Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Climate change: Fiddling while the planet burns

Two years ago, the government announced a review of its failed emissions trading system. Today, it announced the results of that review. Unfortunately, the result is essentially to do nothing.

Oh, they're looking at auctioning units, so the government can manage supply. Except that the primary source of supply into the ETS - free allocations to polluters - will remain unchanged until 2020. So they're committing to industrial polluters facing no incentive to reduce pollution for the next three years. Worse, these free allocations aren't on a downward path - they're linked to production. So if polluters pollute more, they get more credits. Which is why the carbon budget shows them growing to eat our entire non-agricultural allocation by 2030 (see fig 2).

(Agriculture was of course off the table. It may be our biggest source of carbon pollution, as well as destroying our lakes and streams, but it is a literal sacred cow, and nothing can be allowed to interfere with National's farmer-cronies' "right" to profit by destroying the environment).

They're also looking at some sort of long-term budgeting mechanism, so they can align credit supply with targets (currently its not, with obvious results). This is good, but it should have been done years ago - and the current leisurely pace at sorting it out looks like fiddlign while the planet burns.

Oh, and they're also looking at restricting use of international credits to offset domestic emissions, assuming we're ever allowed to buy any. Looking at the Cabinet paper, regaining access to international carbon markets so polluters can cover their pollution with cheap fraudulent foreign credit is the key priority. Because otherwise, people might actually have to reduce emissions.

If this is sounding repetitive, you're right: it is. Because the government's response to an obviously broken ETS is not to fix it, but to look at fixing it, with a report-back date (sure to be delayed) of mid 2018. Meanwhile, while they crawl along at this glacial pace, polluters keep polluting, and the planet keeps getting warmer. And every day we delay is one day less we have to reduce emissions and makes the inevitable adjustments that much harder. We've already spent over twenty years on this policy - the ETS was first proposed in 1995, and its framework was agreed in 1999 - wasted literally decades waiting for the market to save us. But we're out of time. The market won't work, so we need to regulate instead.