Thursday, February 28, 2008

Climate change: more on offsets

In the wake of my post on the Flexible Land Use Alliance's proposal for offsetting deforestation emissions, someone out there is probably asking why I object so strongly to it. After all, a tree is a tree is a tree, and trees will be planted to replace those cut down. So why the opposition if it makes no difference in the long-term?

Because it matters in the short-term. And with climate change, the short-term matters. According to the Stern Review we have maybe 20 years to turn emissions around [PDF] if we want to stablise greenhouse gas concentrations at an acceptable level (somewhere between 450 and 550 ppm - and many would regard that latter figure as dangerously high). So, all other things being equal, a policy which encourages forest owners to not deforest, or to overcompensate for deforestation is much better than one which lets it continue by averaging things out over 25 - 30 years. Once emissions have stabilised, I agree that averaging out is a simpler way of doing things than rigid carbon accounting (and it can easily be implemented on top of such a structure - just net out the liability through a covenant on the replacement forest). But at the moment, I simply don't think we can afford to do that.

Unfortunately, both NZFirst and United Future - the government's majority - think we should, and so it is very likely to happen. And so once again we'll see policy weakened and undermined in order to pander to large emitters, just as we have in the past.