Thursday, September 16, 2021

Samoa's opposition should be sworn in

On Monday, in response to a refusal by HRPP MPs to accept the proper process for being sworn in, Samoa's speaker banned them from parliament. Because they'd also called for a mob, he took the unprecedented step of banning the public too.

These decisions were reasonable at the time. MPs are not allowed to sit and vote until they have been sworn in, and the HRPP's refusal to accept the process effectively made them strangers and not entitled to be present. Their threat to disrupt parliament justified prohibiting their entry. But after Tuesday, the HRPP apparently accepted that they needed to follow the proper process, removing any justification for the ban. Despite this, the speaker continued to prohibit their entry, and at one stage the police threatened to remove them by force. The idea that elected representatives wanting to be sworn in can be barred from doing so by riot police is monstrous, and a mockery of democracy.

The HRPP have now gone to court over the issue, and the supreme court is holding an urgent hearing. So far the court has issued an interim order prohibiting the speaker from taking any measures affecting the HRPP MP's membership of parliament, stopping him from simply declaring their seats vacant. The fact that this was seen as necessary shows a significant distrust of the speaker and the government by the courts, and says a lot about how toxic and arbitrary Samoan politics has become as a result of Tuilaepa and his constitutional crisis.

There will apparently be a ruling later today, and I fully expect the court to order the speaker to stop being a dick and swear in the opposition MPs. While the constitution is silent on the matter (because it seems obvious), the idea that elected MPs would not be allowed to take their seats is simply monstrous and cannot stand in a democracy. And the fact that FAST is even trying to argue it is discreditable and gets their government off to a very bad start. If they want to bring change to Samoa, they should start by ending the HRPP's undemocratic practices and abuse of parliamentary procedure, not by continuing them.

Update: And just minutes after I posted this, the court delivered the expected ruling, ordering that HRPP MPs be sworn in ASAP. I wonder if those who attempted to undermine the judiciary by accusing it of bias will eat their words now?

Racist from top to bottom

Back in 2019, the government tweaked drug laws to encourage the use of police discretion. So did it work? well, charges are down, but the burden of prosecution is falling even more disproportionately on Māori:

A 2019 change to drug laws has led to far fewer people being charged for drug use/possession, but Māori are now even more likely to be charged than non-Māori.

The trends are revealed in police data, released under the Official Information Act, which include a breakdown of how the law is applied in each police district for different ethnic groups.

It has led to allegations of "racist outcomes" - especially in the Canterbury and the Waikato regions.

Police deny this, saying that the most important factor in whether someone is charged is prior convictions - but they have provided no data to support this.

It speaks volumes that the effect is strongest in regions that are more racist. Meanwhile, hiding behind prior convictions elides the fact that whether someone has previously been convicted or not is itself a product of racial bias. What we have here is a clear example of how police discretion in practice means police discrimination. The solution of course is to legalise completely, and strip police of this excuse for their racism.

And on a similar note, RNZ looks at who gets name suppression. And surprise, surprise, its overwhelmingly rich Pākehā:

RNZ can reveal that Pākehā are granted name suppression three times as often as Māori, even though Māori are charged and convicted with more crimes.

Last year, Māori were charged with 43 percent of crimes but only accounted for 17 percent of the interim and final name suppression granted, an RNZ analysis shows.

Pākehā were charged with 36 percent of crimes, but accounted for 65 percent of interim and final name suppression, Ministry of Justice figures show.

Taken together, these two data points suggest our justice system is racist from top to bottom, delivering jail for Māori and excuses and name suppression for the Pākehā elite (and their children). And this too needs to be fixed, because it erodes the very concept of justice itself.

Pattern recognition

Government defers introducing tougher winter grazing rules - again, RNZ, 26 August 2021:

The government has pushed intensive winter grazing rules back by another six months.

Intensive winter grazing is when livestock are feed fodder crops - when done poorly it can create a muddy mess leading to animal welfare and environmental issues.

Regulations aimed at improving intensive winter grazing practices were supposed to come into effect from May this year, but were recently deferred until May 2022.

The government has pushed them back another six months until November 2022.

Government’s climate plan delayed five months, Newsroom, 15 September 2021:
The Government's plan to tackle the climate crisis has been pushed back five months due to the Covid-19 pandemic and to align it with next year's budget, Climate Change Minister James Shaw announced on Wednesday.

The Zero Carbon Act currently requires the Government to release its Emissions Reduction Plan by the end of the year, but Shaw said the Government would move the deadline back to May 2022.

Mines, landfills near wetlands possible under Government walk-back of environmental rules, Stuff, 16 September 2021:
Mines, landfills, and housing developments could be built in or around wetlands under a proposed Government walk-back of environmental rules.

Those rules were only passed a year ago, but the Government was told “almost immediately” that they were preventing the development of housing and infrastructure in some areas, according to an impact analysis produced by the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) last month.

One rule in particular banned all but the most important projects – such as flood protection and critical infrastructure – from being built if they would drain, or partially drain, a wetland.

But in a discussion document released earlier this month, the Government proposed widening the scope of those important projects to include mines, landfills, quarries, and significant housing developments, on the condition they meet stringent resource consent requirements and other provisions.

Is anyone else seeing a pattern here? It looks like the Labour government are orcs, just like their predecessors. So why are the Greens cooperating with them? Is this the positive change they promised from being in government?

Climate Change: An excuse, not a justification

Yesterday the government announced plans to delay its key Emissions Reduction Plan - currently due by law by 31 December - until next year. Its "justification"?

Shaw said consultations on the plan would begin in early October.

"It is only right to make sure everyone has the chance to contribute without the additional challenge of keeping people safe while the country is at different alert levels, especially those in Auckland who are still at level 4," he said.

"It also allows the Government to align the final plan with Budget 2022, so people can see how its delivery will be supported through Government investment."

Which probably sounds great it you ignore the fact that they've been "consulting" on this plan in one form or another since February (having already got an extension), and if you don't know how budget processes work. As someone who knows just enough to get myself into trouble, I don't think this stacks up at all.

Shaw's indicative timeline is "consultations begin in October". Allowing a month for consultations takes us to November. Another month for the answers to be read, collated, and summarised, and Shaw will be responding to them after December. That's a bare-bones, box-ticking timeline. In practice, this is going to have a lot of submissions, and a longer consultation deadline. As an indication, the Climate Commission's consultation earlier this year (on exactly this topic) started on 1 February and produced a decision on 31 May, so four months. Which would mean Shaw will be announcing a decision at the end of January / early February.

What's the budget timeline? Treasury has an overall guide here: the "strategic phase", where agencies prepare budget bids, runs from June to December. The "decision phase", where Treasury says no to those bids, runs from January to April. There's also a detailed timeline for the 2019 budget here (p6), which gives a deadline of 14 December for all initiatives, with the Minister of Finance assessing them from mid-February though to the end of March, when the Cabinet process takes over. There is a process for late bids, which must be pre-approved by the Minister of Finance, but Treasury will be institutionally hostile to these for "bypass[ing] good process".

So how does Shaw's indicated timeline fit with this? It doesn't. Even a short consultation leaves him no time to prepare or change budget bids in response. A long consultation gives very little time for assessment before he starts running into Cabinet deadlines. Either way, its going to mean the decisions will effectively have been made before the consultation begins, making it effectively meaningless. "Consultation" is an excuse, not a justification for delay.

So what timeline does fit with getting emissions reduction policies properly into the budget? The current one. Shaw was originally planning to publish the plan well in advance of the deadline, which would mean plenty of time for budget bids. It would also mean a transparent process, where everyone could see what had been recommended, and assess subsequent budgets against those recommendations. The new timeline cloaks all that under budget secrecy. Whether this bodes well for policy is left as an exercise for the reader.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Climate Change: Some "emergency"

Jacinda Ardern: 'Climate change is my generation's nuclear-free moment', Newshub, 20 August 2017:

In her campaign launch speech in Auckland on Sunday, Ms Ardern called climate change "my generation's nuclear free moment".


"There will always be those who say it's too difficult. There will be those who say we are too small, and that pollution and climate change are the price of progress," Ms Ardern said.

"They are wrong."

She says New Zealand has an opportunity to shape its identity by making the transition to reduced emissions.

"This is my generation's nuclear-free moment, and I am determined that we will tackle it head on."

