Monday, May 14, 2007

Climate change: A fair contribution

National Party leader John Key made a major speech on the environment today, in which he committed his party to both the Kyoto Protocol and a 50% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This is a welcome shift in policy from National's dark days of climate change denialism, and a return to the party adopting a responsible attitude (as it seems to have also done on race). Last week, I compared National's chosen target with those of other nations and found it rather underwhelming - but having crunched some numbers, I've changed my mind.

"50% by 2050" doesn't look that impressive when compared to the much higher targets set by the UK (60%), EU (60 - 80%), California (80%) and Norway (100%). However, National justifies it by implicitly appealing to a per-capita comparison:

New Zealand’s emissions are significantly less per person than those of Australia, the United States and Canada. National believes the “50 by 50” target is New Zealand’s fair contribution to avoiding dangerous climate change, taking into account our already high level of renewable energy and the difficulty of reducing agricultural emissions.

I was a bit suspicious of this, so I did the numbers. And actually, they turn out pretty good:

California EU-15 United Kingdom New Zealand
1990 emissions (MTCO2-e) 373.4a 4,014.58b 750.64b 40.15b
2050 emissions (MTCO2-e) 74.68 1,605.83 300.26 20.08
2050 Population (millions) 54.778c 384.356d 69.162e 5.045f
Per capita emissions (TCO2-e / person) 1.36 4.18 4.34 3.98

(All emissions figures are net; I've linked to the sources for the curious).

So, "50% by 2050" is a fair contribution, at least by comparison with other nations. It's not exactly leading the world, but its certainly doing our bit. The challenge now for National is to flesh out this distant target with some intermediate targets and some firmer policies for meeting them. The challenge for the government is to beat it.


and this is the sort of reason why key is prefered prime minister.
Still I wish he would come up with a few more clear policies, such as a clear idea of what he will do about inflation/interest rates (as opposed to just flooding the country with money) and so forth.

Maybe he can offer to give us our privy council back.


Posted by Anonymous : 5/14/2007 07:21:00 AM

I'd be interested in your take on National's plan to reform the RMA to fast-track renewable energy projects? Isn't this just what they've long wanted to do, piggy-backed onto the climate change issue?

Posted by Anonymous : 5/14/2007 01:07:00 PM

sure is.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/14/2007 07:00:00 PM

I posted the same question on Hot Topic, and gareth pointed me to National's bluegreen vision. Haven't read it yet, but thought I'd point it out here to see if anyone has any thoughts.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/15/2007 11:42:00 AM

Fragment: I'd be interested in your take on National's plan to reform the RMA to fast-track renewable energy projects? Isn't this just what they've long wanted to do, piggy-backed onto the climate change issue?

Pretty much. "Gut the RMA" has, like "tax cuts" become a solution in search of a problem, and thus offered universally. People can't afford houses? Gut the RMA. Too many cars on the road? Gut the RMA. Dumb (as opposed to smart) electricity projects being rejected? Gut the RMA.

Naturally, though, such gutting won't stop those wealthy enough to afford lawyers from objecting or holding up projects they don't like. Instead, it will simply affect the vast majority of New Zealanders.

I blogged about National's Bluegreen vision when it was first released. The climate change section is a weaker version of existing policy, combined of course with gutting the RMA (and not just for energy projects). What I really want to pin them down on though is allocation mechanisms for emissions trading - I suspect they favour grandparenting, but I haven't been able to find a specific public statement on it.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 5/15/2007 12:17:00 PM


Posted by Anonymous : 5/15/2007 02:46:00 PM

I/S: You say: "I blogged about National's Bluegreen vision when it was first released. The climate change section is a weaker version of existing policy."

When will you understand? There IS no existing policy and the idea David Parker is capable of developing implementable, widely-accepted policy is ridiculous. Cullen will have to take the issue over in order for anyting useful to come out of Labour. He at least knows how to get things done.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/17/2007 11:05:00 AM

Anon: There IS no existing policy

As someone who has spent the past two years reading every cabinet paper, policy document, and press release that has come out of the government on this issue, I must respectfully disagree. There is very clearly a policy, based around a slow introduction of emissions trading, incentives to promote afforestation and prevent deforestation, the use of biofuels combined with regulatory measures to improve the carbon efficiency of the vehicle fleet, and the first steps towards limiting agricultural emissions. It has not yet been implemented - that's one of the main priorities after the budget, as I understand it - but it is very definitely there (and in many ways an improvement on the 2002 policy).

As for why it hasn't been implemented yet, it was expected from the outset that the policy development process would take 18 - 24 months. It's running pretty much on schedule, and we should see the necessary legislation introduced after the Budget.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 5/17/2007 11:25:00 AM

2 points:

- the 50% cut by 2050 allows unreasonable amounts of wriggle room. Businesses set annual budgets which are monitored on a quarterley basis. Key says he is a businessman - so show us the colour of your money John. What are your intermediate targets ?(i.e. a 5 year rolling average would do to iron out seasonal and weather related factors).

- and after all that, 50% by 2050 will not prevent catastrophic climate change. Take a look at contraction and convergence if you want to see the scale of the challenge (and opportunities) we have yet to tackle.
Every year we leave it the resulting cuts will have to be deeper. Generation Y and Z are not going to be pleased with the attitude of the boomers.


Posted by Anonymous : 5/18/2007 07:09:00 PM

Actually New Zealand can do a lot better than 50% by 5050. We could be 100% renewable in our energy use by then. We could shift the balance of landuse in favour of forests. We could use energy a lot more efficiently than we do. We are one of the best-placed countries in the World to reduce our greenhouse gas emssions. Though National doesn't need to gut the RMA - the Government did a pretty good job of implementing National's proposed changes in the last election. They just haven't been prepared to use the powers they have - and a good thing too.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/22/2007 10:43:00 AM

D: I agree, he needs intermediate targets as well. But that might be too much for National's core supporters, many of whom still seem to be in absolute denial, both of climate change and the political and trade implications of refusing to act.

As for whether its enough, I'm also doubtful, but its a whole different argument (one I'm currently working my way through). This is at least a start, and one in line with what other countries who are taking the issue seriously are doing (though really, we should be aspiring to be like California or Norway and lead, not merely follow the pack).

I'd like to see the government add a little detail to their "aspiration" of carbon neutrality - by for example adding a date and a bit more of a policy plan. Obviously you can't detail everything over 40 years, but simply saying "we will have emissions trading and the cap will sink by x% a year to reach 0 by 20YY" is probably enough.

Anon: Technically, we can. The question is whether we want to (and whether we want to pay the price - though a long transition makes things a lot cheaper).

Again, I'd like to see our politicians convince us.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 5/22/2007 10:58:00 AM