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Climate change – New Zealand not even a fast follower

Written By: - Date published: 10:14 am, August 13th, 2015 - 48 comments
Categories: australian politics, climate change, Environment, global warming, national/act government, sustainability - Tags:

Remember climate change, that almost irreversible process that is already causing havoc to the planet and will eventually make most of the planet uninhabitable?

Originally New Zealand wanted to be a leader in the area and Helen Clark set an aspirational goal that New Zealand becomes carbon neutral.  Then there was talk about us being a fast follower.  But for the important Paris talks later this year it appears that we are becoming a slothful bludger.

Analysis performed suggests that our proposal is that bad we are behind even windmill hating Tony Abbott’s Australia and the only nation we are ahead of is tar sand loving Canada.  From stuff:

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who made an election promise to drop the controversial tax, pledged on Wednesday to cut Australia’s greenhouse gases by 20 per cent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. That contrasts with the 11 per cent below the 1990 target, set by the New Zealand Government last month.

Newly released figures on nine countries and regions show New Zealand’s greenhouse gas pledges are the second-weakest. Only Canada will take a less ambitious goal to the United Nations December climate change conference in Paris, according to a table by independent think-tank The Climate Institute.

Victoria University Climate Change scientist Jim Renwick is scathing about the Government’s efforts.

“Australia are not actually doing particularly well either, but New Zealand is doing worse … It is not a good look. New Zealand already has a rather poor reputation in these meetings and negotiations, in my understanding.”

The comparisons contradicted the Government’s description of its target as “fair and ambitious”, Renwick said.

“It’s unimpressive and it is not fair, because it is not fair on future generations. As this becomes more and more important, this is going to hurt us, economically.”

This Government has talked up its commitment to addressing climate change.  Tim Groser last year described our proposal as the only game in town and the recently released Government discussion document claimed that we are committed to doing our fair share and taking responsibility for our emissions.

But the Government keeps saying that because of Dairy we can do nothing.  If the cost of producing milk is the devastation of the planet then it is clear that we need to change what we produce.

48 comments on “Climate change – New Zealand not even a fast follower ”

  1. Bazza 1

    You mentioned Helen Clark wanted NZ to become carbon neutral, but carbon is not a green house gas.

    • mickysavage 1.1

      It was the phrase used and the idea clearly is to stop the net increase in CO2 levels from New Zealand sources.

    • Lanthanide 1.2

      When someone tells you to “jump off a bridge”, do you understand they are talking metaphorically?

      • weka 1.2.1


      • Bazza 1.2.2

        When I read a news article about some one jumping of a bridge I would like to know if it was a bungy jump, base jump or suicide. a PM should, when making statements be clear or was she going for carbon as to most people that is a black dirty thing – think soot where as CO2 is critical for plant growth.

  2. Bob 2

    Has anyone taken into account CO2 emission per head of population basis? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions_per_capita

    It is one thing to say we are only going to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 11% from 1990 levels compared to Australia’s 20%, but Australia produced 250% more CO2 per head of population in 1990 than we did, so they are ‘committing’ to drop to approx 13.8 tonnes of CO2 per capita, we are ‘committing’ to drop to 6.3 tonnes per head of capita, and we are the ones not pulling out weight???

      • Macro 2.1.1

        Here is an even better one:
        and to confirm that Aussie is at the moment an even greatest emitter per capita than NZ:
        Neither of these graphs show us or Australia in any great light.

        • RedLogix

          So NZ has more than doubled it’s emissions since 1990 – making us one of the worst offenders. Of course a huge lump of this relates to the fact that our population has increased 50% or so in that time, and the rise of dairy probably puts a massive methane component in there.

          And at the third highest tons/capita number we cannot hide behind that figleaf either.

          The simple truth is that NZ and Australia (especially with Abbott’s increasingly bizzare antics attracting attention to this corner of the world) – are in the worst category of the lot. We pay facile lip-service to the issue, while actively pursuing policies which are only increasing our emissions.


          Meanwhile the rest of the world is slowly getting it’s shit together on this – there is the very real risk we will face severe sanctions when they notice we aren’t even followers – we are wreckers.