Climate emergency declaration by New Zealand government includes commitment to 2025 targets, RNZ, 2 December 2020:
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has committed the government and the public sector to going carbon-neutral by 2025, as she declared a climate emergency.

Ardern has moved a motion in Parliament this afternoon which would see New Zealand join 32 other nations in formally acknowledging the global crisis.

The motion was passed shortly before 4pm, with Labour, the Greens and te Pāti Māori all voting in support, and National and ACT opposed.

Climate emergency declaration will be matched with long-term action, James Shaw, 2 December 2020:
Today’s climate emergency declaration will be backed with ambitious plans to reduce emissions, the Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw today.

“Our Government has put New Zealand at the forefront of climate action over the last three years. Declaring a climate emergency and backing this with long-term action to reduce emissions shows that we intend to stay there,” James Shaw said.

Next year, the Government will agree the first three emissions budgets required under the Zero Carbon Act, publish an emissions reduction plan to meet these budgets, consider updating New Zealand’s target under the Paris Agreement, and adopt a plan to meet our international obligations for the period 2021-2030.

Work on each of these is already underway.

Government’s climate plan delayed five months, Newsroom, 15 September 2021:
The Government's plan to tackle the climate crisis has been pushed back five months due to the Covid-19 pandemic and to align it with next year's budget, Climate Change Minister James Shaw announced on Wednesday.

The Zero Carbon Act currently requires the Government to release its Emissions Reduction Plan by the end of the year, but Shaw said the Government would move the deadline back to May 2022.

Urgent? Ambitious? An emergency? A nuclear-free moment? You be the judge. Meanwhile, you might want to throw some money at Extinction Rebellion, 350, Greenpeace, Generation Zero, Lawyers for Climate Action, or any of the other groups who are campaigning on this, to help them oppose it.

Climate Change: We need more than excuses on methane

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. While its lifetime in the atmosphere is limited - its half-life is 9.1 years, so any given amount is almost entirely gone after a hundred years - it is far better at trapping heat. Averaged over a century it has a global warming potential of 28, meaning it is 28 times worse than carbon dioxide. But averaged over 20 years, its GWP is 84. Cutting methane therefore has an immediate and disproportionate impact on heating, and therefore on the storms, droughts, and fires which are killing us.

The US and EU have recognised this, and are planning to push an agreement to cut methane emissions by 30% (from 2020 levels) by 2030 at the next climate change meeting in Glasgow. This is exactly what we need to do to get us through the next few decades and buy time for more general decarbonisation, and it will literally save lives. New Zealand - a disproportionate methane emitter - is one of the countries they want to sign up for this pledge. So what does Jacinda "my generation's nuclear free moment" Ardern say to this? Yeah, nah:

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday in response to New Zealand being included in the list, the Prime Minister said her Government is working hard to address the climate crisis.

She said the Government's targets are based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change.

"We've tried to really lean into the international science in this space because it's important to us and it's important that we do our bit," Ardern said.

"The second point I'd make is of course, we do that in the context of those emissions derived from food production being the most significant proportion of our overall emissions profile.

"My view is that actually, by developing initiatives that substantially reduce those emissions, we will have something that the rest of the world will be very grateful for.

"We are working very hard to actually reduce those emissions in real terms. We are the only country in the world that I know of that has made a commitment to how we will price emissions that are produced through our food production. You're just not seeing that in other countries."

If this sounds like hot air, its because it is. Talk of "food production" - bulk milk powder for luxury foods like confectionery - is simply more special pleading. As for "developing initiatives", thirty years of doing that has seen our methane emissions increase by 1.8 million tons. But then, they were never meant to actually reduce emissions. Like so much of climate change policy, they are simply there to give the illusion of action - "look, we're doing research" - while changing nothing. Meanwhile, the thing we can do right now to cut emissions - cut cow numbers - is ignored, because it is incompatible with the dairy industry's plans for infinite growth (which is itself incompatible with a safe climate or clean water).

We deserve better than this. The crisis is now so bad and so immediate that the government has to step up and act. The US-EU initiative is an appropriate way of doing that, of playing our part. We should join it, and implement its targets. And if we don't, the US and EU should treat us as a climate criminal, and apply sanctions to our methane-producing, climate-destroying dairy exports.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

One mine at a time...

Some good news for the climate today: another coal mine is closing:

The Ohai coal mine is closing in two weeks and rehabilitation of the site is expected to begin next month.

Ohai and New Vale coal general manager Antony Stodart said “business at the Ohai based coal mine is coming to an end after the decision was made to cease mining operations.

“The decision comes after months of deliberation by the board, assessing the long-term financial viability of the business,” he said.

September 30 will be the last trading day for the public to purchase coal direct from the mine.

According to MBIE, Ohai produced 32,963 tons of coal last year. That's just under 65,000 tons of carbon which will no longer be destroying the atmosphere every year. And every ton helps. But there's still 16 more coal mines we need to get rid of, and the best way to do it is by killing their market and forcing electrification by forbidding people to burn the dirty stuff.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Childish bullshit continues in Samoa

Samoa's parliament will sit tomorrow, for the first time since it was sworn in in May. But that first sitting only included FAST party MPs. As for the HRPP, they will not be allowed to attend tomorrow.

The context here is that the HRPP - or at least the tyrant Tuilaepa - is refusing to be sworn in by the legitimately elected Speaker, insisting instead on either a whole new state opening and re-swearing of the Speaker and all MPs, or that they be sworn in by the head of state in violation of standing orders. The Speaker is insisting that standing orders be obeyed - in particular the requirement that no MP can sit or vote in the house until they have been sworn in. The obvious solution is for HRPP members to turn up and be sworn in as required, but that would mean accepting the authority of the courts and the legitimacy of the government which threw him out of office, which appears to be too much for Tuilaepa's inflated ego to handle.

A complicating factor is that Samoa's standing orders require MPs to attend, and allow them to be unseated if they fail to attend for three successive days (something Tuilaepa was attempting to weaponise pre-election when opposition MPs were skipping two days in a row to campaign). Its unclear how this applies to unsworn MPs, but there's a possibility that if they refuse to be sworn in, the HRPP MPs could all be unseated and have to face by-elections. Which would of course go straight to court, and rightly so. In the past the Samoan courts have been reluctant to allow elected MPs to be unseated for trivial reasons, or in ways which appear to be an abuse of power, and I'd expect a high degree of scrutiny on any such decision. It is highly unlikely that any day where MPs hae not been provided the opportunity to be sworn in would count. And the contradiction between members being required to attend but unsworn members being forbidden to gives plenty of scope for the courts to overturn any purported ousting (though they might do so by ordering MPs to attend to be sworn in, which is probably not what Tuilaepa wants).

A second complicating factor is that Tuilaepa has called for a mob to attend tomorrow. Oh joy.

It would be nice if Samoa got a real opposition which accepted its loss and embraced its new role as a way of demonstrating its fitness for power in the future. Instead, their leader continues to engage in this childish bullshit. What's surprising is that his party continues to put up with him.

Another one bites the dust

Another offshore energy permit was surrendered on Friday: permit 60094, owned by Todd Energy:


The permit covered an area of Māui dolphin habitat, so its surrender is good news on that front too.

According to NZPAM's map, there are now only six offshore exploration permits remaining: one owned by Westside Energy, two by Todd, and three by Austrian polluters OMV. Almost all have "drill or drop" provisions coming due in the next two years, so hopefully we'll see them surrendered soon as well.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Too many cows in the Netherlands

The Netherlands has a water quality problem. Too many cows, producing too much shit and piss, which flows into the rivers and poisons them. But they also have a solution: forcing farmers to destock or sell up:

Dutch politicians are considering plans to force hundreds of farmers to sell up and cut livestock numbers, to reduce damaging ammonia pollution.

After the highest Dutch administrative court found in 2019 that the government was breaking EU law by not doing enough to reduce excess nitrogen in vulnerable natural areas, the country has been battling what it is calling a “nitrogen crisis”.


Now civil servants at the finance and agriculture ministry have drawn up proposals which include slashing livestock numbers [pdf] by 30%, one of the most radical plans of its kind in Europe. Two proposed scenarios include forcing some farmers to sell emissions rights and even their land to the state, if necessary.

