Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Climate change: pulling numbers out of their arse

The Greens are currently touring the country as part of a campaign to push their latest proposals on climate change. One of these proposals is for a "climate defence fund", funded by money raised from putting a price on carbon, and used to fund energy efficiency, emissions reduction, and (presumably) adaptation projects. So far, so good - this sort of revenue recycling is a no-brainer. It gives us "double dividends" as well as explicitly linking the price of emissions with relieving the damage they cause. But then they talk about the level of this funding:

Fitzsimons said climate change was the greatest threat to the country so at least $1.6 billion should be spent on preparing for its effects – the same as the defence budget.

(Elsewhere, they say that "climate change is the greatest threat we face. Spending the same as our defence budget ($1.6 billion) is the least we should do").

It's great rhetoric, but I can't for the life of me see the point in such a high level of funding, or how it would be spent. I took a quick look at revenue recycling last year, and came up with an additional $45 - $50 million a year of projects that could be funded in this way, and that number could be doubled if capacity constraints were relieved. Funding further rounds of the Projects Mechanism would cost around $50 million a year, and the government is planning $20 - $30 million a year for its afforestation grants scheme. Again, those numbers could be increased somewhat, and the government could start planting trees itself, but we're still talking in the ballpark of a few hundred million dollars. Even if we doubled it (if we're really imaginative in working out good ways of spending money on this), we're still left with a billion dollars to spare.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that the Greens need to go away and do some rough costings of what they want to fund. Otherwise, it just looks like they're pulling numbers out of their arse purely for rhetorical effect - which doesn't do a thing to convince people that you have serious, sensible, well-thought-out policy.


I hear we could use an electrified double-trunked rail line from Auckland to the Bluff. Pretty sure that would help with our emissions.

Though technically it would save the government money, but hey, whatever.

As to defending against the effects of climate change? Ha! Good luck with that.

Posted by tussock : 4/19/2007 03:48:00 AM

It's interesting to see that the Greens are linking climate change with defence policy and (indirectly) security, albeit in a clumsy fashion. This is a link that is being made overseas with increasing force, as this article from 'The Guardian' shows:,,2059552,00.html

It's difficult to convince people to act now on climate change per se, but tying climate change to the security threats that may arise from climate change, such as the mass movement of peoples and conflict over resources, and economic threats (as the Stern report did) may be one way of achieving this.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/19/2007 09:01:00 AM

Remember that for the US, half their federal budget is military, so if you want money going military gets you a lot more access to it. As well, they have the whole "War on Stuff" pattern well established so if they can change their "War on Planet Earth" into "War against ecocidal stupidity" that might be a change for the better (although given the success of their other wars, maybe not).

Posted by Moz : 4/19/2007 11:38:00 AM

Tussock: it would help, but not that much, and as spending goes, its near the back of the list in terms of CO2 saved per dollar spent.

Expanding the rail network in Auckland is better but still not that good. It's better thought of as a matter of urban planning and the sort of city we want than primarily as a climate change measure.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 4/19/2007 12:13:00 PM

What about getting freight and traffic off the roads and onto an expanded rail networks? Urban and the major trunk network. Subsidising stuff like solar panels and insulation on people's homes? Paying people to remove older cars from the national fleet? Funding climate/environmental education from pre-school up to tertiary? Er... making arbour day a national holiday and pay employers for lost production? Ummm... ok now I'm reaching.

Posted by Muerk : 4/19/2007 03:58:00 PM

We could go to zero-carbon electricity.

We'd need to roughly double the amount of renewable energy in order to do this - e.g. about 2-3GW of capacity, or six generators of a Project Hayes / Project Aqua scale. This would cost at least $6bln - or four years defense spending.

The problem would, of course, be finding locations and the loss of landscape value. I'd suggest allocating each regional council a megawattage based on their area in hectares and distance from the locuses of power consumption. They would then be obliged to choose through local consultation where the generation was to go. (Waikato could possibly have to supply extra site space to compensate for the landscape gain when Huntly got demolished..)

Posted by Rich : 4/23/2007 10:08:00 PM