Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Climate change: briefed

The government has released the Briefing to the Incoming Minister for the Ministry for the Environment [PDF]. The briefing has a special attachment on the all-of-government climate change programme, which goes into detail on policy, but it also has some broad recommendations. Starting with this:

New Zealand must both adapt to changes in climate and contribute to a coordinated international response to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. The Kyoto Protocol commits New Zealand to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels, on average, over the period 2008 to 2012 or to take responsibility for any emissions above this level if it cannot meet the target. Emissions are currently about 25 per cent above 1990 levels. The consensus scientific advice is that emissions reductions of between 25 and 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 to 95 percent below by 2050, will be required of developed countries if dangerous climate change is to be avoided.
(Emphasis added).

This makes National's proposed target of do nothing until "50% by 2050" look pathetic. But MfE are right. As Jonathan Porritt points out in the Guardian today, the current negotiations at Poznan are taking place within the framework of the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report. But that report closed off its data in 2005, and in the past three years, the picture has got significantly worse, and we now seem to be on the verge of (if not well into) several nasty positive feedback scenarios (an ice-free Arctic, methane bubbling out of the Siberian permafrost and marine clathrate beds, the oceans' carbon buffer becoming saturated). In the face of this, our policy needs to get more ambitious, not less.

MfE goes on:

By demonstrating appropriate leadership through reducing our own emissions, New Zealand aims to influence major emitting countries in post-2012 negotiations.
So much for that plan. Thanks to Rodney Hide and industry special pleading, our influence just evaporated.

The climate change briefing recommends that the government resist pressure from industry to carve out exceptions to and exemptions from the ETS, and instead keep it simple (they are also concerned about the present balance unravelling under a tide of lobbying, which is well justified). It also recommends continuing to mirror international agreements in domestic policy settings (e.g. around forestry) in order to maintain open access to international markets, and taking a close look at "complementary measures" to back up the ETS where pricing alone doesn't work.

Unfortunately, all of this is completely the opposite of what the new government wants. We'll be lucky to merely maintain the status quo on climate change over the next three years, and we are more likely to actively go backwards.