Aotearoa also has a water quality problem, driven by the same cause: too many cows. And its time we pursued the same solution as the Netherlands. We cannot let farmers continue to destroy our environment and poison our drinking water supplies for private profit. We need to make them stop, and make them pay for the damage they have caused.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Cancel this odious debt

Writing on Newsroom, Laura Walters makes a case for cancelling student debt:

[A]t the moment, loan debt is hurting the economy, holding back everything from small business formation, to new home buying, and even marriage and reproduction.

So rather than offering interest-free borrowing, or expecting people to refinance their loans, the Government could try something more ambitious.

The Levy Institute, a non-partisan think tank in the United States, makes a strong case for student debt cancellation.

It found positive macroeconomic feedback effects from running simulations through two different models for debt cancellation. It saw average households’ net worth and disposable income increase, driving new consumption and investment spending.

In short, the analysis shows debt cancellation would lift GDP, decrease the average unemployment rate, and result in little inflationary pressure, while interest rates increased only modestly.

That's the economic case. Walters also mentions the values-based case about free education, and I'll throw in another: the student loan scheme is odious debt. It violates the government's own lender responsibility principles set by the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act 2003: the government exercises no care or diligence and makes no inquiries as to whether loans can ever be repaid; the sub-minimum wage repayment thresholds make the agreement inherently oppressive; the government exercises its powers as a lender in an oppressive manner, with border arrests and threats; and they induce young people to borrow by oppressive and downright fraudulent means, on a promise of benefits from tertiary education that turn out to be substantially overstated (and an implied threat that without this, you have no hope of a decent job or a future). If they were a normal lender who induced people to borrow in this way, on such terms, we would prosecute them and ban them from lending.

Or we can put it even more simply: the student loan scheme was a massive act of intergenerational theft by Boomers against everyone younger than them, which has burdened successive generations. And rather than perpetuating it any further, we should end it, lift that burden, and cancel the debt.

People who went through the system, were gouged by oppressively high interest rates, and paid off their loans anyway may feel hard done by by this. But their having suffered in the past is no reason to continue to make people suffer in future. The struggle to make a better society inherently means that people in the future are going to have better lives than us if we succeed. We don't begrudge them that. So why begrudge this? If you want to be angry at anyone over your suffering, be angry at Lockwood Smith and Phil Goff, who inflicted this misery on us and are still swanning around as if they didn't do anything wrong, and who haven't even pretended to apologise. Or at the Boomers, on whose behalf they looted the state and gouged us. Or at the entire class of 1980's and 1990's NeoLiberal politicians, who wrecked the country and fucked us over, and whose ideology of greed and selfishness is still governing the state today, despite being completely debunked and officially denied by their political successors. Be angry at the people responsible, not your fellow victims.

And when you're done being angry, use that anger, and make Aotearoa a better place, by cancelling this odious debt.

(Disclosure: Like Walters, I still have my student loan. I do not intend to repay it).

Climate Change: The CCR is a failed, counterproductive policy

Writing on Interest, and in the context of carbon farming displacing traditional sheep and beef farming, Keith Woodford says:

Given that this year’s cost-containment reserve is already exhausted, there is considerable speculation as to what will happen as soon as the next auction on 1 December. The Government will need to find some more firepower if it wants to put a lid on current prices.
To which the obvious response is "but why would it want to do that?" Because its clear from the progress of the ETS this year that the attempt to limit prices is both a failed policy, and completely counterproductive. Failed, because it did not work, and will not work; prices are already well above the government's $50 cap (set back in 2019, which is literally the dark ages for this area of policy), and the market clearly expects the CCR to trigger again at the first auction next year, meaning it will not control prices then either. Counterproductive because the cost of these failed attempts to limit prices is to allow more pollution, at a social cost significantly higher than any conceivable benefit, while even if it was successful it would mute the price signal and incentive for decarbonisation which is supposed to be the outcome of the policy.

So what should the government do with this failed, counterproductive policy? Abandon it. Not the ETS itself, which is producing a strong incentive to decarbonise despite the government's attempts to hobble it, but the idea of trying to cap prices. And the simplest way to do this, and one explicitly contemplated in law, is to set the cost containment reserve volume to zero (alternatively, it could be set to a much smaller amount, with a much, much higher trigger price to let the market find its level, but why piss about with half measures? If you want to end price limits, end price limits).

Unfortunately, Climate Change Minister James Shaw has already decided price settings for next year, which bake in the failure. Given that they will not work, are counterproductive, and are already being ignored by the market, he should reissue them. If the normal regulation timeline doesn't allow that, he should pursue urgent legislation to overwrite them instead. But with the clear and growing severity of the climate crisis, we cannot afford to pursue this failed, counterproductive policy. And we cannot afford to permit an extra 7 million tons of emissions every year doing so.

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

More Labour secrecy

The government introduced a new Civil Aviation Bill to modernise the 30-year-old Civil Aviation Act and 55-year-old Airport Authorities Act today. Which is not normally the sort of bill I would comment on, except that it includes not one, but two new secrecy clauses.

The first of these in section 199 applies to information provided as part of an application for an international air carriage cooperation agreement (so e.g. something like Star Alliance, which raises questions around cartels and price fixing). Under this section, the Minister can make an order forbidding the publication of such information, or the giving of evidence about it. This isn't a duty of confidentiality on the government - its the equivalent of a court suppression order, but by Ministerial decree, applying to the media. And it allows fines of up to $25,000 for any person who violates it.

These orders expire when an application for a cooperation agreement is finally determined or withdrawn, so the purpose of them is clearly to protect commercially sensitive information. This is of course already protected by the Official Information Act, and while the public interest in withholding must be balanced against the public interest in release, the interpretations by the Ombudsman make it one of the stronger reasons to withhold. So what's the case for secrecy? And what's the case for gagging the public, in a prima facie violation of the BORA's affirmation of the right to free expression? The explanatory note doesn't say, simply passing it off as "provid[ing] further for how the Minister may deal with the application". And that is apparently the standard of disclosure the government provides on secrecy and undermining constitutional and quasi-constitutional legislation.

(Also worth noting: there's apparently no BORA vet on this bill. And from its title, I wouldn't have picked it as engaging free expression issues either).

The second clause, section 456, prohibits publication of any information or document obtained by the Civil Aviation Authority in exercising any of its functions, duties, or powers, except under specified circumstances (weirdly, the explanatory note says that the clause "allows" publication, but the way it is worded forbids it in all circumstances other than those specified). Effectively, this is a catchall secrecy clause which exempts the CAA from the OIA. The justification? Rather than say specifically what the concerns are or what information needs to be protected and why, the explanatory note simply says that the section is "modelled on sections 109A and 109B of the Land Transport Management Act 2003", which was passed last year. So, secrecy is being used to justify secrecy, and one agency being exempt is used as a justification to exempt others.

Both clauses are completely new; there is nothing remotely like them in the existing Civil Aviation Act. So this is a significant erosion of the level of transparency we have over a government agency.

These clauses have become more common and more onerous over the past few years, and it is clear now that this government has an unstated policy of chipping away at the OIA, exempting agency after agency with broader and broader secrecy clauses and without ever providing any justification. Which may be convenient for bureaucrats, but it is inherently damaging to transparency, accountability, and our ability to participate in public decision-making. And that is simply not good enough. We deserve an open, transparent and accountable government. And that means not passing legislation like this.

Stupidly counterproductive

Last night the government made it mandatory for businesses to collect contact records. There are obvious concerns here around abuse - for example, the police forcing the production of someone's covid app data under a production order - and these concerns are a disincentive for some people to sign in and enable contact tracing. The obvious measure, which has been used overseas, is to statutorily protect this information and forbid such abuses. The government already does this on information forcibly collected under the Statistics Act, on the basis that good statistics are better than some plod's convenience. So will they do it for covid contact tracing information? Sadly, no:

The government is dismissing calls for more protection of personal information in the Covid-19 contact tracing system.


Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said there was plenty of protection.

"The government has been at pains to reassure people that the information they supply to assist with the critical task of contact tracing will not be used for any other purposes," Hipkins said in a statement.

