Monday, November 29, 2021

Climate Change: Cold feet?

Ministry for the Environment has dumped more cabinet papers related to its recent initial consultation on the emissions reduction plan. The key document is an August cabinet paper on Emissions Budgets for 2022-2025, 2026-2030 and 2031-2035, which made the dubious in-principle decision to increase the first period's emissions budget (which I've talked about here). That's a worrying sign that the government is getting cold feet, but there's worse. After talking about how hard its going to be to meet the first budget, the paper contains a section on borrowing, noting that the power to borrow 1% from the next budget "could provide a reasonably significant buffer". Worse, there is a large, almost entirely redacted section on "offshore mitigation", presumably discussing whether the pandemic can be used as an excuse to abandon ambitious domestic cuts and simply buy some foreign fraud, as we're planning to do for our Paris NDC.

That seems like a very dubious idea, legally speaking. As the paper notes, offshore mitigation may only be used if there is a significant change of circumstance that affects either the considerations on which the relevant budget was based, or the ability to meet the relevant budget domestically. On the first point, the Climate Change Commission made its recommendations during and against the backdrop of the pandemic, so its hard to argue its a change of circumstances that wasn't considered. More importantly, it reduced emissions by 4.5%. I think it would be very hard to argue that something which reduced emissions makes it harder to meet a budget by domestic cuts. Instead, it would look like a government grasping for excuses for its refusal to enact sufficient policy.

(And possibly the redacted section says exactly that. But as its redacted, we don't know, and from the context, it seems reasonable to assume the worst. After all, if they'd dismissed the option, there'd be no pending decision, and it wouldn't be redacted...)

Using borrowing or foreign fraud to "meet" the first emissions budget would make a mockery of the entire Zero Carbon Act process and destroy its credibility from the outset. Unfortunately, it looks like the government is heading that way, or at least seriously considering it. While the Zero Carbon Act was supposed to force politicians to think long term, it looks like their usual short-term thinking is reasserting itself.