      • Macro 2.1.2

        The “sustainable” amount of carbon emissions per capita is calculated to be around 2 tonnes of CO2 per person. It is obvious that we can never reduce it to zero. 2 tonnes per person would be equivalent to the normal sequestion rate of Carbon from the environment.

        • weka

          Is that per year? A global average?

          • Robert Atack

            Its bollocks

          • Macro

            Yes that is per year on average. Robert thinks its bollocks but then he is of the opinion that we are all off to hell in a handcart anyway. (he may be right – but I have to have hope that the science is accurate and that if we can act fast enough we can limit the catastrophy to such an extent that humans can adapt – I have to have that hope otherwise I would be in absolute despair for my children and grandchildren). CO2 is naturally sequestered into the oceans and the soil – see here:https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carbon-cycle-full.jpg
            At present our emissions are way bigger than what is being sequestered so we must reduce them to at least 2 tonnes per person.
            As an example of what that means in terms of living conditions and can we as a species survive and fuction at that level?- we can see from the example of Cuba that, yes, a fair functioning society can survive at that level. There are many smaller countries that function very well at lower levels as well.
            this is also useful reading

            • Robert Atack

              We are way past trying to reverse what is happening.
              I don’t get what people don’t understand ??
              The environment is at 402 ppm CO2, and nearly 2 ppm CH4.
              Its a bit like when you first burnt your hand as a child on something hot, the same ‘science’ is in action ie when something gets hot you burn, or when the environmental amounts of CO2/CH4 get to a certain amount – the planet ‘burns’. We are there now.
              CO2 hangs around for about 1,000 years. The environment will not see less than 400 ppm for a very long time, even if we stopped emitting ALL CO2 tonight.
              400 PPM CO2 = no ice, no ice = massive CH4 ‘burps’. And it will not take all the ice going for the CH4 to appear, as we are seeing NOW FFS
              This guy spells it out nice and calmly https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xdOTyGQOso
              Water reaches its maximum weight at 4.5C, that warm water is sitting down at about 200? meters below the surface, not only causing the CH4 clathrates to melt off the coast of Gisborne, but all around the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, where according the one of the only group of scientists that actually have hands on experience (ie they have been going out on the ice for the past 10 years or so, taking measurements of the ‘escaping’ methane) ‘we’ are looking at a 50 GT burp “any day now”
              50 GT of CH4 = more CO2 than human have put into the environment in the past 200 years.
              And for the past 15 – 20 years we have been putting something like 400 years worth of planetary growth (meaning CO2 sequestration via trees, animals, and humans) through our smoke stacks, exhaust pipes, and The Warehouse every year = something like 3 cubic kilometers of carbon, just from oil. That is everything that has grown on the planet since Christ has been burnt and added to the environment in just 5 years.
              We are all fucked, as Jason Box said about a year ago. http://motherboard.vice.com/read/if-we-release-a-small-fraction-of-arctic-carbon-were-fucked-climatologist but what would Jason know? he has only been studying this shit most of his professional life?

              • weka

                Unfortunately Robert, a while back you started citing Cowspiracy as a valid and reliable source of data, despite it being biased, ideologically based propaganda with so little proper referencing as to be useless and unreliable. So I have to take your whole process of understanding source material and interpreting it with a grain of salt.

            • weka

              Thanks Macro. My sense is that 2 tonnes is still too high, but it might serve as a goal post for people in the west to get their eye on.

              However from what I understand from what Bill is saying, we need to reduce FF use to zero because of the excess already in the atmosphere. So I’m not sure how that fits in (FF and CO2 not being the same measurements).

              (I think this is also the basis of Robert’s argument, but I disagree with him as well, he’s not god and he doesn’t know everything. He’s taken his own and other people’s interpretation of data and now makes out that they are the ones who know and everyone else is wrong. i.e. he is mistaking his beliefs for the truth).

              The regenag and other sustainability land management people are making some pretty hefty claims around intentional carbon sequestration (more than the natural cycles). I don’t think the role of agriculture, positive and negative, has been fully appreciated yet.

              • lprent

                The problem with sequestration in agriculture and forestry is that it is so damn transient. Even in the best possible case it is unlikely that it’d sequester anything much for more than a couple of hundred years or so. That is a blink of an eye in terms of CO2 which has a residence time in carbon cycle of thousands of years.

