Friday, April 28, 2023

Climate Change: Too many trees?

On Wednesday the Climate Change Commission released its 2023 Draft advice to inform the strategic direction of the Government’s second emissions reduction plan - basicly, what it thinks the government needs to do to meet our statutory emissions reduction targets. It's a long document, but Newsroom's Marc Daalder has a good summary, as does RNZ. The big takeaway is that the Commission thinks we're planting too many trees, and run the risk of just offsetting rather than actually reducing emissions. That's bad, but kindof implicit in the government's pursuit of net-zero, without really trying to think about how much we should be netting out. But its not just a preference for residual emissions to be low - its also a long-term problem, which is displayed in the graph below:


Basicly: after about 2037, expected forestry credits exceed expected residual ETS-covered emissions, which will cause a collapse in the market, threatening our ability to cover non-ETS emissions (agriculture). Which means we need to fix the ETS long before then to stop it from happening.

While noting that its not really its place to develop policy, the Commission considers and dismisses a wide range of options. partly this is because its policy goal is muddled: encourage forestry, while avoiding "socially unacceptable" levels of tree planting. As someone who thinks that there isn't such a thing, that we need to move beyond net-zero to active drawdown, and that the long-term way to do this is to restore land to nature (or some semblance thereof), that seems like a gap. They're also weirdly unwilling to look beyond the status quo for agriculture, which means they miss the obvious solution: put it in the ETS, with no subsidies. That will increase ETS demand, pushing back that crossover-date. However, it doesn't solve the short-term problem of encouraging offsetting rather than emissions reduction, so its only part of the solution.

On how to solve that, I think there is an answer. The Commission has suggested limiting the amount of forest credits that can be used to offset emissions, and that might work (though it adds complexity). But that misses the real problem. At the moment, trees are a source of credits outside government control, the supply of which is uncapped and which therefore allow emissions above the ETS cap. In a sense, they're no different from the Russian fraud which crashed the ETS in its early years (except of course that trees are real, and we actually want them). The solution is to bring it under government control, by moving to a model where the government buys all forest credits (at a price based on average ETS prices, backed up by a set and rising reserve), and then recycles it into the ETS by auctioning it or using it to back free allocations. That encourages afforestation and discourages deforestation, helping to meet our Paris goals, while controlling supply into the ETS. This also lets them have more honest auction volumes, which map more directly to our desired emissions reduction pathway. If more trees are planted than we need to meet that pathway, great - the government banks the surplus, and we overachieve without crashing the price. If not, the government issues credits as it does at the moment. And if agriculture is in the ETS, and free allocations are eliminated, and there's no bullshit foreign credits, then everyone knows exactly how much we're allowed to emit, and can plan accordingly.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Parliament needs independence from the executive

The standard theory of government is that we have three branches, executive, judiciary, and legislature, which are independent. In Aotearoa, we have a Westminster system, which means the executive is chosen from the legislature, and automatically dominates it (at least on confidence and supply) - but its worse than that. Because the part of our legislature which is meant to be independent - select committees - is in fact utterly dependent on the executive, relying on government agencies for basic tasks like analysing and summarising submissions. The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties' submission on the review of Standing Orders raised this as an issue, and highlighted the inherent conflict of interest:

Public servants, who are subject to ministerial direction, who owe their primary duty to their Ministers, who are paid by the Executive, and whose managers’ performance assessments depend on getting the legislation through Parliament, cannot provide independent advice to Parliament...

...In doing the work needed to get a bill introduced, officials will have developed a belief in the correctness of their analysis of the problems and their proposals, so on a very human level they are disincentivised from agreeing to changes to something they have already worked long and hard on.

That's bad enough. But in its report on the Sustainable Biofuel Obligation Bill, released today, the Environment Committee highlighted another problem. The government decided last month to throw the biofuels obligation on the policy bonfire, fucking our long-term carbon budget in the process. And when they did that, they withdrew all support to the select committee, with the result that it just couldn't do its job anymore:
We had hoped that advisers would be able to provide a written analysis of submissions to summarise the feedback received for this bill. Some of us were disappointed that we did not receive support from officials after the Government’s announcement that it intended to withdraw the bill. Given that we had conducted a full submissions process before the announcement, we would have liked to be able to report back to the House with a summary of the written and oral submissions we received.
Effectively, if you were (like me) one of the 72 people and organisations who submitted on this bill, your submission didn't even get read. The government threw it in the rubbish bin. Oh, its on the Parliament website, but the executive deprived the committee of its standard analytical tools, and as a result it was unable to salvage anything useful from this debacle.

