaign promises is zero. They're just pretty lies told to secure election - and voters should treat them accordingly.

Climate Change: Timid and unambitious

When the government introduced the Zero Carbon Bill, people rightly asked what they planned to do to reduce transport emissions, which basicly had no policy at all other than the ETS. Today, they responded, announcing a "feebate" system which would see buyers of dirty vehicles taxed to subsidise clean ones. Its an obvious policy, and one I've supported for a long time. At the same time, in the current crisis, it seems timid and unambitious. The ice-caps are melting, cities are running out of water, and the government is planning to apply a vehicle fuel efficiency standard Japan and Europe had five years ago in 2025? So much for our "nuclear-free moment"!

A feebate scheme is an important part of any policy to reduce transport emissions and encourage the necessary switchover to electric vehicles. But the government needs to do more than this, and it needs to do it faster. They should be pushing this through the legislative process as quickly as possible, and implementing it immediately, rather than with a 5-year phase-in. As the Cabinet paper points out, a dirty car imported today stays on our roads for 19 years on average. So the quicker we turn off that tap, the better. But more importantly, we need to turn it off permanently. Other countries have announced phase-out dates for fossil-fuel vehicles, typically aiming to ban new sales in 2030 (and non-museum-piece registrations 5-10 years after). Such a date sets market expectations and helps drive the push for people to make their next car electric. But there's no mention of one at all in the Cabinet paper - the necessary action seems like too much for the government to take. And it certainly makes it clear that, contrary to the Prime Minister's rhetoric, we're not seeking to lead on climate change, we're not even being a "fast follower". Instead, our government is dragging its feet, just like its always done.

Monday, July 08, 2019

The wrong kind of trees?

The government's billion trees program is the sort of policy which could make a real difference to our emissions and the fight against climate change. But climate scientist Jim Salinger isn't convinced:

The Forestry Minister Shane Jones' one billion trees won't reduce carbon emissions, as too few natives are being planted, climate scientist Jim Salinger says.


Forestry New Zealand figures show in the first year, of the 91m trees planted, only 12 percent were native.

The figures are estimates based on the sale and distribution of exotic and native tree seedlings.

Dr Salinger said that ideally 90 percent of the trees planted would be native species as they store more carbon.

"The ratio of storage to carbon between natural forests and plantations like pine trees is 40:1 - so there's a huge difference. The reason being is with plantation forests, if you're going to grow radiata pine, they'll capture carbon for the first cropping cycle but then it gets harvested and it ends up as pulp and paper and ends up back in the atmosphere.

"So I'm afraid Shane Jones' idea of planting a billion trees, well, it might be good for three decades but then the carbon gets back into the atmosphere."

Of course, that assumes that the trees will be cut down. And I'm not sure we can actually assume that. Firstly, because carbon prices are rising, so in thirty years time it might not actually be economic to cut the trees down, in that the cost of carbon would exceed the value of the wood. This only requires carbon costs to triple or quadruple, and people expect that to happen within a decade if the price cap is removed. And secondly, because as the crisis bites, policy is inevitably going to change, so people who plant trees today may find themselves legally forbidden from cutting them down in future.

But there's a real question on which sorts of trees we should be planting. The government wants two-thirds of them to be natives (and is boosting the native seedling industry to cope with the demand), and this has tremendous environmental co-benefits - basicly we'd be beginning to return part of the country to the state it was in before farmers slashed and burned it all to make way for their sheep and cows. But native trees also soak up carbon more slowly than fast-growing exotics, so the quickest way to draw down carbon is to plant pine, or (worse) eucalyptus - which doesn't provide the environmental co-benefits. They're having a similar debate in Ireland, where the government wants to plant trees, but its all spruce rather than native oak.

And on the gripping hand: we no longer have a long-term, so short-term carbon absorption is all that matters. And TBH, at this stage, I think its a case of plant anything, anything at all that soaks up carbon, just get it in the ground and convert land back to forest as quickly as possible. Native trees are nice, but any tree is better than none.

Fuck the surplus. Feed the kids

Last month the government was celebrating another surplus. Meanwhile, children are starving:

One in five children are living in households where putting food on the table is a struggle, according to a new report from the Ministry of Health.

It found that many parents were stressed and anxious about providing food, or were forced to rely on charities or emergency assistance, because of a lack of money.

The report said almost 20 percent of children aged 0 to 14 were living in households experiencing moderate to severe food insecurity.

That could mean families that could not afford to eat properly, ran out of food because of lack of money, ate less, had less variety in their diets, relied on others for food, or used food grants or food banks.