But the government's word on this is utterly meaningless. For example, police are operationally independent, and neither Hipkins or any other Minister can order them not to apply for production orders or search warrants for particular types of information. If they want to do that, they need to put it in law. And their continued resistance to doing this, after being asked by so many people for so long, is beginning to look highly suspicious. This is stupidly counterproductive, and it undermines the public health response to covid and the strong public support for signing in. And if we have difficulties tracing an outbreak in future because someone didn't sign in for fear of their data being abused, the government will have no-one to blame but themselves.

The OIA has a problem with extensions

The Ombudsman released their latest OIA complaint stats today, and the headline is a rise in overall complaints. But buried in the data is something interesting: extension complaints have increased massively. There were 54 complaints about extensions in the first half of this year, compared to 29 in the previous six months and 33 in the six months before that. Which looks like a step change in the numbers.

As for the reason, well, agencies are using extensions to juke the stats, so its not really surprising that requesters are objecting to that. And as the Ombudsman notes, complaints are an essential part of making the system work and ensuring that decisions are lawful and reasonable:

Mr Boshier says there may be a number of reasons why information requests are refused and requesters were doing the right thing by complaining to the Chief Ombudsman if they were unhappy with the response.
So, if any agency extends your OIA request for "consultations", ask them immediately "who are you consulting and why could it not be done within the statutory timeframes?". And if you don't like their answer, or they don't respond at all, then I've written a guide on how to make extension complaints here.

Monday, September 06, 2021

Too many cows in Canterbury

More than a decade ago, the then-National government overthrew the elected Canterbury Regional Council (ECan) and imposed a Wellington-appointed dictatorship to steal Canterbury's water for farmers. As part of the PR for this, they promised "ambitious" goals to improve water quality. A decade on, have they met those goals? Of course not:

Canterbury’s future water health is murky as a new report reveals that a region-wide conservation plan has met just two of more than 30 goals it set itself a decade ago.

The Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) was created in 2010 in a partnership between Environment Canterbury (ECan), local councils and iwi. It established ten target areas with more than 30 goals to improve water health and management.

A progress report released this week revealed that, 11 years on, just two of those goals had been achieved.


Most of the goals related to freshwater health and biodiversity targets. By last year, just one had been achieved – understanding the risk posed by potential contaminants, which ECan managed through monitoring programmes.

The only other fully met goal was in recreational water quality. Of Canterbury’s lakes and rivers used for swimming, more now met recreational water quality guidelines.

Meeting recreational water guidelines is important, but "understanding risks" is a very soft target. As for the rest, they're failing to meet even basic drinking water standards, while nitrate contamination is increasing.

The fundamental problem for all of this failure is simple: there are too many cows in Canterbury. Those cows pump out shit and piss, which ends up in the rivers and the groundwater, contaminating both. Nitrate levels are rising because of cowpiss and fertiliser. Freshwater health and biodiversity are shit because of cowshit. If Canterbury wants better water, the solution is simple: it needs to cut the pollution at its source, by cutting cow numbers. Until it does, they will continue to poison the environment, and poison Canterbury's people.

Friday, September 03, 2021

Climate Change: We need a total carbon budget

On Wednesday the government blew its carbon budget, flooding the market with 7 million tons of extra pollution (at a social cost of over a billion dollars) in a failed attempt to keep carbon prices low. In the aftermath, Stuff quoted Climate Change Minister James Shaw as saying he would be taking it out of future carbon budgets, which was some hope for sanity. Sadly, that hope was dashed: today Newsroom reports that Shaw will be covering only 1.6 million tons from future carbon budgets. As for the rest, he's going to pretend it is already covered as "stockpile reduction". This might meet the lax test of the Climate Change Response Act (which only requires CCR volumes to be covered when they exceed a formal emissions budget), but its basicly lying with numbers like Labour's "billion trees" (which included existing planting). Meanwhile, the reality is that those 7 million tons will be burned sometime, so we need to find a way to remove it from the system.

All of which suggests that we need a total allowable carbon budget for New Zealand to prevent such bullshit. What would such a budget look like in our current legal framework? Well, the Zero Carbon Act commits us to net-zero (except methane) by 2050. Depending on the exact methane target, that means net emissions of between 16 and 23 million tons in 2050 (midpoint 19.55). Using the same 2017 emissions baseline used for methane in the Act, that implies a total carbon budget of 1445.1 to 1549.6 (midpoint: 1497.45) million tons from 2021 to 2050. Methane post-2050 complicates this. But assuming we decide to phase it out at some stage, then it adds an extra ~200 million tons for a 20-year phase out (less if it is quicker, or if the 2050 target is deeper).

(As an aside, the total allowable global carbon budget to have a merely two-thirds chance of staying within 1.5 degrees is estimated by the IPCC at 420 billion tons. New Zealand has about 0.06 percent of the global population, so we're entitled to 0.06 percent of that. Doing the maths, that linear, status quo budget is about six times more than we are entitled to. And that's ignoring the burden of past emissions. At the very least, we have a moral duty to undershoot that budget by as much as possible, if not draw down everything in excess of our population share post-2050).

That total budget is all the carbon (except methane) we can ever emit. If the ETS covered everything (it doesn't), it sets a limit on how many non-forestry credits can ever be allowed to enter the system (e.g. by auctions or free allocation). The stockpile - 120 million tons at the start of this year - also comes out of that, since it is carbon that will be burned. And pretty obviously, credits issued as subsidies under the (old) fixed price option or (new) cost containment reserve have to as well. And on that front, poor policy design by James Shaw has allowed an extra 37 million tons of pollution to enter the system this year - ~2.5 percent of our total allowable budget.

A total carbon budget approach has implications - notably, that we must set future ETS allocations taking into account the total stockpile, so we don't let more carbon enter the system. But it also has consequences for free allocations, and in particular agriculture. The government's promise of subsidising agriculture by 95% of 2005 emissions - 37.7 million tons - phased out at 1% a year - implies that if it enters the ETS in 2025 the sector will receive 933 million tons of subsidies by 2050. That's over 60% of the total carbon budget. It also implies that the sector will continue to receive subsidies well in excess of its actual emissions post 2050. And that's simply unsustainable - environmentally, morally, and politically. The implication is that that promise is going to have to be broken, and that phase-our rates are going to have to increase. And on that front, its worth noting that farmers have already been entirely exempt from the system for nearly 15 years, and that that is more than enough lead time for them to change their dirty practices and get used to the idea of paying their way. And if they haven't used that time wisely to adapt, well, they deserve to go out of business.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Climate Change: Even OPEC gets it

Back in May we saw the International Energy Agency - historically not a green organisation - call for an immediate end to fossil fuel development to avoid catastrophic climate change. And now there's another unusual ally in the fight: OPEC:

The finance minister of Iraq, one of the founding members of the global oil cartel Opec, has made an unprecedented call to fellow oil producers to move away from fossil fuel dependency and into renewable energy, ahead of a key Opec meeting.

Ali Allawi, who is also the deputy prime minister of Iraq, has written in the Guardian to urge oil producers to pursue “an economic renewal focused on environmentally sound policies and technologies” that would include solar power and potentially nuclear reactors, and reduce their dependency on fossil fuel exports.

OPEC is literally all about oil and gas production (its in the name: "Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries"). So to have a key OPEC member call time shows how much the ground has shifted (and how serious the crisis is becoming). But if they're serious, they should follow the IEA's advice, and immediately end all new fossil fuel exploration and development, rather than continuing to destroy the planet.

Climate Change: The CCR was a huge waste of money

Yesterday the government held an ETS auction, and triggered the "cost containment reserve", flooding the market with an extra 7 million tons of pollution in an effort to keep carbon costs low. So how much "cost containment" did we get? Unfortunately, we're not allowed to know: the pre-CCR clearing price is not included in the information the auction monitor is required to disclose, and everything else is covered by a secrecy clause. I've asked under the OIA, but the government may be unable to tell us if their outrageous (and outrageously expensive) pollution subsidy policy was effective or not. Which would obviously be highly convenient if it wasn't...