Which rather underlines the NZCCL's point. While the Environment Committee, like Parliament, has a Labour absolute majority, what if it didn't? Under MMP, our normal government is a coalition, and Parliament is more independent. While the government could withdraw a bill, under MMP its also conceivable (if unlikely) that a committee could recommend it proceed despite that decision. And it seems really inappropriate for the government to pre-empt that by simply disabling the committee by withdrawing administrative support.

The upshot of all this: it is crystal clear that Parliament's select committees need their own independent advisers on bills - people who work for them, rather than the Minister. Its part and parcel of being an independent legislature. And its something we should all support.

(Meanwhile, as someone who submitted on the bill, I feel that once again my hard work and good faith has been abused by the government. Which is a great way to burn people off participating, and give them the impression that their submissions are only invited to provide a veneer of legitimacy...)

There's a name for this too

In February 2021, police shot Tangaru-Noere Turia in Auckland as he was leaving a house. And now the Independent Police Conduct Authority has found the shooting to be unjustified:

A police officer was wrong to fatally shoot an Auckland man, as he did not pose an immediate threat, the Independent Police Conduct Authority has ruled.


It found an officer was unjustified in shooting the 34-year-old.

He posed a “low to negligible” threat to officers and the public when he was shot, the report said.

“The Authority has found, on the balance of probabilities, that the officer’s action in shooting Mr Turia was an excessive and unreasonable use of force.

This is the first time in its history that the IPCA has ever found a police killing to be unjustified. But don't think that anything will be done about it. The IPCA effectively prejudged any court process by saying there was insufficient evidence to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, the police won't lay charges, and the Stuff article implies that they didn't even bother with employment action as it would not lead to a different outcome. So, this officer is effectively still in uniform, free to kill again. And IPCA secrecy means we're not even allowed to know if they've done it before - that is, if the police are protecting a serial killer.

Once again, the IPCA's vision of "accountability" seems to nothing but a bad joke, a fraud on the people of Aotearoa to give the impression of oversight, while really providing none.

And this matters. Because excessive and unreasonable force is unlawful. And the use of unlawful force which results in death has a name: homicide. Whether its murder or manslaughter depends on whether you think that deliberately shooting someone necessarily means an intent to kill, but either way it's a crime, and one for which this killer officer, and the killer force which hosts them, needs to be held accountable.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

The rich aren't paying their fair share

Back in 2020, IRD began a hugely controversial (among rich people) study of how much tax the rich are actually paying. And today it reported back its completely unsurprising finding: The rich aren't paying their fair share:

An Inland Revenue investigation has found New Zealand's wealthiest families pay less than half the amount of tax, across all forms of income, than most other New Zealanders.

A 2020 law change gave IRD new powers to require the wealthiest families to provide their earnings information. After a two-year investigation, the High Wealth Individuals Research Projects found untaxed capital gains from businesses, property and other investments skew the tax system in favour of the country's most wealthy.


The project gathered information from 311 families, who generally have a net worth of more than $50 million, looking at the period from 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2021.

Once ownership of businesses, properties and other investments were taken into account, alongside wages and salaries, their median effective tax rate is 9.4 per cent, compared with 20.2 per cent for other "middle wealth New Zealanders". Both figures include payments like benefits and superannuation, as well as GST paid.

Yes, that's right: the rich are paying at half the rate of us dirty peasants. Which kindof explains how they're rich: by thieving from the rest of us.

There's an obvious solution to fix this: tax land, wealth, and capital gains. It would be fair and popular. So obviously, Labour will do everything it possibly can to avoid doing it.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Completely inappropriate

TVNZ has a major scoop - Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon donated over $10,000 to Kiri Allen's campaign in the 2020 election. Weirdly, they try and make this about Allen and Foon's future reappointment - but the actual problem is Foon. As Race Relations Commissioner, he's effectively a public servant. While I am not sure what standards applied in 2020, the current Code of Conduct For Crown Entity Board Members requires him to be politically impartial:

We act in a politically impartial manner. Irrespective of our political interests, we conduct ourselves in a way that enables us to act effectively under current and future governments... When acting in our private capacity, we avoid any political activity that could jeopardise our ability to perform our role or which could erode the public’s trust in the entity.
Significant donations to a political candidate clearly violate this. To see that, you just need to ask whether a future National government would be comfortable having a significant Labour donor on a crown entity (or whether Labour would be comfortable having a significnat National one). No? Then Foon needs to resign, to protect the integrity of the public service. It's that simple.

