Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Climate change: Our $1.2 billion a year credibility gap

Earlier in the month, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment called bullshit on the government's "20% by 2020" target, pointing out that under current policy settings, we had no hope of meeting it. She's not alone - the criticism has been echoed by the International Energy Agency. And now the UN has weighed in, pointing out the credibility gap in its latest review of our climate change policies:

A United Nations review has found a large credibility gap between New Zealand's target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and the measures in place to achieve it.

"It could find no plan for two-thirds or more of what is required to meet the target," said the Sustainability Council's executive director, Simon Terry.

The actual review is here [PDF]. Its a fairly technical document, largely concerned with whether our most recent national communication under the UNFCCC includes all the information it is required to. It is, for the UN, highly critical of our policies:
In 2009 New Zealand announced a conditional national GHG emission reduction target for 2020 (a 10–20 per cent reduction of total GHG emissions compared to the 1990 level), and a long-term aspirational target for 2050 (a 50 per cent reduction of total GHG emissions compared to the 1990 level. The national 2020 target is conditional on the extent of future international action to reduce emissions and is considered a ‘responsibility target’ – to be achieved through a combination of domestic emission reductions, the storage of carbon in forests and the purchase of emission reduction units from other countries. The ‘with measures’ projection estimates that New Zealand’s GHG emissions will be 23.6 per cent above the 1990 level in 2020. Without the effect of PaMs [policies and measures] GHG emissions are projected to be in 2020 37.5 per cent above the 1990 level. Projections show that it is expected that a net emission reduction of 12.0 Mt CO2 eq/year will be achieved by 2020 (based on a continuation of Kyoto Protocol accounting rules) – only a third of the level required to meet the lower end of the 10–20 per cent target range.
(Emphasis added)

Nick Smith's response is to highlight that it's a "responsibility target" - effectively claiming that we don't have to reduce our emissions, and that we can instead pay someone else to make the required reductions. Unmentioned by Smith is the cost of this shirking: by that stage carbon is expected to cost $50 a ton, which multiplied by the 24 million ton gap gives a cost of $1.2 billion a year. A competent government would be imposing more effective policy to reduce this cost and ensure that it is paid by the polluters responsible. National seems happy to leave things as they are. They won't be in government then (hell, most of their senior Ministers won't even be in Parliament), so their billion dollar a year failure gets to be somebody else's problem.

Again, we deserve better than this. We deserve a government which takes the issue of climate change seriously, rather than just reacting with spin and greenwash. We deserve targets which aren't outright lies, and policies which have some chance of achieving them. But we won't get that from National.