Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Climate Change: Taking us for a ride

Agricultural emissions has been an oozing sore in our climate change policy for over a decade. Exempted from the ETS in 2008, farmers were meant to be brought in and start paying for their emissions in 2012. Of course, National put a stop to that, and exempted them forever. When Labour won power in 2017, it looked like there might be progress, but of course they chickened out, announcing instead that farmers would be given more time to develop their own pricing system under the he waka e noa partnership. At the time, this seemed like a bad idea: the people the government was calling its "partners" had denied and dragged their feet at every turn, and there was no reason to believe that this wouldn't turn out to be more of the same. And that's exactly what has happened. Because he waka e noa has presented the first glimpses of its grand plan for pricing farm emissions, with a discussion document on pricing options. And its clear from this that they're just taking us for a ride again.

The short version of the farmers' emissions pricing scheme is that rather than participating in the ETS and paying the market rate for carbon, they would instead pay a levy, with separate prices for short-lived and long-lived gases. The levy would be set by Ministers, so the aim here is clearly that it will be set artificially low to provide a continued subsidy (and their "Factors to consider in setting or updating levy rates" explicitly lists international competitiveness, so its pretty explicit). But not content with that, or the subsidy of 95% free allocation, they also want to include a pile of "offsets" using dodgy accounting, claiming credit for forests which already exists, or "forests" which aren't, in an effort to make us pay them for this bullshit. So, basicly a scam from start to finish.

As for the emissions impact, the discussion document has this to say:

Initial modelling suggests these prices would lead to reductions in total agricultural emissions of less than 1% reduction in both CH4 and N2O below 2017 level
And given that they have every incentive to overstate that figure, I think we can assume that the impact will be to increase emissions rather than reduce them.

This discussion document, presenting a pricing scheme which will not reduce emissions, shows us that farmers are not engaging in this process in good faith. Instead, as predicted, it was just more predatory delay. They seem to think urban Aotearoa - the 85% of us who live in cities, and who pay the full price of every ton of carbon we produce - have infinite patience for their bullshit. We need to show them they are wrong.

He waka e noa has failed. It was a waste of time. They were just taking us for a ride. The government should recognise that, and immediately implement the Climate Change Response Act's "backstop provision", and bring agriculture into the ETS at the producer level. Then, it should repeal the overly-generous free allocation provisions, which would see farmers receive pollution subsidies for the next century, and replace them with either full price exposure or a very short - five years maximum - phase out. Because farmers have had twenty years to get used to the idea of paying for their pollution, and it has been nearly a decade since it was supposed to happen. If they haven't made the necessary changes to reduce their emissions by now, then that seems to be a very poor business decision that we shouldn't insulate them from. And if it means that the most inveterate polluters go bankrupt and cease polluting, then good - that is what the policy is supposed to achieve, and the quicker it happens, the better.