One state at a time...

The US state of Washington has officially abolished the death penalty:

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5087 on Friday, which removes state laws that Washington’s Supreme Court determined are invalid or unconstitutional. The state’s high court struck down the death penalty in 2018, but the law remained on the books.

“It’s official. The death penalty is no longer in state law,” Inslee said on Twitter after the signing. He also thanked legislators and other leaders who were part of the decade-long effort to end the practice, including Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

In 2014, Inslee issued a moratorium on the death penalty. In 2018, Washington’s Supreme Court unanimously struck down the death penalty, calling it arbitrary and racially biased.

Given the tendency of US courts to just change their minds on settled law when Republicans stack them, repeal seems like a useful extra safeguard. But really, they need to start putting death penalty bans (and death penalty non-cooperation clauses) in state constitutions, just to be on the safe side.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

A disturbing attitude from the IPCA

The Independent Police Conduct Authority released their report on the police response to the Parliament riot today, and its pretty much as expected: barring a few specific incidents, police use of force was generally reasonable and proportionate. The disturbing thing about it is the IPCA's call for a review of "mass public disorder" law. Digging into this, the core "problem" they want addressed is that almost all the charges laid after the first attempt to clear Parliament grounds (on February 10) were dismissed due to lack of evidence - the police process for arresting people meant that most of the arrests were unlawful, and often no evidence could be provided on what specific law was allegedly violated or how. The IPCA puts it like this:

There are significant evidential difficulties in proving that there has been a lawful arrest in a volatile mass arrest situation where individual arresting officers may be handing arrested persons over to others while they continue to manage the resisting crowd on the front line.
Think for a moment about what "fixing" that actually means: removing the evidential requirements for a lawful arrest, effectively making it an arbitrary decision by police officers. But while that makes the arrests lawful on paper, it does so at the cost of massively increasing the scope for abuse of power by police, while increasing the chances of even greater waste of police and court (and arrestee) time on charges which cannot be sustained and will therefore be tossed the moment they are subjected to scrutiny.

The actual solution here is for the police to have better processes in these situations, so they can comply with the law - not to just throw the law out the window. And it is highly disturbing that the IPCA, an organisation established to oversee police and ensure that they comply with the law, should be taking a position that if they systematically break the law, it is the law which should change, not the police. I take the opposite view: the police should obey the law. And if the IPCA disagrees, then we should replace them with a body willing to actually do the job, rather than one intent on making excuses for criminal officials.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

David Parker: Climate saboteur

In 2021, NZ Steel, one of Aotearoa's worst climate polluters, applied to renew its resource consent. They'd deliberately applied early in an effort to get in ahead of a law change which would have allowed the Auckland Council to consider their climate impact, and impose conditions to force them to reduce it. But the Ministry for the Environment noticed, and advised Environment Minister David Parker to call the application in so Glenbrook's nationally significant level of climate pollution could be considered. He refused, effectively allowing them to keep spewing out 1.5 million tons of CO2 a year for the next 35 years:

Ministry staff told Parker the mill would have a significant impact on whether New Zealand could meet its climate goals (which mean being carbon-neutral by 2050), recommending he act “as soon as possible.”


Ministry staff told Parker he should “urgently” intervene and ask the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to take over the decision, which the EPA is allowed to do if an application is of national significance.

Their advice said the EPA wasn’t subject to the ban on considering climate change, according to a copy Stuff received under the Official Information Act.

Asked what he decided and why, the Minister’s office confirmed to Stuff that he rejected the advice, and supplied a copy of his response, reminding officials that they had had the option of making a submission to the council if they wanted to argue for a shorter consent period or regular reviews on climate grounds.

The council being statutorily forbidden to consider climate change, due to a law Labour drafted and passed, of course meant that that reminder was a pointless waste of time.

So what was the cost of this decision? It depends on the counterfactual. But if a shorter consent period had forced a cleanup, with emissions dropping to zero after fifteen years due to forced adoption of zero-emissions steel technology, then we're looking at something over 30 million tons of CO2, worth (at the government's internal price of $150/ton) NZ$4.8 billion - and likely more, given projected emissions prices post-2030. And that 30 million tons is going to be a significant proportion of our post-2035 carbon budgets, which will make them that much more difficult to meet. When it was so easily avoided, then "sabotage" seems to be the only word for it.