This is simply evil. There is no other way to describe it. And stopping it from happening is why government exists in New Zealand. Unfortunately, our "left-wing" government would rather stash money away to win the approval of bankers and rich pricks than perform the task it exists to do. The gap between its rhetoric and reality couldn't be any more yawning.

Friday, July 05, 2019

New Fisk

Jared Kushner should be ignored – but we should remember this startling US Middle East plan from 100 years ago

Climate Change: Easy decarbonisation

If we are to avoid making the earth uninhabitable, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to practically nothing over the next decade. But that will still leave us with the problem of the carbon we have already emitted, which has already "baked in" over a degree of warming into the global climate, with horrifying results we now see in the news every day. Fortunately, there's an easy solution to this: trees. Lots of trees:

Planting billions of trees across the world is by far the biggest and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis, according to scientists, who have made the first calculation of how many more trees could be planted without encroaching on crop land or urban areas.

As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global heating. New research estimates that a worldwide planting programme could remove two-thirds of all the emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activities, a figure the scientists describe as “mind-blowing”.

The analysis found there are 1.7bn hectares of treeless land on which 1.2tn native tree saplings would naturally grow. That area is about 11% of all land and equivalent to the size of the US and China combined. Tropical areas could have 100% tree cover, while others would be more sparsely covered, meaning that on average about half the area would be under tree canopy.

The scientists specifically excluded all fields used to grow crops and urban areas from their analysis. But they did include grazing land, on which the researchers say a few trees can also benefit sheep and cattle.

Returning this area to forest would dramatically shift the balance of carbon in the atmosphere. And it would so so relatively quickly and cheaply - over decades, not centuries, and for tens of dollars a ton, not the hundreds required for (still non-existent) magic tech like "carbon capture and storage". And it would have other ecological benefits as well, such as provided habitat for threatened species.

Obviously, its a huge job. So's replacing all our fossil fuel infrastructure with renewables. But the planet won't be saved in a day. And the sooner we start it, the better.

What good is the SFO?

Former Waikato DHB CEO Nigel Murray allegedly misused public funds, spending more than $120,000 of public money on unjustified travel. He was forced to resign and the Serious Fraud Office began an investigation. But despite the SFO finding that the misuse was criminal, it has decided not to prosecute, because the cost of investigation and prosecution outweighed the amount stolen. Which makes you wonder what use the SFO is, or why we pay their salaries if they're going to refuse to prosecute.

The purpose of the SFO is to prosecute serious fraud. Fraud by senior public servants is serious by definition as it goes to the heart of public trust in government. For them to just shrug their shoulders and say "too expensive" sends a terrible message: to the public sector, who are being told they can steal from us and get away with it, and to the public, who are being told that their government will look the other way on corruption by their own. And neither message is acceptable. We should have absolutely zero tolerance for fraud by public servants. And if the SFO isn't going to apply such a policy, we need to sack their CEO, and appoint someone who will.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Why should we subsidise climate deniers?

Yesterday, Environment Southland voted against declaring a climate emergency. Today, they want government money to help deal with the effects of climate change:

Local councils are hopeful the Government will make a move to help the regions combat the effects of climate change, following supportive recommendations from the Productivity Commission.


Nicol Horrell, the chairman of Environment Southland Regional Council, mirrors that sentiment.

"We would look forward to any help in that area," he told Stuff.

He explained, much like the other regions, Southland is asked to do more, "but the cheque doesn't come with it".

So the coal-fired dairy farmers of Southland want the rest of us to pay to clean up a mess they point-blank refuse to do anything about themselves. But unless they demonstrate some basic willingness to recognise the problem, I think that is going to be difficult to sell to the people of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin - the places where people actually live and where taxes are actually paid. Why should the rest of us subsidise climate change deniers?

Why Parliament hasn't declared a climate emergency

Why hasn't Parliament followed the lead set by our local authorities and declared a climate emergency? The answer is the National Party:

The Prime Minister’s admission that she is open to the idea of declaring a climate change emergency is nothing more than hot air and rhetoric, National’s Climate Change spokesperson Todd Muller says.

“This amounts to nothing more than political posturing and virtue signalling, the Climate Change Minister himself has admitted that he expects emissions to continue to rise until the mid-2020s, and declaring an emergency would not have any impact on this.


“When governments declare emergencies they are for natural disasters and requires the full and urgent attention of all relevant government departments. This declaration lacks all such substance and is merely a feel good statement with no plan or meaningful action standing behind it.

