Thursday, April 12, 2018

Climate change: Decarbonising New Zealand

Today the government has taken the first real step towards decarbonising the New Zealand economy, by banning all future offshore oil exploration:

The New Zealand government will issue no new exploration permits for offshore oil and gas fields in a historic move to support its commitment to action on climate change.

While some 22 existing offshore oil and gas exploration permits remain in place, with rights to explore and potentially develop any commercial discovery unaffected, the decision signals the endgame for decades of attempts to find major new oil and gas deposits outside the Taranaki Basin, where the offshore Maui, Kupe, Maari, Pohokura, and Tui fields are all producing oil and gas today.

"The coalition government is taking an important step to address climate change and create a clean, green and sustainable future for New Zealand," said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a statement issued at 5am in coordination with other Ministers and environmental groups.

Good. Humanity is pushing up against the edge of its safe carbon budget, and we can't afford to burn even half the carbon we know about. Under those circumstances, looking for more carbon is both pointless, and creates pressure to destroy the planet for the profit of a few. This is an industry we need to wind down, phase out, and replace. Which means the second part of this will be to gradually start revoking existing permits, and close the pipeline so that any new discoveries will not be developed. The market does most of the latter part for us - bringing new oil and gas fields into production is hugely expensive, and most discoveries are uneconomic to develop, meaning they just get recorded as an asset inflating the value of fossil fuel companies. Systematically devaluing those assets is the way to force those companies out of business.

Naturally, the Mayor of New Plymouth is unhappy. Like the West Coast, his local economy is dependent on a destructive and irresponsible industry, and that industry has been told it is no longer welcome. Won't someone think of the jobs! But those jobs and that illusory prosperity are bought at the cost of destroying the planet, and the homes and livelihoods of other New Zealanders. That tornado in Taranaki, those cyclones we've been having this summer, the droughts we've had which have made life difficult for farmers - that's what New Plymouth's fossil economy costs us. And the blunt truth is that if the rest of us are to survive and prosper, that economy has to die. The quicker it does so, the better.