Monday, February 27, 2023

Climate Change: The cost of not cutting emissions

Rod Oram has a piece of Newsroom this week, calling for this year's election to be a referendum on climate action, and specifically looking at the National Party's policy hole in this area. Oram lays out a long list of questions national needs to answer to gain any credibility, but the TL;DR is right at the beginning: "says it is committed to climate. But it has never articulated a comprehensive or convincing suite of policies. And the little it has said on climate is hedged one way or another". The party simply lacks credibility, and it is hard to see how the current lineup, packed with climate change deniers and foot-draggers and cow-lickers, can ever gain any.

But in passing, Oram also mentions this horrifying factoid:

Currently the price of carbon is only $70 a tonne, compared with €100 ($170) in the EU.
[NZ carbon prices have in fact dropped to NZ$67.50, which shows what the market thinks of the chance of Labour actually acting to reduce emissions].

This is horrifying because the climate policy of successive governments has been to make promises of emissions reductions they have no intention of meeting, backed by a pledge to "simply" buy credits on the international market to meet any shortfall. This is problematic for a number of reasons - it is basicly a commitment to shirk our commitments - but purely in practical terms its a failure. The idea of an "international market" is currently a complete fantasy, so there's nowhere we can actually buy these "credits" from anyway.

But imagine for a moment that an international carbon market was not a Treasury fantasy. The current EU carbon price is a very bad sign for that fantasy, because it suggests that the cost of meeting (or rather, shirking) our climate commitments will be far higher than expected. The government currently prices carbon at $150 / ton internally to reflect the expected cost of buying credits. The EU carbon cost is already higher than that, so it seems unlikely that it will be cheaper by 2030. Instead, it seems like it will be significantly more expensive (I've seen numbers like €140 (NZ$240) / ton required to meet the EU's 2030 carbon targets, but projections have tended to be significant underestimates). The upshot: even if it wasn't a fantasy, Treasury's policy looks like it will be even more staggeringly expensive than expected.

(But then, part of the fantasy was always that foreign reductions would be cheaper. In other words, Treasury was betting on fraud and bullshit to make the numbers look good, without caring about the actual underlying emissions situation. Typical bean-counters.)

The policy implication in turn is that we need an even stronger focus on domestic emissions reductions. Every ton of carbon we cut is one we don't have to pay for. The best way of doing this is to free the ETS and cut credit supply so prices can rise. But also the internal price the government uses to assess the costs and benefits of policy needs to increase significantly to ensure emissions are costed correctly. Otherwise, we're effectively committing to a high emissions pathway, and a very expensive bill post-2030.

...but I guess the government is betting that that will just be somebody else's problem.

Climate Change: We need more trees, not less

Newshub reports that farmers are outraged that we're planting too many trees:

Newshub can reveal 25 times more land was converted into forestry last year than a decade ago.

It's angered farmers who hope the Government's ministerial inquiry into forestry slash will lead to limits on land conversion. They say the Government needs to answer for incentivising forestry to earn carbon credits.

"We're not absolutely against off-setting, we're certainly not against commercial forestry, but our argument is that there needs to be some limits put on it," Beef + Lamb CEO Sam McIvor told Newshub.

Which is fascinating. Because a decade ago, Aotearoa was in the midst of a boom in dairy conversions, when whole forests were being ripped out and chipped to make way for cows. At the beginning of this boom, when the government was picking up the carbon costs, farmers and their National party proxies in Parliament insisted that land had to be free to change to its highest value use. Now that the value equation has changed, and carbon is more valuable than the dirty, polluting, low-value sheep and beef industries, they're calling for controls. As I noted earlier, these are the final squeals of a dying industry, which is now simply too dirty and inefficient for the modern economy.

Secondly, farmers are complaining about 18,000 hectares of net reforestation. After 25 years, that will have soaked up about 12.6 milion tons of carbon - or less than a third of our annual agricultural emissions (39.4 millions tons in 2020). Farmers oppose any cuts to those emissions, and the government has grovelled to them, with only a weak commitment to cut agricultural methane. As a result, our gross emissions are still expected to be 59.2 million tons in 2050, and our net emissions 19.7 or 31.8 million tons depending on whether you use real or bullshit accounting (weirdly, bullshit is higher, because of course its focused on making things look good in the short term). And this is going to be comprised mostly of agricultural emissions - everything else is basicly expected to hit zero. Which suggests that we actually need more trees, not less, to soak up and draw down our pollution. If farmers don't like that, then the alternative is to radically reduce the size of the agricultural sector (in practice, we are going to have to do both).

