Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Climate Change: No nonsense

ACT is pushing a "no-nonsense climate change plan". What does it involve? Repealing the Zero Carbon Act and Emissions Trading Scheme, reversing the fossil-fuel exploration ban, and allowing mining on conservation land. In other words, repealing any policy which might actually reduce emissions. Which is the very definition of nonsensical.

So what would an actual "no nonsense" plan look like? Our main problem is agriculture (90% of which is exported), and everything else - electricity, industrial gas use, even transport - is really tinkering around the edges. So while I'd ban new fossil fuel development and use, sunset existing fossil fuel infrastructure, drive industrial electrification and uptake of EVs, and invest heavily in renewable electricity to power it all cleanly, the real carbon reduction policy comes down to one thing: massively reducing cow numbers. We can do that with water policy, we can do it with stocking limits and resource consent conditions, but the easiest way is just to remove the ETS price cap, let carbon prices rise as high as they want, and let the market do the work of planting trees to drive farmers off the land.

This is already happening. Farmers are complaining that it is twice as profitable for them to plant trees than farm sheep or beef. That is the market sending them a signal, and if they are too stupid to listen, then they deserve to go bankrupt. In which case, their land will likely be bought by someone for trees, on the basis that profitable uses will drive out unprofitable ones.

This does mean that we get pine monoculture, which is suboptimal. All things being equal, I would prefer to see native forest restored. But any tree which gets rid of a cow is a good tree. And even if they all burn down in a decade or two, that's however many years of avoided agricultural emissions, which is the real benefit - and the real point. The aim of New Zealand climate change policy must be to reverse land use away from agriculture. Any drawdown from the atmosphere is just a bonus.