Thursday, March 02, 2006

Lowering the bar: a history of climate change targets in New Zealand

I've been reading Alexander Gillespie's Burning Issues: the Failure of the New Zealand Response to Climatic Change over the last few days. While it's a bit dated (1997), it does provide useful background information on the history of New Zealand climate change policy. One particularly interesting thing that emerged is our history of setting targets. For example:

  • In 1990, the Labour government under Geoffrey Palmer set an interim objective of a 20% reduction in CO2 by 2005, and a 60% reduction by 2020. Methane was to be reduced by 15% by 2020.
  • During the 1990 election campaign, National adopted Labour's target, and toughed it to a 20% reduction by 2000.
  • In 1994, with the release of Climate Change: the New Zealand Response [PDF] (our first communication under the UNFCCC), National endorsed this target, and expected to meet it. The preferred means was a massive planting program of 100,000 Hectares of forests per year until 2005, coupled with energy efficiency programmes.
  • In 1996, the Working Group on Carbon Dioxide reported that our ambitious targets were unlikely to be met.
  • In 1997, we signed the Kyoto Protocol, committing us to reduce total greenhouse gas output to 1990 levels on average over the period 2008 - 2012.
  • In 2002, the Labour government adopted the goal of "[making] significant greenhouse gas reductions on business-as-usual and [being] set towards a permanent downward path for total gross emissions by 2012.”
  • According to the recent Review of New Zealand’s Climate Change Policies, even this modest goal seems unlikely to be met and should be revised.

There's a common feature linking this repeated lowering of the bar, and that is the failure to back goals with concrete action. For example, the 1992 Carbon Dioxide Action Plan suggested reducing emissions through a combination of "least regret" policies, including taking greater account of CO2 emissions in transport policy, tightening building standards, and planting forests on the East Coast. Very little (if any) of this was done. National's 1995 plan to soak up our emissions with massive forest plantings simply wasn't implemented - National left it to the market, which at the time was projected to reduce plantings (then-Environment Minister Simon Upton even went so far as to say at a climate change conference that government interference in the market to reduce emissions should be guarded against). And Labour both delayed implementation of their carbon reduction policies until it was far too late in the piece - and then systematically backed away from them when faced with the slightest political opposition. The underlying reason for this systematic failure is summed up by Gillespie in a prescient quote:

the government was (and remains) facing a paradox - how to reduce emissions yet deregulate the market. The government has no enthusiasm for interfering in the market in order to bring about increased energy efficiency, whether by penalising motorists, say, or subsidising public transport. Trying to reduce methane emissions by forcing increased costs on an already sensitive agricultural sector was not an attractive option at all.

Unfortunately, the market will not solve the problem. It is fundamentally incapable of it, as long as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions remain an unpriced externality. If the government wants to stand any chance of meeting its international obligations (and avoid subsidising carbon polluters from general taxation by buying credits on the international market), it has to bite the bullet and interfere in the market - if only to internalise the externality and ensure that emitters are paying the full cost of their activities.



YOu want to throw the leaden weight of these regulations on the economy 'just incase.' You're not even sure you know what you're doing, but let's not take any chances for the sake of not mixing up countless people's jobs, property, and lives!

It's a bloody myth. You don't want regulations to save us from global warming! You want global warming to save your socialism from common sense.

Posted by Rick : 3/03/2006 02:05:00 PM

Rick: Given the uncertainty about tipping points, I think the precautionary approach is fully warranted.

Of course, if you don't believe in the phenomena at all (despite the scientific evidence), then you're unlikely to find that convincing.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/03/2006 04:32:00 PM

Given the uncertainty about tipping points, I think the precautionary costs are fully unwarranted!

As for the "phenomena," please convince me. I've been studying the recent postings on this blog and each of them is followed by intelligent comments that thrash the hell out of your premises and yet go unanswered by you.

Posted by Rick : 3/03/2006 06:46:00 PM

Rick: to be honest, I am as uninterested in discussing the reality of global warming with climate change deniers as I am in "discussing" things with astrologers, creationists, and holocaust deniers. Quite apart from the fact that it would be as singularly pointless as trying to convince a solipsist of the existence of other minds, I simply have better things to do with my time than validate your peculiar fantasies by engaging with them.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/04/2006 12:42:00 AM

How odd. I thought global warming was a pressing concern of yours which needed to be understood and responded to for all our sakes.

How perplexing! I guess I'll just go drive around the block a few times for the hell of it then (helps me think).

Posted by Rick : 3/04/2006 01:04:00 PM

It's seems anybody who's actually signed up to the Kyoto Protocol that have to reduce them have actually increase there pollution at a faster rate than no signatures to the agreement.

If Labour were serious about meeting the climate change targets in this country they need to tax the polluters and that money then goes into a pool that's then paid out to people who either reduce pollution or plant 'carbon sinks'.

This would mean an internal market would be set up where you would be able to judge whether it's costs effective to reduce or stop polluting, i.e. save yourself/business money and people could decide to plant trees and earn money from doing it or use the land for some other use.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/05/2006 02:06:00 PM

So, Rick, I take it you wish to poison the air...

Posted by Anonymous : 3/05/2006 03:58:00 PM

Well Millsy, I don't think NRT are up to talking about this right now. But I've answered your question on my own blog.

Posted by Rick : 3/09/2006 06:35:00 PM