(Meanwhile, its worth remembering: the total book value of NZ Steel's assets is only two years worth of the pollution subsidies we give it. It is literally cheaper for us to buy it, kill it, and give all the workers a quarter of a million dollars to fuck off then to keep subsidising it. Alternatively, its also cheaper for us to renationalise it and pay to upgrade it to zero-emissions technology. And either is a massively better option than just letting it pollute for another 35 years).

Friday, April 14, 2023

There's a name for this

In December 2021, a police arrest in Levin put a man in a coma. He died in hospital the next day. The Independent Police Conduct Authority has finally released its report on the death, and it is damning:

A new report by the Independent Police Conduct Authority found a police officer used a dangerous technique to restrain Peter Boy Tuhi in December 2021.

The “unreasonable” use of force by the Levin police officer led to Tuhi hitting his head on the ground and he later died at Wellington Hospital as a result.


The report found the technique chosen by the officer was not taught at the Royal New Zealand Police College.

“The force used was disproportionate and unreasonable given the level of resistance and risk posed by Mr Tuhi.”

The report does not suggest that there was any intent to kill. But still: the use of disproportionate and unreasonable (and therefore unlawful) force which unintentionally results in death has a name: it is called "manslaughter". And this officer needs to be prosecuted for it. Otherwise the police are nothing but a gang of uniformed killers.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Climate Change: The Climate Commission lays down the gauntlet

Back in December, the Labour cabinet ignored the Climate Commission's official advice on ETS price settings, triggering a collapse in confidence in the carbon market and likely slowing the pace of decarbonisation. This morning the Commission released its latest advice, on NZ ETS unit limits and price control settings for 2024-2028, and basicly they're doubling down on their previous recomendations.

If the Government expects the NZ ETS to contribute significantly to the abatement needed for budgets and targets, the NZ ETS must be given the room to do so.

Weakening decisions on NZ ETS settings and climate policy in general during times of adverse economic conditions, which climate change is only likely to exacerbate, is not sustainable in the long run and will greatly compromise our chance of meeting the climate change targets set out in the Act.

While they leave 2024 and 2025 settings unchanged (as they cannot be changed unless certain conditions are met), they're still recommending a two-tier cost-containment reserve, with a significantly higher trigger price and fewer credits available. More importantly, auction volumes for 2026 to 2028 have been cut even further, by about 3 million tons a year over their previous recommendation, to ensure the ETS aligns with the government's agreed emissions budgets. This is a statutory requirement, and its basically putting the government on notice over its previous cowardice: either they accept the Commission's recommendations for a tighter carbon market, or they publicly surrender any pretence that they intend to meet their own climate budgets or make meaningful emissions reductions (in which case the Commission might as well just all resign, because clearly their organisation is a joke and the Zero Carbon Act is a fraud on the people of Aotearoa).

Its an ugly dilemma for Labour, because the level of later reductions required by their backsliding - essentially halving the auction volume in five years - will probably cause market chaos and a price spike. But then that's the maths they've given themselves: surrendering to lobbyist whining and allowing more emissions now means less later and a steeper pathway - at least if they want any pretence of obeying the law. About the only way they can get a smoother pathway is if things get worse and the market colludes again to force a dump of units from the cost containment reserve in June, or if the Minister wants to argue that the December decision and its effects are a change which has significantly affected the proper functioning of the ETS, and that therefore the 2024 and 2025 settings need to be revised to restore balance. I think Shaw will be willing to make that argument. The problem, as always, is whether Labour will accept it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

"Growth" is worthless

Politicians are always telling us that we need to sacrifice and surrender legal and social rights or environmental protections in the name of economic growth. But is it worth it? Data from Australia says "nope":

A new paper from the Australia Institute shows 93% of the benefits of economic growth between 2009 and 2019 went to the top 10%, while the bottom 90% received just 7%.

The paper shows the share of economic growth going to the top 10% over that period was far higher in Australia than in other developed countries, including the US and Canada.

It also showed the phenomenon has been getting worse – in the postwar period, larger shares of the benefit of economic growth have been going to the top of Australia’s income recipients.