But even if they can't tell us, we can take a stab at working it out. The government values carbon internally at $150/ton, so it thinks that 7 million tons of extra pollution was worth $1.05 billion. The "benefit" of that pollution is "lower carbon prices", so how can we put a value on that? We can use the cost plus household numbers from StatsNZ (interpolating between 2018 and 2023 gives 1903 households in 2021) to get a weekly benefit per household required for the policy to be worthwhile ($10.61). We can compare that to Treasury's numbers on weekly change in household spending based on increases in emissions price (p 66), using the median household and remembering that we're already paying $50/ton, to get an effective carbon price rise where flooding the market would be beneficial. That number works out to be $14 extra per week per household, giving an implied carbon price of ~$125 / ton (the table stops at $100, but its linear between $50 and $100, giving an implied weekly spending of $13.60 at $125). Or, to put it another way, to be beneficial yesterday, to have a positive benefit / cost ratio, the CCR would have had to have prevented a sustained price increase of $75 / ton.

While the actual numbers are secret, it seems highly unlikely that the auction would have resulted in prices going up by 150%. Even if it deterred a 50% price increase (to $75 / ton, which also seems unlikely, but less outrageously so), it would only have produced benefits of $336 million, for a BCR of 0.32, which is about as beneficial as a motorway in Auckland. And because there's another 7 million tons next year, and the price at which it is released is only $70 (meaning the market expectation of where the price will be next year), the latter is in fact the upper bound on how effective this policy can be.

The conclusion: the CCR was a huge waste of government money, which increased emissions for no net social benefit for New Zealand. The mistake has been made, and now we need to do two things: hold the people who caused it accountable for that 7 million tons, and prevent it from ever happening again. And the latter requires a simple measure: repeal the CCR, and rip that 7 million tons straight out of future emissions budgets to ensure it is not actually emitted. Anything less would be a 7 million ton crime.

Update: And that's exactly what Climate Minister James Shaw says he will do. More carbon today means less carbon tomorrow! But unless he legislates, he'll be waiting until 2023 to fix this, and running the risk of a repeat early next year.

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Climate Change: The ETS is a farce

The third ETS auction happened today, and as predicted, the cost-containment reserve was triggered, flooding the market with an extra 7 million tons of carbon. But this didn't actually contain costs. Instead, the auction cleared at $53.85 a ton - higher than the pre-auction spot price of $52 a ton. So the result of this farce is more pollution, higher prices, and a billion dollar bill for the government to cover those emissions, without containing costs. Which makes you wonder why we have a "cost containment reserve" in the first place.

Which is actually a good question: why are we trying to constrain this market? We've seen this year that polluters can cope with the price doubling in a year, and that that results in decarbonisation as polluters either clean up or shut down. Which is what the ETS is meant to do. So why are we artificially slowing this process down (and committing to higher emissions in the process)? To riff on Napoleon, if you want to limit carbon, limit carbon. Repeal the CCR, let the price rise and find its level, and let decarbonisation happen.

The good news is that now the cost containment reserve is blown, that's what's going to happen for the next year. The only constraint is $70 trigger point for the CCR next year. The bad news is that judging from this year, the CCR trigger point has become a market expectation, meaning the government will end up flooding the market with another 7 million tons of pollution we cannot afford (at the cost of another billion dollars) next year. The only question is whether it will happen in March or June...

The government can stop this anytime it wants, by urgently legislating to repeal the CCR or raise its trigger point to a level which allows the market to function. If they refuse, it will be a clear signal that they are not actually interested in decarbonisation at all, but are rather just subsidising the status quo to destroy our future. And future generations should not forgive them for it.

Monday, August 30, 2021

The action of a sociopathic narcissist

Parliament will be meeting tomorrow, despite level 4, after efforts to have a virtual sitting were thwarted by the National Party. The Māori Party and The Greens will not be attending - for them, level 4 means level 4, despite the fact that MPs are classed as "essential workers". But National Party leader Judith Collins will be attending. And she will be travelling from Auckland to do so.

This is irresponsible and wrong. MPs are essential workers, but Collins travelling to Wellington is completely unnecessary for Parliament to fulfil its function. National has Wellington-based MPs who can speak for the party and cast its proxies. But then they might get the media attention instead of her (or worse, outshine her).

Travelling from a covid-hotspot to a less-infected zone, with the consequent risk of spreading the disease throughout the country, solely so you can get media attention, is the action of a sociopathic narcissist. And if Wellington gets covid cases as a result, we will all know who to blame.

The danger of over-zealous enforcement

Over the weekend, police threatened a man with arrest under Covid-19 lockdown powers for filming them making an arrest while on their government-mandated exercise. It seems like a clear over-reach and abuse of power - contrary to the view of the threatening officer, it is not illegal, or "obstruction", to film police in public. But in The Spinoff, lawyer Andrew Geddis points out that our lockdown law is so poorly phrased as to allow police to get away with it.

There's another example today from RNZ: a story on police enforcing lockdown in Dunedin over the weekend has (among some examples of clear dickish behaviour) this rather chilling bit:

Dunedin police are reminding people a lack of preferred chips at the local supermarket is not a reason to travel outside your neighbourhood, as dozens flouted lockdown rules over the weekend.
Apparently someone stopped at a lockdown checkpoint had told police they were driving to the other side of town to buy their preferred snacks. Which may not be sensible - most people would just decide to buy stuff next week instead - but at the same time: people are allowed to buy food from anywhere in their local authority region (or from the nearest location, but its an "or", not an "and" or "must"), and its not really the role of police to be policing what people buy or where.

Individual cases of over-enforcement are bad and unjust, but this also has an impact on overall lockdown compliance. In the UK, police destroyed their social licence, and social licence for lockdowns, by policing people's food shopping and deciding what was and wasn't "essential" (even at one stage trying to stop people buying easter eggs). It would be bad if the New Zealand police were to do the same here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Climate Change: NZPAM takes the piss

Last month, the Labour government outraged Aotearoa by granting two new fossil fuel exploration permits in Taranaki. In a context where the planet is literally on fire and even the International Energy Agency is saying "no more fossil fuels", it seemed like an extraordinarily stupid decision, and utterly inconsistent with the government's proclaimed climate change goals. So did NZPAM even consider them? I asked, and according to documents released under the OIA, they did. Weirdly, they believed allowing more fossil fuel exploration was consistent with Aotearoa's net zero by 2050 target. But their reasons for this are... questionable:

Officials consider that the grant of a petroleum exploration permit in response to this Bid is not inconsistent with New Zealand’s 2050 target, for the following reasons:

a) The 2050 target is a domestic target. However, petroleum produced from petroleum mining permits in New Zealand is processed and/or combusted both in New Zealand and offshore. Oil is refined in Australia or Singapore. Approximately half of the gas produced is converted by Methanex to methanol (in New Zealand), then exported and used for petrochemicals. Other gas is used by Balance (in New Zealand) to produce fertiliser for both domestic use and export. Other gas is used domestically for electricity and heat generation.

b) The 2050 target relates to net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As such, the 2050 target does not relate directly to gross GHG emissions, and it does not prohibit the use of petroleum as an energy source or as industrial feedstock (e.g. gas use by Methanex and Balance). The CCRA provides a legal framework which manages New Zealand’s GHG emissions, including those from the petroleum sector.

c) The 2050 target does not require an immediate cessation of nonrenewable energy use. The CCC’s recommendation is that 50% of all energy consumed should from renewable sources by 31 December 2035 in order to meet the 2050 target. As such, the continuing production of energy from non-renewable resources in the near and medium term (during the 10 year term of the proposed permit and thereafter) is not inconsistent with the CCC’s advice or the 2050 target.

[Emphasis added]

This is simply taking the piss. The first point ignores the fact that fossil fuels = emissions, where-ever it is processed. The second is utterly ridiculous, a semantic game aimed at hiding the fact that this will increase emissions. The third simply misses the point. But its exactly the sort of nonsense you'd expect from a captive agency which refuses to accept that the world has changed and that the industry they exist to regulate (and therefore the agency itself) does not have a future.

So why is their Minister letting them get away with this bullshit? Sadly, it seems they're part of the problem. The advice goes on to say that:

The Minister considers that, within the context and mandate of the [Crown Minerals] Act, “the benefit of New Zealand” is best achieved by increasing New Zealand’s economic wealth through maximising the economic recovery of New Zealand’s petroleum resources.
I wonder of the residents of Westport, which got hit by a record flood less than a month after the Minister made this decision, would agree?

