Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Comparing emissions growth

Nick Smith is nothing if not reliable. Every time he speaks on climate change - at the climate change and policy symposium, or in Question Time today, he trots out the same statistic to illustrate the failure of New Zealand climate change policy: that

New Zealand emissions have grown at four times the rate of the United States and three times the rate of Australia

Now, while New Zealand emissions have grown catastrophically (primarily due to the complete failure of this and previous governments to actually do anything to curb them or encourage sink creation), and are nothing to be proud of, I cannot for the life of me see where Smith is getting his numbers from. The UNFCCC secretariat's compilation of key GHG data [PDF, large] gives the following rates of growth in emissions between 1990 and 2003:

New Zealand gross: 22.5%
Australia gross: 23.3%
US gross: 13.3%

New Zealand net: 30.7%
Australia net: 4.9%
US net: 20.3%

So, looking at gross emissions, ours have grown by slightly less than Australia's, and 50% faster than the US's. Looking at net emissions (which is the measure that actually matters under Kyoto), ours have still grown 50% faster than the US's, but a massive six times faster than Australia's (see what happens if you pay people to plant trees?). Either way, our performance is dismal, but it still doesn't add up to what Smith says it does.


Given National's scotching of the previous concensus about the use of a carbon tax Smith's posturing is rather sickening. He could go some way to atoning by at least acknowledging and apologising for the damage he and his party did. Smith should also note that the increases are largely due to strong economic growth over an extended period, something his party would be crowing about in other circumstances.

That being said, this *is* Labour's biggest failure. The fact that the repsonsibility for Kyoto seems to rest with one of their more junior ministers is testiment to the lack of attention they give to this and most other envoironmental issues.

One initiative I would welcome would be for emissions auditors to be provided to businesses and other organisations for free. The could determine each company's CO2 footprint, suggest mitigating effects and calculate the carbon credits required to offset the net footprint. There would be a substantial number of companies who would take the opportunity to reduce the footprint, and also welcome the ethics of this.

The effort of reaching doing this without assistance is reasonably high and without the right encouragement good intentions become bogged down very quickly. With the right incentives and good support I think this could change quite quickly.

PS thanks for the write ups on the climate change conference.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/11/2006 08:53:00 AM

Nothing Smith says ever adds up. Surely you realise that by now?

Posted by Peter Cresswell : 10/11/2006 10:33:00 AM

Now I'm not saying Nick Smith knows what he's talking about, but there are many different ways what he says could be correct.

Most obviously, he could be looking at a shorter time period, perhaps between 2001 and 2003 the numbers hold (politicians choose time-frames like this all the time - National will say crime has gone up each of the last two years and Labour will say crime is down since Labour assumed office etc.)

Alternatively, Nick Smith may be talking about the rate of growth in emissions - similar to George Bush senior's (I think, but really aren't sure) claim during an election campaign that the rate of increase of inflation was decreasing (which translated means inflation is high, inflation is still getting higher, but the amount why by it is getter higher is decreasing).

Maybe the growth in our emissions isn't four times higher, but perhaps the growth in the growth of our emissions is.

Like all politicians should, however, he ought to tell us what he's talking about.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 10/11/2006 12:50:00 PM