Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Climate Change: Committing to failure again

The Climate Change Commission released its final advice to the government today, and the media is full of reports about how "ambitious" it is. Bullshit. Because when you look at the budgets - the only thing in the entire document that actually matters and has legal weight - they tell a different story: Weaker1

Row 1 is what they recommended in the draft. Row 2 is what they're currently recommending (row 3 is for compatibility with future numbers). That's right, they've increased the amounts we are allowed to emit in every period, by almost half a year's net emissions. This isn't "ambition" - its backsliding.

The report is full of stuff about how we need to move to walking cities, and to EVs, and do away with coal (though not completely - BlueScope, one of our worst polluters, will not be expected to change its current dirty methods of steel production one iota). None of that matters. All it does is determine the distribution of who is expected to change and who is not. And because they've increased the amount we are allowed to emit, a crash switch by us to walking and cycling to reduce emissions simply makes space for polluters like BlueScope to pollute more.

To give a more concrete example: the Marsden Point refinery is one of our biggest polluters, emitting close to a million tons of CO2 a year. Its big enough that the possibility of it shutting down is included in the Commission's sensitivity analysis. Its owners announced shutdown plans last week. This ought to be good news, but the Commission will allow 2022-25 emissions to increase by twice the amount that that shutdown will save.

(The sensitivity analysis really shows us who the climate villains are: Tiwai Point, Glenbrook, and Motunui. Tiwai also has a nasty effect of discouraging investment in renewable generation, which again suggests the need for the government to step in and build what the market is afraid to).

Finally, last week Climate Change Commission chair Rod Carr warned that we had no wiggle room on climate policy, and that if we did not cut emissions, other countries would impose trade barriers and sanctions to force us to do so. His lax budgets have firmly set us on the second pathway. And honestly, that might be the best path: successive governments have shown no inclination to do what is necessary, and despite all its proud rhetoric about "my generation's nuclear-free moment", Ardern's government is no different. We need emissions to drop, and drop quickly. If our own government won't cut our dirty coal, dirty steel, and dirty milk, then maybe other governments will have to do it for them.