Of course, these trees don't have to be production forestry, or pine. Ideally, we'll be returning polluting agricultural land to native forest, like it was before pākehā turned up and ruined the place. But at this stage of the climate crisis, any tree is better than a cow, and turning production pine into permanent forest - locking the gate and just walking away - is an acceptable alternative. The over-riding emphasis must be to get trees in the ground and cows off the land. And we can't let farmers' hurt feelings at the demise of their polluting lifestyle get in the way of that.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Climate Change: Submit!

The Environment Committee has called for submissions on the Climate Change Response (Late Payment Penalties and Industrial Allocation) Amendment Bill. The deadline for submissions is Thursday, 6 April 2023. You can make a submission on the Parliament website here. A sample submission for you to personalise is here (note the warning on the top. Yes, I mean it).

The bill does some tinkering with the ETS, some of which is useful. But it also massively lowers the bar for pollution subsidies, by scaling their eligibility to a carbon price of $25 / ton - prices we haven't seen since before 2020. The net result will be a massive increase in subsidies: every industry currently classified as "moderately emissions intensive" will be reclassified as "highly emissions-intensive", getting them a 50% increase in free pollution permits. It will also make new industries eligible. And the effect of that will be weaker incentives on polluters to reduce their emissions, and so a higher emissions pathway for Aotearoa. Coming in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle, its a commitment to more storms, more floods, and more deaths.

(Naturally, the change was made without consultation, and at the request of big polluters. Which tells you whose pocket our "my generation's nuclear-free moment"-government is really in).

The problem clauses are in section 15 of the bill, specifically subclauses 15(1) and 15(3). Both of these need to be removed. If not, well, we have only to look at the last three weeks to see the consequences and costs of this sort of status quo foot-dragging.

Update: Added sample submission.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Labour to courts: Fuck you

Back in December, the High Court triggered a judicial earthquake, with a ruling that the Returning Offenders (Management and Information) Act 2015 (passed under all-stages urgency after Australia started duping their problems on us) was inherently punitive, and therefore would constitute retrospective punishment, and so could not be applied retrspectively. It was an entirely orthodox ruling, building on several recent judgements which called bullshit of the government's increasing practice of treating people like criminals (and subjecting them to sentence-like restrictions) while claiming that it wasn't a "punishment". But it obviously upset the Labour government, which desperately wants to kick people to appear "tough on crime", and which doesn't think mere judges should be able to say what the law actually means. So today they responded, introducing an amendment bill to over-ride the decision and ensure that they can continue to punish people retrospectively and multiple times for the same offence, in violation of the Bill of Rights Act. And naturally, they're passing it under all-stages urgency...

The bill has of course resulted in its own s7 report, a formal notification by the Attorney-General to Parliament that it is inconsistent with the BORA. But the Attorney-General undercuts his own advice, saying that he has been forced to issue the report by the court's decision (which he disagrees with; the court of course has already judged his reasons for that disagreement and found them wanting). But because Parliament will be under all-stages urgency, there will be no select committee process, and so the scrutiny such a report usually engenders will be absent. Instead, they'll ram it through, with this level of "scrutiny".

This is no way to treat human rights, and no way to treat our constitution. It also reveals the inherent conflict-of-interest in having section 7 notices given to Parliament by an Attorney-General who is a member of the executive, and therefore bound to support the government's position no matter what. At the least, it shows that this job needs to be done by an independent officer of parliament, rather than the House effectively taking legal advice from someone else's lawyer, pushing someone else's agenda. In the meantime, if MPs are wondering why so many of us think the job of being the ultimate arbiter of human rights should be taken off them and given to the courts (by making the BORA supreme and allowing other laws to be overturned for inconsistency), this sort of behaviour is why.

Paying for the rebuild

Cyclone Gabrielle caused billions of dollars of damage, with roads, homes, and other infrastructure needing to be repaired, replaced, or moved. So how are we going to pay for it? The Greens have suggested the obvious: a windfall tax on those outrageous corporate profits. National leader Christopher Luxon has another idea: we should just borrow:

Christopher Luxon says a flood tax is a bad idea but thinks the Government should borrow money for rebuilding regions severely damaged by the storm.