                And we have poured trillion of tonnes of fossil carbon into our volatiles layer in the oceans and atmosphere that needs reducing. Sequestration to be effective has to hold the stuff for at least tens of thousands of years. The longer it can be sequestered for, the less we have to reduce the natural releases of CO2/CH4 production.

                Just locking up carbon for decades in plants, soils and trees is useless.

                BTW: The most effective use of land to sequester carbon using biologicals, is to engineer large areas of descending anaerobic swamp land (and we have no idea how to do that) and then keep stuff growing on the top (and not harvest it).

                • Macro

                  Yes Carbon sequestration in agriculture is limited and only temporary. Reforestation is urgently needed – but even that won’t solve the problem and there is a need to feed people as well. Furthermore with the loss of much of the planets highly productive land through sea level rise – we need to be looking at transferring our preferred diets. Dairy for instance is going to become environmentally unsustainable if not already.

                  • weka

                    “Yes Carbon sequestration in agriculture is limited and only temporary”

                    How so?

                    • Macro

                      Soil carbon is a major component of the terrestrial carbon cycle. The soils of the world contain more carbon than the combined total amounts occurring in vegetation and the atmosphere. Consequently, soils are a major reservoir of carbon and an important sink. Because of the relatively long period of time that carbon spends within the soil and is thereby withheld from the atmosphere, it is often referred to as being sequestered. Increasing the capacity of soils to sequester C provides a partial, medium-term countermeasure to help ameliorate the increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere arising from fossil fuel burning and land clearing. Such action will also help to alleviate the environmental impacts arising from increasing levels of atmospheric CO2. The C sequestration potential of any soil depends on its capacity to store resistant plant components in the medium term and to protect and accumulate the humic substances (HS) formed from the transformations or organic materials in the soil environment. The sequestration potential of a soil depends on the vegetation it supports, its mineralogical composition, the depth of the solum, soil drainage, the availability of water and air, and the temperature of the soil environment. The sequestration potential also depends on the chemical characteristics of the soil organic matter and its ability to resist microbial decomposition. When accurate information for these features is incorporated in model systems, the potentials of different soils to sequester C can be reliably predicted. It is encouraging to know that improved soil and crop management systems now allow field yields to be maintained and soil C reserves to be increased, even for soils with depleted levels of soil C

                      my bold
                      From the Abstract for a paper on Carbon sequestration in soil by Roger Swift
                      Note that it is a medium term countermeasure, because:
                      a. the total limit that any soil type can retain varies for a number of factors, and
                      b. once that limit is reached, your not going to be adding any more – that which you do add will drive out Carbon already stored. An equilibrium state if you like.

                    • weka

                      That doesn’t explain why it’s considered temporary.

                      I agree there is a limit, simply because there is only so much surface area (see my comment below, although it might be possible to argue that soil depth can keep being increased therefore the limit isn’t about that. And if it can keep being increased, why can’t it continue to sequester carbon?).

                      But the issue isn’t the limit, it’s whether the amounts sequestered before equilibrium is reached, multiplied by the area, are significant or not.

                      The variability strikes me as irrelevant. It just means it’s not the same everywhere. Why is that a problem?

                    • Macro

                      When soil is exposed in tillage or other forms of cultivation it is oxidised releasing the carbon stored.
                      But yes there is potential for a massive sink here:
                      “According to Rattan Lal, director of Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, the world’s cultivated soils have lost between 50 and 70 percent of their original carbon stock, much of which has oxidized upon exposure to air to become CO2.Now, armed with rapidly expanding knowledge about carbon sequestration in soils, researchers are studying how land restoration programs in places like the former North American prairie, the North China Plain, and even the parched interior of Australia might help put carbon back into the soil.”
                      Incidentally last year I was fortunate enough to visit the campus of Ohio State and was shown round their “Prairie”. North America has virtually lost all of it’s Prairie, even the plants are just about gone. Ohio States Prairie is about 2 Hectares and is a plant sanctuary with plants rescued from roadside verges and little outcrops here and there.