We need to end fossil fuels, for our own survival. And the first step to doing that is by prohibiting the grant of any new exploration and mining permits for fossil fuels. There's a first stab at legislation to do that here. The question is whether the Labour government will pass something like this, or whether we'll have to de-elect them in favour of a government which will.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Climate Change: Too little, too late, as always

For the past few months, I've been screaming about the government's ETS price settings: basicly, they set the price cap at which they will flood the market too low, creating a real risk that its going to happen this year, resulting in an extra 7 million tons of emissions, at a cost to the government of over a billion dollars. Well, today the government finally announced they plan to do something about it: they're going to raise the price cap next year:

To encourage individuals and businesses to stop burning fossil fuels, everyone must pay a price for each tonne of carbon dioxide they emit. The market price is currently $50 per tonne, teetering at an upper guardrail the Government set last year.

But since prices may need to go as high as $250 per tonne for the country to eliminate fossil fuels, according to the Climate Change Commission, the Government is resetting this upper guardrail, shifting it from $50 to $70. This will take effect next year.

(The announcement is here, and it was actually floated in a consultation document back in April).

This is better than nothing, but it doesn't solve the immediate problem. In fact, its made it worse, because the carbon price has now spiked over $50 / ton as buyers expect they'll be worth more in just four months. And if the auction price tracks the spot-market price like it did last time, the cost-containment reserve will be triggered at the next auction on 1 September, flooding the market with 7 million more tons of pollution. The government having to cover those seven million tons somehow (at currently twice the NZ market price) is the least of the problem. Fundamentally it is seven million tons the planet cannot afford.

And the icing on the cake: based on this year's growth, a $70 / ton cap probably isn't high enough, meaning we'll face exactly the same problem next year, and risk releasing another 7 million tons. And ditto the year after that, and the year after that as well...

Markets need room to move and space to find their price. Unfortunately, the government is clinging to prices developed literally in a different world: their price structure was developed back in the days when carbon was only $25/ton and hard up against the then-price cap, and to policymakers the idea that they could double seemed unimaginable. And even the Climate Change Commission's advice, from just six months ago when prices were $35/ton, suffers from the same problem: a complete failure to imagine that prices could rise. Meanwhile, the changes to the ETS (and the perception that denial was over and that they would stick) guaranteed they would. And then, that guarantee created further upwards pressure, as we've seen today. The government's failure to do what is required and legislate proper price settings to let the market find its level without the crutch of the cost-containment reserve has condemned us to repeated crises over the next few years, at a cost of millions of tons of completely avoidable emissions and billions of dollars of completely avoidable expenditure. The question is how much they will waste before they admit they were wrong, do the right thing, and eliminate the CCR entirely.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

A final result in Samoa

Samoa's Supreme Court determined the last election petition today, resulting in HRPP MP Loau Keneti Sio retaining his seat. Four other HRPP MPs have been unseated by election petitions, and three have resigned as part of settlements, giving a final election result of FAST 26 — HRPP 18.

Of course, that's not the last word: there will still be seven by-elections, plus the possible appointment of additional women under the 10% quota. But for the moment at least FAST has a secure majority, and they will retain it unless the HRPP wins every by-election and has one (but only one) of them won by a woman. Given the precision of the result required, that seems unlikely, even assuming the last five months of HRPP antics haven't caused voters to change their minds.

Public Servants, the OIA, and independent oversight

The Spinoff this morning has a piece by an anonymous public servant on the Official Information Act. It makes the valuable point that public servants are inherently conflicted about transparency and incentivised towards secrecy simply because they want to do their jobs. The release of embarrassing material results in more work for them, or in work being binned when politicians realise it is politically unacceptable, or in shit flowing downhill from Ministers and managers outraged at the above. The result is pressure to game the system to hide embarrassing material, and repeated layers of arse-covering so those Ministers and managers get to censor information for their own political interest before it is released.

So what's their solution to this inherent conflict? In a typical bureaucratic move, its to try to make it somebody else's problem:

If we truly want to restore the promise of the OIA, and almost as importantly, the public’s trust in the OIA, we need to address this. The Ombudsman offers some oversight, by reviewing complaints, but they can’t review every decision, and nor should they have to. Instead, decisions should be made from the start by an independent body.

This is, of course, much easier said than done. It’s the agencies that hold the information being requested. The agencies also have all the knowledge about what the information means, what else is happening, and any other context that might be needed to make decisions. It’s clear that we can’t cut the agencies out altogether.

But it isn’t impossible. Our systems of justice, mediation, oversight, and other decision-making have countless examples of ways to get information from one party to make an independent decision. A new independent body could maintain relationships with the experts, and with ministers, while staying impartial, and keeping the trust of the public.

Which sounds good, until you think about it. There's an obvious impact on request timeframes. And it doesn't actually solve the problem: it doesn't make that inherent conflict go away, so the pressure to game the system themselves will be replaced by pressure to lie to and withhold information from this independent body. Meanwhile, it would require an entire parallel bureaucracy - a Ministry of Transparency? - which would face bureaucratic pressures of its own, notably the need to maintain relationships with the bodies it was "policing" (this is also a problem for the Office of the Ombudsman). And of course it would immediately be subject to budget cuts and austerity measures from Ministers who are no friends of transparency (as happened to the Office of the Ombudsman under National). So its really a non-starter as a transparency measure.

But the desire for actual independent oversight is a good one. And we already have a perfectly good body capable of doing it: the court system. Many countries - notably the US and UK - allow freedom of information decisions to be litigated in court, and we are quite unusual in not allowing it (at least not until after the Ombudsman has ruled, by which time its often pointless). And this has the advantage of producing actual binding legal precedent which public agencies are required to follow, rather than Ombudsman's "guidelines" they ignore at will. The UK's hybrid system, which directs complaints first to an Information Commissioner, and then to a specialist Information Tribunal which is subject to the full scrutiny of the court system, seems to work well, producing binding decisions at low cost to requesters. Moving to such a system would be an improvement from the current one. It wouldn't remove public servants' inherent conflict of interest. But it would mean we could police it far better than we do at present, and with real consequences.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Biofuels and incentives

Biofuels are likely to be a key means of reducing our transport emissions in the short-to-medium term, allowing immediate reductions by substituting some level of lower-carbon fuels. But Newsroom reports that business has its hand out for incentives to produce them:

In its submission, Refining NZ obligingly lays out six incentive options. Naomi James tells Newsroom that the first priority would be to support capital investment, but operational support would come close behind.

One of the options would be to fund the capital or operational support through a levy on individual passenger carbon emissions – for example, through the International Visitor Levy.

Obviously, rapidly establishing new production capacity in Aotearoa is going to cost money. But if business wants the government to provide that money, then the government should get equity in exchange. Because that's what happens in the real world when business ventures want capital from other people. And if they don't want to do that, then the government can and should just establish a business to produce the fuels itself, and drive them out of business.

But its also worth looking at what incentives fuel polluters will face to adopt biofuels, and what that adoption is worth to the government. On the first front, the proposed sustainable biofuels mandate would set fines of $300/ton of emissions where the requirements are not met. A litre of diesel produces 2.7 kg of carbon when burned, so that gives them an effective incentive of $0.81/L to comply (unfortunately, there's no bonus for overachievement). To that we can add the cost of avoided ETS credits - biofuels are not included in the ETS and so don't attract liability - which is currently $50/ton, or another $0.20/L. So under the proposed scheme they'll be facing an effective incentive of $1.01/L to produce biofuels, about two-thirds of the retail price, and three times the importer margin of fossil fuel. On the second front, the government internally prices carbon at $150/ton, so that tells us what biofuel is worth to it: $0.40/L times the effective efficiency of the fuel (the proposed mandate will be actually looking at net lifecycle efficiency, and setting a direct emissions reduction target rather than a volume target). So for biodiesel made from leftover cooking oil, at 50% efficiency, that means about $0.20/L; for biodiesel made from wood, its probably $0.30/L.

Of course, the actual number that matters here is production costs. On that from, in 2010 the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment estimated the cost of biodiesel from wood at $1.85/L (p. 37; note that this is 2010 wood prices). The cost to import a litre of diesel is currently $0.75, so even with that implied $1.01/L incentive, the government may still need to provide a subsidy to make it cost-competitive. Still, it seems that the amount required would be less than the cost of the emissions avoided, so the government would still be ahead in the long-term. Alternatively, it could just increase the fines for non-compliance with biofuels mandate to triple rather than double the internal carbon price, and then it all works out quite happily, with no subsidy needed.