The National Party leader told AM the Government has wasted too much money and inflation - running at 7.2 percent - was too high for another tax.

Which is a stupid reason, because taxing the rich is anti-inflationary as well as fair. But its also a little repulsive to see a rich white dude in his peak earning years saying that he shouldn't have to pay anything to fix the problem he helped cause (he used to run an airline, you know!), and that we should instead dump the cost on the kids. Its a perfect example of the generational selfishness which has ruined this country, not to mention the "I've got mine; fuck you!" attitude of the National Party and its rich arsehole supporters.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

National is still full of climate change deniers

National MP Maureen Pugh's response to Cyclone Gabrielle, the climate-change fuelled cyclone which has devastated the East Coast and Hawkes Bay and killed eleven people? Climate change denial:

National MP Maureen Pugh says she has yet to see “the evidence” that humans caused or the human impact on climate change.


If she believed in human-caused climate change, Pugh said she had yet to see the response from Shaw after a local councillor wrote to him asking for the evidence.

“It's not what I think, it's what I can prove. I am waiting on the evidence from the minister that provides that evidence.”

“I have yet to see what the evidence is that they are providing about that.”

“I'm not denying climate change. I've seen the evidence of it. We have cooled and warmed, cooled and warmed over millions of years.”

Except she is denying climate change, or at least that we've caused it and that its a problem that we need to do something about. And while the current National leadership is promising to have "a conversation" with her about this, National's dirty secret is that they're still full of climate change deniers. In 2013, Gerry Brownlee - who is still a senior National MP - expressed views pretty much identical to Pugh's: that "climate change is something that has happened always, so to simply come up and say, look, it’s man-made, is an interesting prospect". In 2019, in the midst of the debate over the Zero Carbon Act, Todd Muller - who was then their climate change spokesperson, and is in that role again today - when talking about the impact of agricultural emissions, said "this stuff is not conclusive" (it is, it really is). And while Christoper Luxon may pay lip service to climate change being real, he is absolutely crystal clear that the party he leads will never do anything about it (and will in fact repeal all the stuff we are currently doing about it). He'll happily burn the planet and kill us all so farmers - and airlines - can continue to make a profit. And while we all hope that National will somehow recognise reality, that seems unlikely, because their rural core vote are climate change deniers. That is literally who they represent.

The upshot of all this is that if you want climate change action, you can't vote national. It is that simple.

Twenty years

It's official: this blog is now (a little over) twenty years old. And in true slacker fashion, I missed it - the blogversary of my first post here fell on Saturday, but I had weirdly thought it was sometime later this week. I guess its just a sign of being old! (The actual blog was started a few days before that, by a co-blogger who then wandered off and dumped it on me. Thanks, Mike!)

Twenty is ancient in internet terms, and things were very different back then. Blogging was new, and there was a host of small political blogs. Very few of them are still around - Public Address still exists as a platform, and DPF is still spreading his toxic bullshit, but most of the early sites have disappeared (there are a few survivors from later waves, like The Standard and Greater Auckland though). The conversation has moved to other places - mostly Twitter.

I've obviously slowed down a lot since the early days. I used to have a daily quota of five posts a day, and a focus on the politics of the day. But after twenty years, day-to-day politics is mostly noise I've seen before, worth a tweet but not a post. And as the years have gone by, I've developed a tighter focus on climate change and OIA issues - areas I actually know something about and can say something useful.

When I did my ten-year retrospective, I said I had no intention of stopping anytime soon. That's still true. I'll keep posting as long as I think I have something interesting to say. In the meantime, its probably a good idea to follow me on Mastodon or Twitter (as long as it lasts), for all the ephemera.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

A bad start for Fiji's democracy

Earlier in the week, former Fijian dictator (and now opposition leader) Voreqe Bainimarama gave a speech in parliament where he attacked Fiji's president for supporting the outcome of democratic elections and called on the military to carry out another coup to overturn them (and presumably return him to power). The speech violated the Fijian parliament's standing orders, which prohibit bringing the head of state into debate, as well as treasonous words, and he was referred to the privileges committee. Today, it recommended that he be suspended from parliament for three years, a recommendation which has just been confirmed by the House.