Conveniently, they oppose any meaningful action too. They are not a party which is interested in the future of New Zealand. Instead, they're a party full of climate change deniers, who want to do as little as possible so their farmer cronies can profit while the planet burns.

Again, this shows us that any political strategy which relies on building consensus with National over climate change is doomed to failure. There is no simply consensus to be found there. Instead, the government needs to work with its own coalition partners to establish policy facts and build public support for them that National dare not challenge - just as their predecessors did with the welfare state and the anti-nuclear policy.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Odious secrecy III

Back in May the government released its Zero Carbon Bill. While much of the bill was welcome, there was one big exception: it contained a secrecy clause, requiring the Climate Change Commission to maintain secrecy over practically everything it does. Not just over private or commercially sensitive information it obtains from businesses as part of its regulatory functions, but everything - including its internal drafts and advice on budgets, targets, and whether the government is meeting them. The clause effectively overrides the Official Information Act, making key advice in our most important policy area more secret than the darkest secrets of the SIS or GCSB.

How did this attack on accountability come about? I asked the Minister, who thought it was about the need to "safeguard legally privileged or personal information". This is rather odd, as these interests are already safeguarded under the OIA. So I asked the Ministry for the Environment, who drafted the bill. It turns out that the only advice on this issue is emails, some of which are released here.

Reading through them, it seems the government had wanted various bodies to be able to share information with the Climate Change Commission, and they had considered various ways of doing this. In the end, they realised that the only body they needed a specific clause for was the EPA, because it was bound by secrecy. They spotted the obvious fix: amend s99(b)(2) of the Climate Change Response Act to enable the EPA to share information. To address the EPA's concerns about confidentiality, they decided that "the s99 obligations of confidentiality [should] apply to the Commission in respect of that information". But somehow, the clause ended up wider than that, applying to all of the Commissions functions.

How did this happen? Unfortunately, we don't get to know. All the relevant advice is withheld as "legally privileged". That's right: the justification for a dramatic expansion of secrecy is itself secret. But its worth noting that nowhere in any of the published advice is the OIA or the interest of transparency mentioned at all. And the Ministry of justice - which should be consulted about anything to do with the OIA - was not consulted about it.

Maybe there's a good case for why the Climate Change Commission needs greater legal protection for its information than the GCSB and SIS. If so, the government needs to publish it. Because they haven't made any sort of case, and at the moment it just seems like an unjustifiable over-reach. And the net result will be to both undermine the accountability of the Commission, and reduce its credibility. And where our most important policy area is concerned, that is simply not acceptable.

Climate Change: Southland doesn't care

Southland - land of coal-burning dairy farmers - has become the first region in the country to explicitly vote against declaring a climate emergency. Their reason? They didn't want to "devalue" the word "emergency". Its an argument addressed powerfully in an editorial in the Otago Daily Times this morning:

Those who remain uncomfortable with the new language discount two crucial considerations.

The first is that the impacts of climate change have arrived and the new consensus is that they are ramping up more quickly than scientists anticipated. The danger is immediate.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report of October last year made it clear ''unprecedented'' measures must be taken now.

The second consideration is that we on this planet share one climate system.

To think that because it is not raining here today, the emergency is not ours, is to fail to grasp this fundamental point.

While the big impacts have been mostly felt elsewhere - heat waves in Europe, drought in India, melting ice-caps at both ends of the planet - eventually it will be our turn. And inevitably, Southland is going to face a drought or a flood or some other climate-exacerbated disaster at some stage in the near future. But then I guess they'll do what farmers always do, and put their hands out to the rest of us to fix it. At which stage we should remember their refusal to lift a finger to prevent it from happening.

The same problems everywhere

New Zealand has a problem with police chases: officers going after fleeing drivers like rabid dogs, without any consideration for proportionality or public safety, often with fatal results. And according to an in-depth article in the Guardian today, the UK also has this problem, driven by the same rabid-dog mindset amongst police, and the same official reluctance to hold them to account when they violate policy and kill during chases.

Which makes court challenges by families the only real check on police behaviour. As the article makes clear, most families give up, exhausted by the process and wanting to move on with their lives. But they highlight an interesting case from a family which didn't give up, and which gained a ruling that a police chase was a violation of the victim's right to life.

Its a ruling worth noting because New Zealand has a similar protection in the BORA: "no one shall be deprived of life except on such grounds as are established by law and are consistent with the principles of fundamental justice". This is a high bar, and it means that killings by police need the strongest justification. And as the Independent Police Conduct Authority keeps ruling, in most chases, that justification simply does not exist. Police chases are dangerous, they are usually unjustified and disproportionate, and far better methods are available to catch offenders who flee.