This is an Australian result, but there's no reason to believe Aotearoa is any different.

In short, most people see very little benefit from growth. If you're in the top 10%, great. but for the rest of us, all it means is higher inequality and the people at the top getting further and further ahead, making things worse for everyone else in the process. Which invites the question not only of why we should sacrifice anything for this, but also why we should even allow it in the first place.

Wannabe mass-murderers

Yesterday the government took an unexpected decision to retain existing covid protections - already so weak that basically all we have left is a requirement to isolate when sick. And naturally, the opposition is outraged by this:

New Zealand is being labelled a global oddity and "Hermit Kingdom redux" by opposition parties decrying the government's decision to extend the Covid-19 isolation rules.

Ministers yesterday reviewed the mandated seven-day isolation period and decided to keep it in place for at least another two months while they wait for more advice on a potential test-to-release strategy.

ACT leader David Seymour said the government was embarrassingly and bafflingly out of step with most of the world in persisting with the "draconian" requirement.

"New Zealand is becoming almost a kind of Hermit Kingdom 2.0 redux in 2023. Actually, what we need to do is move on and start embracing normality."

Yes, we're "out of step" with the rest of the world: we can see it in their body counts. Thinking this is a Bad Thing is an example of how business-think values conformity over actual results. And as for "normality", eight people died of covid last week, and its on track to kill a thousand people this year. Anyone who thinks that is "normal" is deranged. Anyone who thinks a thousand deaths a year is an acceptable price to pay for business-as-usual is a sociopathic wannabe mass-murderer, who should not be trusted in charge of a kebab stand, let alone a country. If this is the quality of our opposition, we should all be very, very afraid of how many of us they will kill if they get elected.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Climate Change: The cost of inaction

Treasury and the Ministry for the Environment have produced a Climate Economic and Fiscal Assessment 2023, with an estimate of the costs of climate change. Its already wildly outdated - insurance claims for the Auckland floods and Cyclone Gabrielle have topped $2.47 billion, completely burying their estimates of weather costs. But it also includes an updated estimate of the cost of failing to meet our Paris NDC of a 50% cut by 2030. And its staggering:

New Zealand could face a bill of $24 billion in the years leading up to 2030 in order to meet its international climate change targets, according to a Government report.

That scenario is based on New Zealand not reducing its current greenhouse gas emissions trajectory, and a high international carbon price for offsetting any emissions above the country’s target - essentially paying other countries to account for the excess pollution.

The report notes the high uncertainty around international markets, with a much lower carbon price reducing the bill to just over $3b.

But a climate change expert says with competition for carbon credits likely to only increase, it is unlikely the price will stay low, and while domestic reductions might appear expensive in the short term, they might later be a “pretty good deal”.

As the article notes, there are strong reasons to think the price will be higher rather than lower (not least because developing countries have little incentive to accept low prices when they can get higher ones). So we need to cut emissions harder and faster to avoid paying those costs.

And on that point, we should remember that any failure to meet our Paris target can be laid at the feet of one noisy, greedy, selfish group: farmers. Less than 5% of the population, they produce 50% of our emissions, and are refusing to reduce them. The rest of us are doing the work, paying for every kilo of carbon we emit, decarbonising transport and electricity and industry, and meanwhile there's this tiny bunch of arseholes driving around in dirty, inefficient utes, their vast herds of cows burping out methane and shitting in the rivers, refusing to do anything (worse: undermining what the rest of us are trying to do). They say that its because its "too hard", but its not too hard to just not replace cows as they are sent to the works, or to let inefficient sheep and beef farms be turned into forests. They simply don't want to change what they're doing, or accept lower profits. And they've convinced (or rather, bullied) the government into letting them get away with it, and covering the costs - effectively letting them privatise the profits of their pollution, while socialising the losses.

Their refusal is on-track to cost us $24 billion. Its only fair that they should be the ones who pay for it. And if they won't do it through the ETS, then we should make them do it with a special emissions levy on rural land.

Thursday, April 06, 2023


A ballot for a single member's bill was held today, and the following bill was drawn:

  • Crimes (Theft by Employer) Amendment Bill (Ibrahim Omer)

The bill would make it a crime to deliberately fail to pay money owed as part of an employment relationship. Sadly, Labour being Labour, the penalties are weak. An employee stealing from their employer can get seven years, but Labour will only hand out one year to employers who deliberately rob their employees, despite the amount of money involved almost always being far higher. Which tells us something about who and what they value - and it isn't the people they name themselves after.