When he was in power, Bainimarama was ruthless in using suspension from parliament as a weapon against his enemies. In 2016 he had Tupou Draunidalo suspended for the rest of the term for objecting to one of his Ministers referring to the opposition as "dumb natives". She ended up resigning. In 2019 he assaulted NFP MP Pio Tikoduadua in the parliamentary precinct, then had him suspended for six months refusing to apologise to his attacker (the assault was captured on video. The parliamentary staffers who videoed it were fired). But as much as I enjoy seeing the dictator hoist by his own petard, this is excessive. While suspending an MP may be justified for a severe breach of standing orders, long suspensions of MPs are fundamentally unjust and undemocratic and effectively strip voters of their democratic representation. 136,829 people voted for Bainimarama at the last election. And their votes have now effectively been rendered null and void by the Fijian parliament's unjust and vindictive punishment. And that's a very bad start for Fiji's democracy.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

The police knew coercing photographs from kids was illegal

In September last year, the Privacy Commissioner and Independent Police Conduct Authority issued a joint report on their investigation into the police's practice of coercing "voluntary" photographs from young Māori on the street. The report uncovered illegality, systematic racism, and widespread ignorance among police officers of the limits on their behaviour, including some practices so obviously illegal that the Privacy Commissioner was forced to issue a Compliance Notice to stop them. The report mentioned that the police had conducted their own internal review into the issues it covered, and a sharp-eyed person used FYI, the public OIA request site, to request a copy. Today, three months after the statutory deadline, the police finally provided a response, including a copy of the report. That report shows that, contrary to their public statements, the police's processes for handling this data are not robust, and they know it (or at least, they would if they read beyond the summary, which in usual police fashion, minimises their own wrongdoing and buries the true scale of their non-compliance). But it gets worse, because the report included legal advice, which was not properly redacted. This shows that:

  • Photographing and fingerprinting children and young people is likely inconsistent with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its principle that the best interests of the child be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children;
  • They know that their claims of "consent" where children are concerned are pure bullshit. "There are a number of barriers to obtaining full and informed consent including the power imbalance between the young person and the Police officer, literacy issues, and communication disabilities... These factors can make it difficult for an officer to adequately explain the points in the POL545/545A forms to the level required not least because the officer does not have the training to recognise them or to address them." There are multiple cases already where evidence coerced from children and young people in this way has been thrown out by the courts on these grounds.
  • Even if officers were properly trained, "some young people, particularly those aged under 15 years are not usually able to provide full and informed consent".
  • These concerns effectively poison all existing material taken from young people.
  • The nature of the youth justice system and its focus on allowing young people to make amends and leave offending in the past means that indefinite retention of information on children and young people is not a "lawful use", regardless of "consent".
Chris Hipkins is on record as saying that he wants to simply legalise the police's criminal behaviour, effectively putting them above the law. But this wouldn't just involve overturning the most basic principles of the Privacy Act - it would also require overturning fundamentals of the youth justice system. Which in turn would put us in violation of UNCROC, which has been incorporated into New Zealand law through the Oranga Tamariki Act. And as with "three strikes" and mandatory minimum non-parole periods, I'm not sure the courts would stand for that.

Update: The report is now on DocumentCloud. To read the redacted bits, click on "Document" (on the bottom left) and change it to "Plain text".

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Climate Change: The lost decades

Over the last few days Aotearoa was hit by ex-tropical cyclone Gabrielle - the second tropical cyclone to hit us in just two months. Huge chunks of the country have been flooded, 225,000 people have lost electricity (some will be without it for two weeks), and at least two people are dead. The economic impact is estimated in the tens of billions. Before Parliament adjourned so MPs could go and help their constituents, Climate Minister James Shaw gave a speech drawing the obvious link to climate change [video], and warning that we are now entering "a period of consequences":

I have to say that, as I stand here today, I struggle to find words to express what I am thinking and feeling about this particular crisis. I don't think I've ever felt as sad or as angry about the lost decades that we spent bickering and arguing about whether climate change was real or not, whether it was caused by humans or not, whether it was bad or not, whether we should do something about it or not, because it is clearly here now, and if we do not act, it will get worse.

I've been recalling, actually, a quote from a different time about a different crisis: "The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences." And there will be people who say, you know—just as the National Rifle Association in the United States does about shootings over there—it's "too soon" to talk about these things, but we are standing in it right now. This is a climate change - related event. The severity of it, of course, made worse by the fact that our global temperatures have already increased by 1.1 degrees. We need to stop making excuses for inaction. We cannot put our heads in the sand when the beach is flooding. We must act now.