The Police can ignore the IPCA. They can't ignore the courts. If we want police chases to stop, we need the family of a victim to bring a BORA case against the police. that's the only way the institution will learn that their killings are unacceptable.

ANZ should fuck off

Rapacious Aussie bank ANZ has responded to the threat of better NZ bank regulation by threatening to downsize its operations or even quit the country:

ANZ group chief executive Shayne Elliott told the Reserve Bank it might review the "size, nature and operations" of the business in New Zealand if the regulator went through with its proposed changes to bank capital ratio requirements.

The proposals, which could require the New Zealand banking sector to raise more than an additional $20 billion in capital to comply with the requirements, have met stiff opposition from the banks.

ANZ is the country's biggest bank, with almost a third of the home loan market and the biggest share of KiwiSaver.

But while they can scream and whine and stamp their feet, the blunt fact is that the market won't miss them. People don't stop needing EFTPOS cards or mortgages or KiwiSaver providers just because some greedy Australian doesn't want to do it. And if ANZ goes into a sulk and leaves, then other - hopefully, less greedy and New Zealand owned - providers will simply step in and fill the gap.

Its a mistake commonly made by big businesses: they think that their chunk of the economy "belongs" to them, and ceases to exist if they leave or shutdown. But insofar as "leaving" usually means selling up, all it means is that someone else does it instead. And even if they're willing to wear the loss of just abandoning their NZ operations completely, then insofar as the underlying business is profitable, someone else will do it instead. They can't take it with them when they go.

And in ANZ's case, its particularly obnoxious. This is a company which makes $2 billion a year in profit, and they're getting pissy about the thought of making a mere half billion for a few years to ensure they can cope properly with a banking crisis and don't effectively steal kiwis' money. This isn't a company we should have any sympathy for. Instead, we should tell them to fuck off back to Australia where they belong. That would at least end the siphon they have stuck in our GDP.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

New Fisk

The people of the Middle East should be reassured by one thing – their autocrats are no longer a global anomaly

The future of wind

The Otago Daily Times has an in-depth article about the future of wind energy in New Zealand, and it is looking bright:

The news that wind will play the leading role in New Zealand’s energy future was put up in lights by Transpower white paper Te Mauri Hiko, released last year. The report stated that electricity demand was likely to more than double, to about 90TWh (terawatt hours) per year, by 2050. By then, electricity will supply more than 60% of our total energy needs, having replaced all coal-fired industry and electricity generation as well as 40% of gas-­fuelled industry. Electricity will power most aspects of our lives, including 85% of personal vehicles.

Wind and sun will generate all that extra power, with a little help from geothermal and tide energy, Transpower says. Most of the solar energy will be installed by households and businesses. Wind will be the energy source the big generators invest in most heavily.

To meet the demand, 4.5 average-sized wind farms, of about 60 turbines each, would have to be built every year, starting in 2025.

The big driver on this is going to be electric vehicles. Replacing cars is going to mean a roughly 25% increase in electricity demand, and if we're to avoid burning the planet, that electricity must be from renewable sources. And wind and solar are the best solutions for that.

The good news is that we've got a huge amount of generation already consented, but we're going to need a lot more. But we have the problem that generators want to drag their feet to keep prices high. So if we want this to happen, we are likely to need government investment to push the market.

Meanwhile, the article also suggests that hydrogen (whether for industrial uses or heavy transport) may be a solution to the Climate Change Commission's overcapacity fears: if we need to build extra wind farms to ensure security of supply on a rare windless day in the depths of winter, they can crack hydrogen rather than stand idle the rest of the year. Its early days yet on whether this is viable, but one wind company is currently doing the experiment, with a contract to supply hydrogen to a fertiliser factory. So I guess we're going to find out.

Climate Change: Join the climate strike!

If the sight of schoolkids striking for a future has been filling you with hope, good news: they want you to join them on September 27:

Students will take to the streets again demanding action on climate change, and this time they're inviting adults to join them.

Tens of thousands of students took part in strikes in March and May, and organisers are hoping the next action on September 27 will be even bigger.

The strike will mark the end of a global week of climate-focused events and challenges running from September 20.

Students want adults to show their support by walking out of work to join them.

Its part of a global general strike for the climate over the week of September 20 - 27. The problem is "business-as-usual", and the solution is to stop it. So, take the day off, and stand with the next generation so they can have a future.