                    • weka

                      Ok, thanks, I think that clarifies that the usual thinking on this is referring to conventional agriculture. Regenerative agriculture (regenag) and other sustainable systems don’t till. That’s the whole point. They use techniques that lock carbon deeply into the soil and it doesn’t get disturbed again.

                • weka

                  “Even in the best possible case it is unlikely that it’d sequester anything much for more than a couple of hundred years or so.”

                  How so? The regenag people are talking about deep soil sequestration (ie there is no significant carbon held in the top few inches), and not tilling again. Some of those systems mimic the big plains/herd animals that evolved in places like the US and Africa. Historically they were very stable systems. I can’t see why theoretically they can’t be again (whether humans will actually allow that is another matter).

                  They’re also talking about (and demonstrating) building soil much much faster than is currently accepted by the mainstream as being usual. This is already being done.

                  Obviously there is going to be an upper limit on the area of land that can do that (which is why we also need to reduce emissions). And there is an issue on quantity (do the claims stack up in relation to the amount already released)?

                  I’m less clear about forestry, but am unsure why it’s not considered that useful. If a new forest is created, once that becomes a climax forest, isn’t that amount of carbon fixed relatively permanently assuming the forest isn’t cleared? i.e. it won’t sequester any more, but the amount of of carbon sequestered over that 30 to 100 years is bound into that system in addition to what then cycles naturally? Or am I missing something?

                  Both those scenarios (new forests, new plains systems) rely on restoring land that has been cleared, which is a lot of land. We could add into that the reduction in emissions from stopping conventional agriculture (mostly the ploughing, soil-destroying behaviours that release GHGs).

              • Macro

                Yes weka totally agree with this. There are some considerations that make it impossible to reach zero emissions – steel making, maintenance of roads (whether for carrying electric vehicles or not), manufacturing of batteries, concrete production, agriculture (rice as well as animals). The best we can aim for is to be Carbon Neutral as the first step and then think about how to start stripping CO2 from the atmosphere and hoping we can do that before it is too late.
                There was a peer reviewed study done in 2010 by Mathews and Weaver which looked at the possible result of what would happen if we were able to reduce carbon emissions to zero overnight. The conclusion was that the resultant overall max temperature would be 1.3 degrees C. I think that that is probably on the low side – especially in the light of more recent observations, however it does give some hope that we are still in with a chance, and that is the conclusion of most climate scientists today. But all (apart from the manic few in total denial like Currie, and our own de Freitas and de Lange spring to mind) agree that the world needs to act strongly and immediately to avoid disaster.

    • Crashcart 2.2

      So by your own maths Aus are planing to reduce their emissions by more than twice NZ per capita. Yes they will still be producing more per capita however they will have done more per capita to address the issue.

      • Bob 2.2.1

        Conversely you could argue that NZ started addressing CO2 emissions much earlier (hydro / Geothermal electricity) so we shouldn’t be expected to have to reduce our CO2 at the same rate as Australia, or the majority of the developed world for that matter.

        • Sacha

          If only that were the way global climate agreements worked – but it isn’t. Being seen as shirkers on the world stage does not benefit this nation in any way.

  3. Draco T Bastard 3

    If the cost of producing milk is the devastation of the planet then it is clear that we need to change what we produce.

    Wow, what a radical idea – applying actual, real, economics.

  4. Bill 4

    All this ’20 by 30 below 90′ or ’11 by 30 below 05′ crap?

    I really wish people would refuse to use those as yardsticks. They are one sure fire way to introduce confusion and shoals of dirty little red herrings into any debate.

    The only time we should reference them, in my opinion, is when a government minister rolls them out. And we should hold up the Copenhagen Accord (one paragraph) and ask if their ‘x below y by z’, guarantees keeping below two degrees (it won’t) and whether it means zero fossil fuels by 2050 (it must).

    It’s then up to them to explain on our simple terms, rather than us tearing our hair out trying to figure what their nonsense actually means.

    • Draco T Bastard 4.1

      They are one sure fire way to introduce confusion and shoals of dirty little red herrings into any debate.

      That would be why National brought in the 30% by 2005 crap when the normal measure is a comparison to 1990.