Newsroom's Marc Daalder has talked about this period of consequences - or, as he put it, Alt title: Fuck around and find out. But I'd like to look at the "fucking around" part. Because there is a lot here to be angry about, and people we need to hold to account.

Way back in 1992, the then-National government endorsed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in which they promised to reduce emissions. They followed this up in 1998 by signing the Kyoto Protocol, committing us to a binding emissions reduction target. Environment Minister Simon Upton did a lot of work, developing a fully-formed, all-gases, all-sectors emissions trading scheme, but his National colleagues - farmers and climate-change deniers - fucked around, chickening out of implementing it at the last minute, leaving the problem for future governments.

In 2002 the then-Labour government ratified the Kyoto Protocol. They then fucked around, switching from an ETS to a carbon tax and then dumping it under pressure from their coalition partners. They chickened out of making farmers pay a minimal levy on agricultural emissions, while repealing existing regulatory solutions to reduce emissions in favour of a "perfect" price mechanism which didn't exist yet. They then switched back to a partial emissions trading scheme (wasting another three years in policy development), which they loaded with pollution subsidies and opt-outs, and did not pass until literally the last days of their term. It was then immediately gutted by National.

Not content with gutting the ETS, the new National government elected in 2008 set up a "review" of climate change policy packed with climate change deniers to undermine policy even further, while repealing the thermal electricity ban and biofuels obligation. They then gutted the ETS even more, adding even more subsidies for polluters. At the same time, they announced a "50% by 2050" emissions reduction target, and ratified the Paris agreement. But they fucked around, and did nothing to meet their obligations.

In 2017, then-Labour leader Jacinda Ardern called climate change "my generation's nuclear free moment". In 2019 the government she led passed the Zero Carbon Act, ostensibly committing us to long-term emissions reductions, with plans, budgets, reviews, and all manner of bureaucratic bullshit. And then they fucked around, repeatedly fucking with the carbon market to keep carbon prices low, repeatedly delaying making agricultural polluters pay for their pollution (and then only at the lowest possible level), and introducing even more subsidies for polluters. They've now pissed all over their carbon budget by subsidising petrol.

All of these governments fucked around. There's a common theme of hard-working climate ministers - Simon Upton, Pete Hodgson, and James Shaw - being betrayed by their Cabinet colleagues and having their plans dumped (Nick Smith is a malignant exception to this, being a collaborator with climate change deniers). There's another of constantly grovelling to farmers, a dirty, inefficient sector which receives more in subsidies than it pays in taxes, and which when you factor in the costs of its pollution, seems to be a net drain on New Zealand. And there's a common theme of them viewing climate change as a problem for the future, a mess they can leave for someone else to clean up. The consequences of that irresponsible short-term thinking can be seen on the East Coast today.

They all fucked around, and we're now finding out. And the people who fucked around got knighthoods and big pensions and posh post-political careers with banks and SOEs and crown entities. They got rich, while kiwis got flooded and left in the dark. And its time we held them accountable for it.

Monday, February 13, 2023

NZDF's bill for covering up war crimes

One of the key recommendations of the Operation Burnham inquiry was the creation of an independent Inspector-General of Defence to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by NZDF. The government's bill to do this is currently before select committee, and the Sunday Star Times' Andrea Vance has been looking at some of the submissions on it. So far, they're pretty damning, concluding that the bill will enable the military to keep its war-crimes secret:

A new military watchdog – created after the deadly Operation Burnham raid – is a recipe for “whitewash and brushing things under the carpet” and will make it more difficult to hold the Defence Force accountable, experts say.

They fear the small print in proposed legislation establishing the Inspector-General of Defence could see future human rights violations by soldiers kept secret – and make illegal the kind of investigative journalism that exposed the cover-up.

