Monday, June 16, 2008

Climate change: reported back

The Finance and Expenditure Committee has reported back [PDF] on the Climate Change (Emissions Trading and Renewable Preference) Bill and recommended that it be passed. While they've made a large number of technical amendments, the broad outline of the bill has remained unchanged; implementation is still progressive, and the ETS will still cover all sectors and all gases from 2013. The big changes:

  • The entry of PFCs and HFCs has been delayed from 2011 to 2013. These are highly damaging greenhouse gases, but comprise such a small proportion of our emissions that it will make no real difference (and it helps that the sector is doing reasonably well at controlling emissions).
  • Coal-seam methane is now included, so coal miners will have a direct financial incentive to capture it.
  • A major change to forestry allocation which will see units allocated in favour of land owners who bought their forests before the announcement of the deforestation cap in 2002. This seems to be offset by allocating fewer units to Maori (technically, to land set aside for future Treaty settlements, but it has the same effect). So, if you're a Pakeha forest owner, you get 39 tons a hectare; if you're Maori and gained the same patch of land through a recent or future Treaty settlement, you get 18. It's flagrant racism, but then, this is the same government that passed the Foreshore and Seabed Act.
  • There is now provision for allowing forest offsets (that is, for deforestation to be offset by plantings elsewhere) if this is reflected in a future international agreement. Which seems fair enough, given that the problem stems from Kyoto. At the same time, I don't think this is likely to happen at all.

The National Party has their expected whiny minority report, in which they profess concerns for the aims of the ETS, then propose systematically gutting them in favour of polluters and donors. Still, they've at least recognised that agriculture can't be exempted, and they seem to be supportive of early entry for fertilisers. Which suggests some possibilities for amendments during the committee stage.

The bill will now lie on the table for three sitting days, during which time the government will scrabble to get the numbers to pass it. If they do, it'll see its second reading and committee stages next week, and likely be passed by early July. If not, then the election will likely mean we won't see any emissions controls until 2010.

My arguments on why the Greens should support the bill are here