Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Climate Change: Fudging the numbers

Supposedly the struggle against climate change is one of this government's priorities. But how can we assess whether government policies and targets are enough to meet that challenge? Are our policies working? Are our targets enough? On the latter question, whether or not they are consistent with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to no more than 1.5 degrees is the obvious baseline. And an assessment by the Ministry for the Environment in February - quietly proactively released this month - shows that we are not doing enough.

Titled Scientific analysis of compatibility of the NDC with 1.5 degrees, the report is absolutely brutal in its initial assessment:

Considering all gases together as CO2-equivalent, New Zealand's NDC is not consistent with pathways limiting warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot [less than 0.1°C - I/S], but is consistent with pathways limiting warming to 1.5°C with no, limited or high overshoot [more than 0.1°C, but declining by 2100 - I/S], or 2°C.
Basicly, we plan to emit too much carbon, with an NDC (Paris target) 2021-2030 budget of 601 MtCO2-e, against an NDC-compatible target of 516 Mt. Note that our 2021-2025 budget has now been set at 354 Mt, meaning either they're expecting to cut emissions by 30% over the second half of this decade to meet the NDC, or the Paris "target" is a lie, a promise the government has no intention of keeping.

But instead of saying "this means we are not doing enough, we need a stronger target", they adopt the approach typical of New Zealand for the last decade, and ask "what if we measured it differently?" So they split up gases, as done in the Zero Carbon Act. But even then they can't make it fit: our 10% legislated methane reduction is less than the lower limit of the -11% to -30% Paris-compatible methane reduction pathway (meaning it is not enough), while the implied carbon budget of 290 Mt is higher than the 252 Mt 1.5°C-compatible budget (and again, meeting it implies a 20% cut in the CO2 budget in the second half of this decade). So in the end they throw budgets out the window, decide to assess it at a point in time, and engage in a DPF-like exercise of choosing their base-years to get the result they want. Which is a level of intellectual dishonesty unworthy of the New Zealand public service, and misses the point that you can't actually fudge the numbers on the climate.

Reading this report, it is clear that a) we are not going to meet our Paris target; and b) our current policy pathway commits us to overshoot, or much higher and more dangerous levels of warming. It is also clear that the government just doesn't want to know about it, and would rather try and fudge the numbers than do what is necessary.

So much for the "nuclear-free moment".