Defence Minister Andrew Little excuses all this on the grounds that the military can only suppress information which is "sensitive". But the definition of "sensitive" includes "prejudice to the continued performance of the functions of the Defence Force or the Ministry" - an entirely separate ground from prejudice to the security and defence of New Zealand - and NZDF in the past has made it clear that it considers reporting on or investigating its crimes to prejudice its functions. So I'd say that these fears are entirely well-grounded. But when you look at the limits on what the IGD can investigate and the emphasis on preventing "duplication of scrutiny" - that is, on stopping it from looking into anything NZDF is covering up itself with a stovepiped internal "inquiry" - then it is clear that this bill is designed to give only the appearance of oversight, and in reality is designed to allow NZDF to cover up its crimes. That's not what was recommended, and it certainly isn't what the public wants. And with major civil society groups condemning the bill (not to mention Nicky Hager, whose reporting with Jon Stephenson sparked the whole Operation Burnham inquiry), if it is not significantly amended it is simply going to lack any public credibility.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

Climate Change: Labour's dismal record

Writing on Newsroom about yesterday's appalling biofuels decision, Marc Daalder summarises Labour's dismal record on climate change:

It's hard to think of the last time there was a genuine "win" for the climate amid recent Government decisions. Late last year, Cabinet decided to artificially depress the carbon price because of cost of living concerns, going against the advice of the Climate Change Commission. Ministers also promised farmers a low emissions price in the He Waka Eke Noa scheme in December, again in conflict with the commission's view.

Add on to that the recent decisions to keep petrol cheap and dirty, and a clear picture of the Government's priorities comes into view. Yes, climate change is important - we heard that plenty from Jacinda Ardern, and Chris Hipkins has made a big deal of it since coming to power too - but when it rubs up against political imperatives, the pursuit for better polling wins out.

The voters of today may thank the Government for its efforts to keep petrol cheap but future generations will feel the real consequences of those decisions.

And a glimpse of those consequences - described as one of the most serious storms of the century - is currently barrelling towards Auckland. Which is ultimately how we will pay for Labour's weakness and inaction: in storms and floods and death and destruction.

If we want any hope of limiting the damage in the decades to come, we need to move beyond Labour's pathetic Augustinianism - "we will act, but not yet!" - and actually start acting now. We clearly won't get that from Labour. We certainly won't get it from National. If we want a future, we need a Green government.

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Climate Change: Labour abandons the carbon budget

Hipkins held his expected bonfire of the policies today, ditching the RNZ/TVNZ merger, punting hate speech legislation to the Law Commission (which basicly means it will never happen), and dumping the "bougie dole" social insurance scheme. But along the way, he also shitcanned a key part of the government's emissions reduction programme: the biofuels obligation.

How important is this? The 2021 cabinet paper Sustainable biofuels mandate: final policy design noted that (p22):

The mandate is expected to reduce emissions by around 10 MtCO2-e by 2035; contributing about 1.2 – 1.3 MtCO2-e for the first emissions budget, 3.3 to 3.6 MtCO2-e for the second, and 4.6 – 5.8 MtCO2-e for the third.
In context, the transport sector emissions target is ~16.5 MT/year for the first (4 year budget), ~15 MT/year for the second, and ~11 MT/year for the third. So the biofuels obligation was expected to contribute ~45% of our second budget cuts, and ~20% of our annual third budget cuts. This is a significant emissions impact, which will have to be made up. It was also basicly our only policy to deal with heavy transport emissions. And now Labour has thrown it out the window. It will be very interesting to see what the Climate Commission says about it.

When quizzed at the press conference, Hipkins had no idea how he was going to compensate for the extra emissions he has just allowed, and he refused to commit to meeting our future carbon budgets. Which is disappointing. But sadly consistent with their habit of announcing big targets, then chickening out from the actual action required to meet them. But it shows that Labour cannot be relied upon to take climate change seriously, or prioritise emissions cuts over the interests of whiny polluters. For that, we need the Greens.

We need to fund foodbanks, but they shouldn't exist

Former Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway has a piece in Stuff today pleading for continued government funding for foodbanks and food-rescue organisations, pointing out the high return on investment and the valuable work they've done during the pandemic:

Demand for food relief is at record levels. We’re all experiencing the pain of rising food prices. For many families, food costs have gone beyond what they can cope with. More and more working families are queuing up at foodbanks and free stores.

Many are doing it for the first time in their lives. Most believed they would never have to. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins is focussed on the ‘here-and-now’ and on ‘bread-and-butter’ issues. That’s exactly what the food rescue sector is doing: making sure people have bread, butter and some fresh fruit and vegetables too.

A recent study initiated by the Aotearoa Food Rescue Alliance showed, conservatively, that for every $1 invested in food rescue, $4.50 worth of social value is returned. That’s a great investment for anyone funding food rescue. The sector doesn’t want the Government to fund everything they do. There will always be a role for sponsors and donors.

