Thursday, July 16, 2009

Climate change: ambitious

The UK government has just announced an ambitious plan to meet its 34% by 2020 climate change target. The details look like nothing less than a green revolution:

  • requiring 40% of electricity to be generated from "low carbon" sources by 2020. This includes nuclear, but given the construction timelines, in practice it will almost all have to come from wind. This means a tenfold increase in wind generation in just 11 years.
  • a massive investment by electricity companies in home insulation - £3.2 billion over four years to insulate 7.5 million homes.
  • Smart meters in every home by 2020, and feed-in tariffs (meaning a guaranteed price) for distributed generation.
  • far tougher CO2 emissions standards for cars.
  • financial assistance "in the region of £2,000 to £5,000" to reduce the price of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.
  • including air traffic in the EU ETS.
  • hundreds of millions of pounds on R&D for wind, wave, and other forms of renewable power.
The UK can do this because unlike us they are not completely in thrall to a dead ideology of NeoLiberalism. They are not afraid to regulate, or to tell businesses how to spend their money (currently UK electricity generators must purchase a certain percentage of renewable energy, and spend a certain amount on providing energy efficiency and insulation to their customers). And they are not afraid to face up to the costs, and (more importantly) engage in redistribution where necessary to lessen their impact on the poor. As a result, they can set strong targets, and actually have a decent chance of meeting them. Meanwhile, our NeoLiberal metapolicy of eschewing intervention and regulation and "leaving it all to the market" has resulted in self-induced helplessness. Because of our ideological blinkers around what constitutes "acceptable" policy, we think we can't do anything. And as a result, our emissions have risen 25% while our policymakers have sat around wringing their hands and engaging in abstract and sterile debate about Hayek and Friedman.

If John Key was really "ambitious for New Zealand", he would set a strong target for 2020 emissions reductions. If John Key was really "ambitious for New Zealand", he would look at this policy, clone it (with suitable local adaptations around renewables and agriculture), and actually make us live up to the "clean and green" rhetoric his tourism ministry uses to sell us overseas. Instead, he will make sympathetic noises and talk up the costs and the "threat to jobs" - really the threat to his corporate mates' profits - while doing nothing. And so our emissions will continue to rise, and the planet will continue to burn.