There were 69 bills in the ballot today.

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Climate Change: Poor advice protects the status quo

Newsroom has a story today about the petition against the Climate Change Response (Late Payment Penalties and Industrial Allocation) Amendment Bill, which has so far gained more than 3000 signatures. The bill expands industrial allocation, making them eligible for bigger subsidies and giving more free credits to polluters if carbon prices rise. In a time when we need to be cutting emissions faster and harder, you can see why this is agitating people. But the story also includes some information on how MBIE made this terrible decision. And its not pretty:

Hood received correspondence from the ministry and from Climate Change Minister James Shaw's office under the Official Information Act that shows how the policy was developed.

Officials were mostly concerned about the impact on a handful of companies if their over-allocation was curtailed. Given the high carbon prices, they could close.

There was only cursory assessment of the potential for moderately-intensive industries (which receive the 57 percent allocation) to move up into the 87 percent category if eligibility thresholds were loosened. Some of that assessment indicated this was a desirable effect, since otherwise those moderately-intensive industries might be threatened by the high carbon price.

What worried Hood most of all, however, was that officials undertook no analysis of the potential for new industries to become eligible for allocation.

The first is an obvious example of how captured agencies protect the status quo, even when the point of policy is to destroy it. The second part is an appalling example of an agency simply failing to do its job and produce proper advice. And when we're talking about Aotearoa's most important policy problem, that's simply unacceptable.

The bill is open for submissions until midnight tomorrow, and its worth speaking up on. If you're not sure what to say, there's a submission guide here, and a sample submission here.

Merry Trumpmas!

So, former US President Donald Trump has finally been charged, with 34 counts of "falsifying business records" over his efforts to hide hush-money payoffs. Which isn't much, but its a start. And hopefully its a sign that he'll be prosecuted for his serious crimes, like trying to overturn an election by force, as well.

Meanwhile, Republicans are making outraged noises about what would happen if Democrat politicians who committed crimes were also prosecuted. What indeed? Powerful people been held to account under the law, regardless of their political affiliation or wealth! The fact that the think that this is somehow a terrible thing tells you that America is a very sick country, and has fallen a long, long way from its founding principles.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day. First up is the third reading of Angie Warren-Clark's Crimes (Child Exploitation Offences) Amendment Bill, followed by the third reading of Marja Lubeck's Employment Relations (Extended Time for Personal Grievance for Sexual Harassment) Amendment Bill. After that there will be the committee stage of the Ian McKelvie's Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Exemption for Race Meetings) Amendment Bill. The House should make a start on the second reading of Jacqui Dean's Increased Penalties for Breach of Biosecurity Bill, but I don't expect them to get much further. Two bills have been delayed to next member's day by the Business Committee, so there might be a ballot tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Adding criminal penalties to the OIA

In the wake of Stuart Nash's unlawful withholding of official information to hide his corrupt disclosure to donors, there have been multiple calls for criminal penalties to be added to the OIA to deter such behaviour. Graeme Edgeler makes the case well in The Spinoff, Newsroom interviews a bunch of experts who are all united on it, and even ACT has got into the game. And so they should. 72 countries have such laws, and we are weird for not having them - especially when we clearly have a problem with wilful hiding of information.

To help things along, I've taken a first stab at a bill on the Progressive Bills Project wiki. The bill is based on Canadian and South African law, and provides for a penalty of two years imprisonment for destroying, damaging, altering, concealing, or falsifying records, or directing, counsel or procuring someone to do the same. There's some policy questions that I'm not sure about: should it refer to "records" or "information" (the OIA is unusual in covering the latter)? Should prosecution require the permission of the Attorney-General, as is required for wrongful disclosure and corrupt use offences? Should it just be in the Crimes Act and cover LGOIMA as well, or should LGOIMA have its own clause? But I think there's enough there for someone to pick it up and put it in the ballot, and for it to be improved by a select committee. So, how about it? Any MP's keen?