It was always going to end like this

In July, the US officially ended the occupation of Afghanistan, slinking away in the middle of the night and not even telling their Afghan "allies" to avoid the bad PR of footage of them leaving. And since then, the Taliban - who the US ousted back in 2001, but who never went away - have been rolling up the country. And last night, it came to a head when they reached Kabul. The US re-enacted Saigon, ferrying Americans from the roof of its embassy. And the Afghan president fled into exile, probably with a container load or two of US dollars. And so the war in Afghanistan is finally over after twenty years. And the Taliban won.

It was always going to end like this. Armies can smash a country and overthrow a government and install a puppet regime, but they can't make people love that regime or fight for it. Unless underlying differences are settled - a big ask in Afghanistan - then the people you ousted, or their successors, will be waiting to take power the moment you leave. You have to leave sometime - people eventually get sick of spending billions of dollars a year and seeing their kids come back in bits to murder people on the other side of the world for no apparent purpose - and so here we are. All the money the US spent - nearly a trillion dollars, at last estimate - all the lives that were lost, all the people that were maimed or broken on both sides, all of it was for nothing. The only people who benefited from this obscene war were the arms companies and their shareholders, who made out like bandits. War really is a racket.

Aotearoa spent $300 million and ten lives sucking up to the US in Afghanistan. That was also wasted. Our involvement was a mistake from start to finish. But while we were there, we encouraged people to collaborate with us, and so endangered their lives. We have a moral obligation to those people, and a duty to evacuate them, and to resettle them in New Zealand if that's what they want. And it is utterly shameful that the government has resisted recognising that duty for so long.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Climate Change: The IPCC rebels

This week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the first part of its Sixth Assessment Report, ringing the warning bell even louder. How these reports are produced is that the scientists agree a consensus, and then the governments go over it line-by-line and redact it to fit their own views, which means that it tends to be watered down. So a bunch of scientists working on the third part of the report - the "what we need to do about it" part, due out next year - have simply leaked it:

Global greenhouse gas emissions must peak in the next four years, coal and gas-fired power plants must close in the next decade and lifestyle and behavioural changes will be needed to avoid climate breakdown, according to the leaked draft of a report from the world’s leading authority on climate science.

Rich people in every country are overwhelmingly more responsible for global heating than the poor, with SUVs and meat-eating singled out for blame, and the high-carbon basis for future economic growth is also questioned.


The top 10% of emitters globally, who are the wealthiest 10%, contribute between 36 and 45% of emissions, which is 10 times as much as the poorest 10%, who are responsible for only about three to 5%, the report finds. “The consumption patterns of higher income consumers are associated with large carbon footprints. Top emitters dominate emissions in key sectors, for example the top 1% account for 50% of emissions from aviation,” the summary says.

[You can see how rich-country and fossil-fuel country representatives would object to that message...]

And if these people only emitted as much as the rest of us, and gave up their jetset lifestyles and overconsumption, we wouldn't be in nearly the same mess. As for how to make that happen, taxing them out of existence would seem to be a good start.


The Justice Committee has called for submissions on the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill. Submissions can be made via the online form on the parliament website, and are due by 8 September 2021.

This bill is important. It would stop bigoted parents and quacks from torturing children in a perverse effort to change who they are. There's a clear public interest in protecting people from such practices, so they are free to be who they are. I urge everyone who cares about LGBTQ rights to submit on this bill.

Stuart Nash: Funded by racism

Troy Bowker is a racist. And as Newsroom shows this morning, he's been funding one of our most conservative and foot-dragging cabinet ministers:

Stuart Nash, Minister of Regional and Economic Development, received at least $51,000 in direct and indirect donations from Troy Bowker, the controversial investment banker who recently accused animation entrepreneur Sir Ian Taylor of “sucking up to the left Māori-loving agenda”.

In a response to a LinkedIn comment by Taylor celebrating New Zealand’s Pacific heritage, Bowker said: “Another example of European NZers not being proud of their own ancestors … FFS. Wake up NZ.”


Bowker and Nash have a longstanding political relationship. According to donation records filed with the Electoral Commission, Nash received a total of $51,000 from Bowker over the 2014, 2017 and 2020 elections – either directly or through Bowker’s investment company Caniwi Capital. Bowker also helped fund a 2014 report examining the possibility of establishing a new centrist party, led by Nash, to compete with National and Labour. Nash has repeatedly described Bowker as a “mate”.

At this stage the political class pooh-poohs any suggestion of undue influence with the claim that $50,000 isn't a lot of money. And everyone else in New Zealand laughs bitterly at them, because to us, its a fuck-ton of money. Not Auckland-house-deposit money, but enough to make a normal person a hell of a lot more comfortable. And you don't give someone that amount of money unless you either have deep ideological similarities, or you want something in return. Nash needs to explain which of those categories he falls into. And if he wants to eliminate the lingering taint, he needs to return it to sender as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, thanks to Aotearoa's secretive election funding laws, we have no idea how much money Bowker has given to political parties (as opposed to candidates). He could have given any of them up to $15,000 a year, and we'd be none the wiser. We need to fix that, by lowering the disclosure threshold immediately.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

The real cost of Huntly

What's the real cost of the Huntly power station? 4 million tons of carbon dioxide a year:

Genesis Energy emitted more carbon dioxide in generating electricity last year than any year in the last decade, as it used more coal to make up for a lack of hydropower and gas.


The energy generator and retailer put out 4029 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in the last financial year, 82.5 percent more than the average of 2207 kilotonnes between 2016 and 2020, and more than any year dating back to at least 2010, as far as Genesis' publicly available statistics go.

This is about 5 percent of the country's total emissions.

At the government's internal valuation of $150 a ton, the social cost of those emissions is $600 million a year. Which makes it economic to spend that much a year on killing it to eliminate those emissions. At current costs, it is worthwhile for the government to do that with just three and a half years of emissions (versus 5 in my previous estimate).

Genesis could be part of this solution itself, but it refuses to be (wouldn't want that price to drop!) And their announcement today of large investments in grid connected solar is welcome, but also essentially PR window-dressing: a tiny fraction of what is needed to put Huntly out of business, and so clearly designed to keep it - and the windfall profits it generates - around for as long as possible. And again, if the market is not going to fix this problem, then it is clearly time for the government to step in and fix it for them.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Market failure

Aotearoa needs to rapidly decarbonise its electricity infrastructure and replace old fossil fuel generation with renewables. Aotearoa also needs to increase its total generation to cover the expected load from the electrification of industrial and process heat, and from EVs. The proposed Castle Hill wind farm could be a core part of the solution to both problems, generating 860 MW of clean power. So you'd expect the big, state-controlled gentailer behind it to be eager to build it, right? Of course not:

Genesis Energy has sat on a granted resource consent for what would be the biggest wind farm in the country for the last eight years, and has no plans to build it.

The Castle Hill Wind Farm, consented on a site north of Masterton, could double Genesis Energy's current annual renewable electricity generation. The annual generation of the farm would be the equivalent of the power generated by at least 850,000 tonnes of coal.


In a response to RNZ, a spokesperson for Genesis Energy recently said: "No construction is currently planned at Castle Hill."

The reason? Genesis (and all the other power companies) make windfall profits from the marginal unit of electricity being generated by gas or coal. Displace those dirty fuels, and they make less money. So they prefer to keep the country perpetually on the edge of a supply crisis to maximise profits (and the closer it is to that crisis, the more money they make).

The government needs to put its foot down over this, and either exert the control of its majority shareholding to force state-controlled power companies to build what is needed, or just forcibly acquire the projects they are hoarding so they can build it themselves. But the current situation, where greedy gentailers effectively conspire to burn coal and create blackouts to maximise profit, is both unsustainable and morally unsupportable.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The electricity market screws us again

Last night there were blackouts across the country on the coldest night of the year, and there's a risk of more tonight. The immediate cause was record high demand - it was cold - plus Genesis deciding not to turn on an extra unit. But the real cause is the electricity market, which rewards shortages with windfall profits and so encourages our gentailer oligopoly to undersupply. We've known about that problem literally for decades, ever since Max Bradford first fucked things up. But the government has never bothered to do anything about it beyond minor tinkering because, well, that would be work, and generators (and their shareholders) would kick up a stink over being deprived of their "rightful" profits.