But secure Government funding releases organisations to get on with their work. Right now, that's what they need to be doing – feeding the growing number of people going hungry in New Zealand.

All of that is true, and the government should be funding them in the short term. But in the long-term, these organisations simply shouldn't exist. They shouldn't need to exist. The government should be ensuring that everyone has a sufficient income to meet their needs and that no-one goes hungry or has to beg for food relief.

Obviously, that's a huge job, which won't happen overnight. But the government should be committing to doing it, and in doing so, committing to putting the foodbanks out of business. And if they refuse, well, we'll need to vote ourselves a government which will make that commitment.

Friday, February 03, 2023

Climate Change: The emissions deficit

In March last year, in a panic over rising petrol prices caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the government made a poor decision, "temporarily" cutting fuel excise tax by 25 cents a litre. Of course, it turned out not to be temporary at all, having been extended in May, July, December, and again this week. The fiscal cost of that decision is $718 million so far, and it will get higher since the cut is likely to be extended and extended until after the election. That comes straight out of the roading budget, which now has no money to pay for repairs caused by climate-change-induced storms. The emissions cost is roughly 400,000 tons (so far) and rising. Which will need to be paid back somehow with other cuts if we are to meet our carbon budget.

But that's not the only poor decision this government has made. In December, they massively increased pollution subsidies while also continuing price subsidies built into the ETS, in defiance of climate commission advice. The last change means that polluters will continue to enjoy an extra 7 million tons of pollution a year - nearly 10% of our gross national emissions. The kicker? The government is legally obliged to pay it all back. Section 30IA of the Climate Change Response Act 2002 requires the government to obtain greenhouse gas reductions to cover any excess units introduced into the system by pollution subsidies or ETS auction settings. Meaning the seven million tons they gave away last year, and the 7 million tons they plan to give away unnecessarily this year are going to need to be balanced by emissions cuts, soaked up with trees, or paid for with units purchased overseas (at a likely cost far in excess of the $150 / ton the government uses in its internal budgets). According to the first Newsroom article linked above, the government currently has no plan to do this. Climate Minister James Shaw "wants to have an intentional conversation with his Labour colleagues" about it, but on past performance, they'll laugh in his face, say "fuck your statutory obligations", and leave the problem for someone else to solve.

Heckuva job they're doing on the climate crisis, isn't it? Makes you think they're really earning their $296,007 salaries, right?

Meanwhile, this weeks Auckland floods show the reality of the crisis: going soft on polluters simply means that we all pay, not just financially, but in storms and floods and ruined homes and misery. It would be nice if the government learned that lesson, and started doing what is required.

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

E-bike incentives work

Currently the government's strategy for reducing transport emissions hinges on boosting vehicle fuel-efficiency, via the clean car standard and clean car discount, and some improvements to public transport. The former has been hugely successful, and has clearly set us on the right path, but its also not enough, and will still leave us with clogged cities (albeit cleaner ones). So what else can we do? The big hole in our transport policy is around e-bikes. And it turns out that data from the US shows that supporting these is more cost-effective than subsidising EVs:

researchers have found that e-bikes can displace gasoline miles quite effectively, too. When a household buys an e-bike, their driving (as measured by vehicle miles traveled, or VMT) decreases by more than a third. While not as much as a ZEV, which cuts 100% of gasoline VMT, the lower cost of stimulating e-bike sales with rebates more than makes up the difference. When that is taken into consideration, an e-bike subsidy is 2.9 times more effective per dollar at displacing gasoline miles than a ZEV subsidy.
Which sounds like its something worth throwing into the mix. This isn't an either/or, and we don't have to go the whole way towards David Slack's proposal of preposterous audacity (free, locally-built e-bikes for all!), but directing some ETS or clean-car discount revenue towards incentivising e-bikes would be worth doing, and give us less clogged cities.

24,000 employed under Labour

The quarterly labour market statistics were released this morning, showing that unemployment has risen slightly to 3.4%. There are now 99,000 people unemployed - 24,000 fewer than when Labour took office.

So, I guess the Reserve Bank's plan to throw people out of work to stop wage rises "inflation", and victimise the most vulnerable in society to protect the abstract wealth of the uber-rich from eroding isn't working yet. Unfortunately, this probably means they'll just keep doubling down.