Monday, February 26, 2007

Where do they get their figures from?

The problem with statistics is that once a false or misleading one enters the media, it's almost impossible to get rid of. So we have the Herald on Sunday reporting in a story on Contact Energy's renewable plans that

The reality is that since Labour took office in 1999 New Zealand's emissions have grown at twice the rate of the United States, four times the rate of Japan and are even larger than Australia.

Except its not the reality. Here are the rates of growth in gross emissions compiled from the UNFCCC's online table of gross Annex I emissions:

New Zealand gross 2000 - 2004: 6.79%
United States gross 2000 - 2004: 1.31%
Japan gross 2000 - 2004: 0.72%

What about net emissions (the statistic people should use, as it is what counts under Kyoto)? Again, here are the growth rates sourced from the UNFCCC's table of net Annex I emissions:

New Zealand net 2000 - 2004: 1.01%
United States net 2000 - 2004: 1.15%
Japan net 2000 - 2004: -0.02%

New Zealand net emissions 2004: 50.606 MTCO2-e
Australia net emissions 2004: 533.495 MTCO2-e

(I have used 2000 as the base year as the Labour government took office in December 1999).

As can be seen, the Herald's "statistics" don't match reality, no matter which way you slice them (and the gross emissions figures are significantly worse than they suggest). I've also done an analysis using the 1999 - 2003 figures from the UNFCCC's compilation of Key GHG Data [PDF], and it doesn't work for them either. Meanwhile, the Herald's final claim (that New Zealand's emissions are now "even larger than [those of] Australia") is simply insane. As with Nick Smith, you really have to ask where they get their numbers from...

Note that I am not trying to minimise either the seriousness of New Zealand's emissions growth, or the international comparisons. I think the figures above speak for themselves in painting an absolutely dismal picture of our performance over the past seven years (the figures linked here paint a worse one of our performance over the past seventeen). I would however prefer that both political parties and the media were accurate in their condemnation, rather than seemingly pulling numbers out of their arse.


DPF: Yes - by that measure its far worse than the Herald suggests. And while it is net emissions that count under Kyoto, gross emissions are important, and their continued growth is something we should be concerned about.

And OTOH, for National politicians and party hacks to complain about this when they have done everything in their power to bring it about is just a little rich.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/26/2007 03:22:00 AM

DPF: Your interpretation of the Australia claim is a bit of a stretch, even for you. Oh, it can be tenuously supported, but it requires you to first go "that can't be right; what were they really trying to say". Most people don't know enough to do that, and hence will read it directly - that our emissions (gross, net, whatever, they don't specify and most people don't know or care about the difference) are higher than Australia's.

Journalists are people who make their living from words. If they are incapable of clearly saying what they mean then they should really be looking for another job.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/26/2007 03:33:00 AM

I would have thought the real story was Contact indicating that its proposed $2 billion investment in alternative energy is in jeapardy because of the consent process.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/26/2007 09:07:00 AM

Idiot - you are right - it is only if you know enough to conclude that it can't mean gross emmissions (for Aussie) that one thinks about what it does mean, and this will have misled many.

You should write to the newspaper asking them to supply the source for their info.

Posted by David Farrar : 2/26/2007 10:55:00 AM

Neil: I've blogged about their RMA whining elsewhere. And while people can bitch about the time it takes, there are real impacts and real issues of balancing competing rights involved. If Contact wants to speed up the process, it can always use the Act as envisioned by Treasury when it was first floated: buy them out.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/26/2007 11:20:00 AM