Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Climate change: dishonest and damaging

One of the constant features of New Zealand climate change policy has been a heavy reliance on forest sinks. At the same time, the government has done precious little to promote them, partly because up until 2002 at least it thought there were more than enough, and partly because of a post-Revolutionary ideological distaste for direct government action. Now, all that is changing. DOC is issuing tenders for six new carbon sequestration evaluation projects on conservation land, covering a total of 40,000 hectares. Some will be what we'd all recognise as forest sink creation: regeneration or replanting of native forest. The government or contractor will get Kyoto-compliant carbon credits for this, which they will be able to sell or use to offset emissions elsewhere. It's such an obvious idea that you have to wonder why the government didn't start doing it sooner.

However, those projects will be in the minority: most of the projects will explore the effects of intensive pest control on greenhouse gas emissions. This is an old DOC hobbyhorse, and they've made some outrageous claims in this area - at the Climate Change: the Policy Challenges Symposium, Director-General Al Morrison claimed that DOC could completely solve our Kyoto problem, simply by killing all the possums. But while its true that possums eat trees and thereby release carbon, this simply isn't reflected in our Kyoto inventory. Like every other country, we consider the browsing activities of animals to be part of the "steady state" our native forests are in. Neither do we count the emissions of wild animals, both for practical reasons and because we're really only interested in human activity.

Unfortunately, the government doesn't seem to care, and so they'll be devoting resources to "reducing emissions" by reducing the amount of trees eaten by possums, and killing other species responsible for methane emissions. Neither activity counts as an emissions reduction under Kyoto, and so instead the government is planning to sell the resulting "credits" on the "grey market" to carbon-offset companies. So, in addition to wasting money which could be better spent pursuing real reductions, we'll also be further damaging the credibility of the offset market by providing them with "credits" based on prevented deer farts. Marvellous.

At this stage, I'd prefer the government was focusing its resources on things that would actually help our net position, rather than on pandering to DOC's hobbyhorse. Pest control is great conservation activity, but it is simply dishonest (and downright damaging) to count it under climate change policy.