Thursday, September 06, 2007

Climate change: better than Australia?

Today in the House, Climate Change Minister David Parker attempted to refute Nick Smith's constant claims that New Zealand's emissions are worse than Australia's. In one sense, he needn't have bothered - Smith's figures are rubbery, and don't match reality no matter which way you slice them. But more importantly, it's a horrendous own-goal, because it shows us all how dismal New Zealand's performance has been.

Frogblog has the details (and a handy graph) here. Unfortunately, they use 2004 data for Australia, which makes the comparison somewhat rosier than it actually is. New Zealand's gross emissions in 2005 were 24.7% higher than they were in 1990. Australia's 2004 gross emissions were 25.7% higher than in 1990; their 2005 gross emissions (from their latest National Inventory Report (ZIP/PDF; large)) were 25.6% higher. So, while we're doing better than Australia, it's not by much. And both emissions pathways compare very unfavourably to that of the UK, which has managed to decrease its gross emissions by 14.8% since 1990, by the simple expedient of actually having policy (something New Zealand seems to have had consistent problems with).

Of course, its not gross emissions, but net emissions which matter under the Kyoto Protocol, and on this front New Zealand does even worse. New Zealand's net emissions - gross emissions minus the carbon absorbed by forest sinks - have risen 22.7% since 1990. Australia's have risen by 4.46%, and the UK's have dropped by 15.4%, as shown in the graph below:

But it gets even worse when you consider the countries' respective targets under the Kyoto protocol. If Australia had ratified, it would have had a Kyoto target of +8%, meaning that its 2008 - 2012 emissions could be (on average) 8% higher than in 1990. So, while they have failed to ratify, they have actually achieved their target. New Zealand, OTOH, had a 0% target, meaning we have to limit out 2008 - 2012 emissions to (on average) 1990 levels. Seventeen years of inaction has meant that we can not meet this target from domestic emissions reductions, and will instead have to purchase carbon credits on the international market to cover our excess, assuming any are available. The cost of that inaction is currently estimated at NZ$544 million, though given Treasury's lowballing of the carbon price, it's probably closer to twice that.

So, on the measurement that actually matters - net emissions - we are doing much, much worse than Australia. We're not the worst in the world - you'd have to work hard to beat Canada - but our total lack of progress is nothing to be proud of. But while National wants to lay this at the government's door, it should be pointed out that it has taken more than a decade of sustained inaction to get us to this dismal point, and National was in power (and failed to implement policy, and let emissions grow) for half that period, and opposed serious action for almost all of it. This is on both major parties' heads, and rather than trading blame for their shared failure, they should be working together to ensure that we at least have some decent policy in place so that it doesn't continue.