Climate Change: What policy success looks like

In 2021 the government introduced the clean car discount, making dity ute buyers pay to subsidise cleaner cars. The policy has been wildly successful - so successful Labour wants to kill it to save money. How successful? Take a look at the vehicle fleet statistics:


[CC-BY-SA 4.0 Ministry of transport. Source: vehicle fleet statistics, registrations by CO2 emissions]

The initial phase of the clean car discount boosted EVs, and that effect has only got stronger. But the second phase, which started charging dirty vehicles, has had a huge impact, roughly doubling the proportion of such vehicles from 20% to 40%. And this is going to have a huge long-term impact on emissions, because kiwis keep their cars for a long time. The average age of a car in Aotearoa is 15 years, so this is going to drive the lifetime emissions of the fleet downwards.

Which makes Labour's austerity-driven push to kneecap the scheme even harder to understand. Oh no! We might be improving things faster than climate-change-denying Treasury thinks we need to! We could be dropping transport emissions - and saving money - faster than expected! The horror!

For fuck's sake, can't Labour just accept success and take the win?

Monday, April 03, 2023

Doing the right thing a decade late

In 2012 Green MP Holly Walker introduced the Lobbying Disclosure Bill. The bill would have regulated lobbyists, setting up a register and requiring transparency around lobbying activities. Parliament voted it down, with Labour MP Ruth Dyson playing a lead role in killing it. Now, thanks to Stuart Nash's corrupt dealings, the government will be taking another look at regulation.

Taking this at face value and rather than a delaying tactic to let public anger die down, its a good thing. Most of the rest of the world has managed to do this, so its not going to be credible to say that we can't, or that we don't have a problem. And while those in Parliament clearly feel they live in a "village" where "everybody knows everybody", those outside the beltway clearly feel differently, and see those chummy relationships as a problem, not a solution.

So, hopefully out of this we'll get the bill we could have got a decade ago if the select committee had actually done its job, rather than just saying "too hard" and protecting the status quo. But it does look like Labour is finally doing the right thing, a decade after the Greens advocated it - as usual.

Climate Change: Treasury says "not like that"!

The history of New Zealand climate policy for the past thirty years has been one of Treasury demanding a perfect emissions trading scheme or nothing, as any other policy would be inefficient and not deliver emissions reductions at the least-cost. So its kindof ironic that when we finally got an ETS (imperfect though it was), and it finally started working, with rising emissions prices and an expectation of future increases driving polluters to clean up or shut down, Treasury said "not like that!" and basicly killed it. Thomas Coughlan has the full story in the Herald today:

Treasury warned ministers that higher prices needed to reduce emissions would send electricity, gas and petrol bills rising by between 3 and 8 per cent - and send the price of industrial and commercial energy even higher.

The advice, released to the Herald under the Official Information Act, fed into Cabinet’s decision to reject advice from the Climate Change Commission and supported by Climate Change Minister James Shaw to change the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) settings and allow carbon prices to rise much higher than they had done in the past.


The advice used an ETS price of $120, which is where prices might have gone had the advice from the Climate Change Commission been accepted. After the advice was rejected, carbon prices fell and now sit at below $60 a unit.

It appears Cabinet’s decision to reject the Climate Change Commission’s advice, while supporting lower household bills, has undermined confidence in the ETS, leading to a crash in the price of units.

Not mentioned anywhere in the report: the cost of cyclones, floods, and emergency legislation which is a crime against our democracy. But Treasury has always employed one-sided analysis, counting some costs but ignoring benefits, to get the result which fits their pre-conceived goal. And the deep history here is that Treasury has always opposed climate action, and their demand for an ETS was always intended to be impossible and so to impede action. So this just seems like them returning to type.

But the Cabinet paper also has some disturbing stuff in there about how they (under)value emissions, which gives them another reason to oppose action: because if emissions prices rise, so does the liability on the books from the ETS unit stockpile, which is (weirdly) valued at the current ETS spot price rather than the cost to cover those units in 2030. In December 2022 that stockpile was value at about $11 billion on an emissions price of ~$80/ton. A rise to $120/ton would have added ~$5 billion to the liability, which is a pretty material difference in the government's books, and a threat to Treasury's goal of keeping net debt low. Crashing the price OTOH has so far wiped about $3 billion off the liability, so someone's stat is looking good, and they'll probably get a bonus.

Which shows the problem with valuing carbon in monetary terms. While its sometimes useful - such as when doing so helps prevent emissions - at the end of the day, a ton of carbon is a ton of carbon, and if we care about climate change, that's what we need to track and what we need to stop. Treasury's climate sabotage might have made the books look better by $8 billion, but the cost of that is millions of tons more carbon being emitted than it would otherwise. And that's carbon we simply cannot afford to emit.