But what can we do about it? Re-nationalisation, so that the electricity system works as a system rather than as five big companies scrabbling for profit would help. But in the short term the most effective thing the government can do is simply to build the generating capacity the gentailers refuse to. And at the government's current internal carbon price, this is cost-effective simply to kill Huntly and stop it emitting any more carbon (and similar logic aplies to the Stratford gas turbines). As for the what, the generators are sitting on a huge portfolio of consented windfarm sites, which they are refusing to build (and which will expire soon if left unbuilt). If they refuse to build them, the government should nationalise them and build them themselves.

Climate Change: Another warning

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Sixth Assessment Report last night. And it says pretty much what you'd expect: we're burning the planet, things are going to get bad, but we still have control over how much worse they get. This is pretty much the same as they said in their last two reports (at least); what has changed is the level of certainty and the level of urgency. The question is whether governments will pay attention this time when they haven't to the previous absolutely dire warnings (but maybe actually being on fire will help them get the message).

The government says it will rise to the challenge. But that's going to mean doing a hell of a lot more than they're already doing. Our climate target - the statutory target the Climate Commission designs its budgets around - is inadequate. Our policies won't meet even that weakness. The clear message of the IPCC report is that every ton matters. But our government is on track to allow polluters to emit another seven million tons this year, basicly because they're too lazy to stop it. The other clear message is that we need deep cuts to methane to limit warming. But our government is still protecting farmers, rather than legislating to cut cow numbers. As for the Climate Change Commission, they see no urgency, saying that

We will use it for our Climate Risk Assessment, due in 2026, & our advice on the fourth emissions budget in 2024.
That budget will cover emissions from 2036 - 2040. The IPCC is clear that that is too late, and that we need to cut emissions now.

Covid has shown us what government can do if it puts its mind to it. Closing the borders and paying everyone to stay home so we didn't die was radical, but necessary and effective. We need the same level of effort against climate change - a war footing to decarbonise and demethanise: kill coal, kill gas, and kill cows, as quickly as we can. Anything less is suicide.

Friday, August 06, 2021

Climate Change: Should we buy out dairy polluters?

Farmers are New Zealand's biggest source of emissions, producing just under 40 million tons a year, mostly in the form of methane from livestock. Dairy farmers are responsible for roughly half of those emissions, making them our single largest polluter. And now, there's been a radical suggestion: just pay them to stop:

Farmers should be gifted a one-off $12 billion payment to stop dairying and convert to industries with a lower carbon footprint, an environmental researcher says.

Speaking at the Environmental Defence Society conference in Christchurch on Thursday, Dr Mike Joy said the dairy industry's yearly $12b export earnings were effectively a government subsidy that allowed harmful land use.


Joy believed the only way to turn the tide was to pay farmers in high-risk areas like Canterbury to stop dairying.

“If you had told me 10 years ago that I would say this, I would not have believed you. Pay the $12b and get the cows off there.”

Turning $12 billion into a currency that matters, its 80 million tons of carbon at the government's internal cost of $150 / ton. That's roughly four years of dairy sector emissions. So if this actually happened, the investment in decarbonisation would pay off after just four years. Which seems like a bargain (killing Huntly has a longer payoff, killing Glenbrook a shorter one).

There are two problems: farmers probably value their polluting lifestyle at more than a single year's exports. And paying them off is going to be a hard sell when they've basicly exported any social licence they once had. Why pay these polluting fucks? Why not just regulate them into oblivion, and shrink the industry that way? But obviously, we can do both, using regulation as the stick to break their spirit and lower the price, and then eventual buy-outs as the carrot to shrink this industry to a sustainable size.

What is a sustainable size? That depends on the catchment, but half seems like a good ballpark to aim for in the medium term, and would help meet our international climate commitments. And no, that doesn't mean less food - they export 90% of their product, so there is scope for significant reductions. If farmers are worried about making less money, maybe they should move to a higher-value export model, rather than the current model of bulk low-value commodities and trying to make it up on volume.

Marsden Point and security of supply

NZ Refining's shareholders are voting today on the future of the Marsden Point oil refinery, and whether to shut it down and shift their business to an import terminal. They've clearly read the writing on the wall and recognise the new reality: oil has no future, their refinery is a stranded asset, and the quicker they bail out of it, the less money they'll lose. But in the leadup to the vote, foreign experts have been weighing in, fearmongering about security of supply. What if there's a war (these experts are Australian, so their thinking is dominated by the idea of a war with China) or some other sustained disruption to global shipping? What happens then?

The answer is "exactly the same thing as would happen if the refinery remained open", because it runs on imported oil, and the supply of that is just as vulnerable as a supply of imported petrol.

Which highlights the core problem: a huge part of our primary energy supply is imported. It also points at the solution: insofar as there is an energy security impact, it can be mitigated by reducing our reliance on oil. And in the current context, that means moving to EVs and biofuels as quickly as possible. The more of those we have, the less we have to give a damn about what happens in the Middle East, or what bullshit power games are happening between the US and China. Eliminating oil gives us actual security, and frees us from all those dangerous entanglements built around protecting its supply.

Viewing oil refineries and fossil fuel infrastructure as "strategic energy assets" is twentieth century thinking, and part of what got us into this mess. Now, we need to recognise that they're just deadweight, a 1.2 million ton a year source of carbon we can no longer afford. In the future, our "strategic energy assets" are going to be local and distributed: solar panels and wind-farms everywhere. Security of supply is built into that model, because its not dependent on a single point of failure, and you can't stop the sun from shining or the wind from blowing. Marsden Point's big shareholders can see that future coming, which is why they're getting out. What's weird is that so many other people, including people ostensibly paid to think about the future, can't.

Update: And its done! Polluting carbon capitalism looked at the future, saw it had no place in it, and gave up. Which is a tremendously positive sign.

Thursday, August 05, 2021

On the wrong side of history, like always

Parliament debated the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill this afternoon, and voted to send it to select committee by a margin of 87 to 33. The only party opposed? National.

This is a bill aimed at ending the torture of LGBTQ kids and giving them the freedom to be who they are. But under the guise of "needing more debate" (which they then explicitly voted against), National opposed that. Which is I guess what happens when you get wiped out at the polls and only your religious bigot rump survives. But its another example of how the party and its members consistently stand on the wrong side of history (and then salves their conscience by pretending to apologise for it in their valedictory speeches). And for a party which claims to be the main opposition party, its absolutely appalling.

Climate Change: Unfit to govern

We've just had record floods on the West Coast, and freak wind events in Auckland. Greece and Turkey are on fire. And in what seems like a blast from the past, National's climate change spokesperson is calling climate change "bullshit":

National Party MP Stuart Smith has described a government climate change plan as the "science of bullsh*t" during a talk in Ashburton this week.

Suggestions that warmer temperatures would not cause an increase in extreme rain events, contrary to the government's National Climate Change Risk Assessment (NCCRA) plan were floated by the Kaikōura MP during his presentation.

Smith, who is the National Party's climate change spokesperson, confirmed that he was making official parliamentary enquiries with Climate Change Minister James Shaw around the legitimacy of the report during the meeting which sparked several heated reactions from patrons.

Smith said, in light of recent flood events in Mid Canterbury, that a Niwa flood risk study showed flooding risk would actually fall as the climate got warmer and had been ignored by the NCCRA document.

[Mid Canterbury has just had two floods in a row, one of them a 1-in-200 year event - I/S]

The claims have been sparked by a recent Tailrisks Economics report into the NCCRA who claim the report commissioned by the Ministry of Environment, was based off a false premise that climate change would cause an increase in extreme weather events and flooding.

So who wrote the NCCRA that supposedly contradicts NIWA? That would be... NIWA. Who as a science-based organisation, might actually change their mind as new data comes in. As for the question of whether to believe them or Tailrisks Economics on whether climate change causes extreme weather, hmm, an organisation of acknowledged experts in our atmosphere and weather, or a random economics consultancy who are experts in nothing except saying whatever they're paid to say? That's a very hard choice. And the fact that Smith is publicly choosing the latter shows that he is unfit for office. And by keeping him in that position, National is showing they continue to be unfit to govern.