Monday, January 15, 2007

Climate change: ranking the parties

How do the various political parties score on climate change? The Greens have produced a ranking, backed by copious analysis, here [PDF]. While it shows the Greens leading the pack, even they admit that they do not yet have good policy on agricultural emissions (something I attribute to their reluctance to bite the bullet and insist that farmers pay the full cost of their pollution, regardless of the lack of abatement options, simply so that people are paying proper prices and can make decisions accordingly rather than paying farmers a billion dollar a year environmental subsidy). Meanwhile, the other parties go from fairly good (Labour and the Maori party) to outright deniers (ACT), with National and United Future only just beginning to wake up to this important policy area. Clearly, some of the parties have a long way to go before their policies in this area are even remotely credible. And OTOH, much of Green policy - for example around air travel and coastal shipping - is more symbolic nibbling around the edges than effective. What's important at this stage is to stick a price on emissions to tackle growth in the energy sector (and give people a clear price signal on conservation) and shift our fuel mix rapidly towards biofuels. The Greens do advocate this, but they seem often to lose that clear policy message in the fluff.

What the rankings really show is the vast gap between Labour and its coalition partners, and the difficulty it had in advancing policy post-election. But with United Future moving towards the centre on this and expressing guarded support for emissions trading, and the piecemeal nature of much of policy, I think we will see that gap largely crossed over the next year. The major sticking point will be on electricity-sector emissions trading, and there it is a question of whether NZ First will threaten its relationship with Labour over it, or whether it will bow to the clear Parliamentary majority which exists on the subject and admit that it has lost the argument. Whether the government is planning to recycle revenue into energy efficiency schemes for poorer customers will matter a lot here, and could provide NZ First with the political cover it needs to back down gracefully, so it may all depend on whether the government can kick Treasury into line or not.