      • Bill 4.1.1

        1990 or 2005 makes no difference. Both are meaningless unless they incorporate a year on year target. Minus the yearly target, ‘30% below 1990 levels by 2030’ allows for nothing to be done until 2029. Assuming that something would be done, there still isn’t any accountability – no yardstick or aspirational target to compare or judge action on – for the years preceding 2030.

        Zero by 50 from energy, which is what the science is calling for, implies and indeed insists that year on year reduction targets be set and achieved.

        • Colonial Viper

          Cheap, energy dense fuel is a drug which makes modern economic and social life much easier and more comfortable. I like having a couple of hundred energy slaves running around looking after my needs moment to moment.

          How can people be convinced to give up what they have been indoctrinated to believe as their birthright?

          And surely no politician is going to try.

          • Bill

            Well, I’d say not to directly challenge the use of those energy slaves. But how about challenging the ridiculously reductionist notion of life that underpins most of that energy slave use?

            We’re inculcated with it from early on. Got a talent? Well, that’s all very nice, but you have to earn a living.

            Shall we have children? Well, maybe when we can afford it.

            What do you do? Well, we all know that actually means, What do you do to earn money?

            Success? Usually comes with $ signs attached to count as ‘real’ success.

            And so it goes.

            But that elevated money centric world view that we measure our own and others’ worth by isn’t just vacuous nonsense, it’s the thing that compels us to utilise those energy slaves. No longer ‘chasing a buck’ with all the otherwise pointless activity that endeavour entails? Energy needs and therefore energy use plummets.

            • Colonial Viper

              This is the massive structural change and re-orientation which we need in our society before it is forced upon us (in some kind of dystopian subsistence/survival mode).

              Yet you have political parties like Labour talking about creating more employment with better pay as the future of this country. It’s like a rerun of the 1970s/1980s/1990s and the expectation of keeping up exponential growth from within a very finite country and planet.

              • maui

                Looking around I don’t see any political groups wanting to change our economy/monetary system in a hurry. Maybe it’s going to come from places like community gardens where everything is exchanged for free. Apparently there’s this quote that “Permaculture is revolution disguised as organic gardening”. heh

                • Bill

                  All political parties, in the final analysis, exist to service the status quo. It can’t ever be any other way. Even revolutionary parties – and this is inevitable – re-create a parody of the system they over-throw.

                  The change in culture or fundamental attitudes will come from below if it comes at all.

                  Failing that, the austerity machine will keep pumping: bubbles will inflate and burst in an endless process that concentrates wealth in the hands of a tiny elite. And the corresponding impoverishment of society at large will just get deeper and more widespread.

                  I believe that’s what will result in the dystopian future CV mentions.

                  Throw in AGW, resource depletion and all the rest of it, and yeah…’Everybody!… Say “whoop”.’

                  • maui

                    Whats your take on where we’ll end up? Do you think the whole world will end up like Greece, with countries asset stripped and people crushed by poverty and the state? Or will people break free of the system and create their own? Just curious. The trouble I see in NZ (probably the whole western world to be fair) is that people are so dumbed down and comfortable in this consumerist, apathetic lifestyle that it could take a long time for them to wake up, want change and make a stand.

              • weka

                Just picked this snippet up but haven’t had time to verify it yet. Apparently Bill Mollison, the co-founder of permaculture (and who btw was recognising CC for what it was in the 70s and has spent the time since building a sustainable production system of food and other human needs), said this,

                The shift from conventional agriculture to true sustainable systems like permaculture is going to reduce the use of petroleum by 95%. Corresponding with this is a x 20 increase in the amount of people needed to grow food (see, more jobs right there, and interesting jobs too).

                The main inconveniences there for most people in NZ are going to be not being able to eat fresh tomatoes in the middle of winter (i.e. we will have to eat seasonally), and adjusting to a diet that is local (less rice, more oats kind of thing). But many people find that eating fresh, organic produce is worth that trade off (plus, you know, saving the planet). We will also probably have periods of time where certain staples are in short supply. These are not great hardships, but they do assume that we reduce emissions globally and end up dealing with a less extreme CC. Once that reality is understood, that’s a powerful incentive – eat differently but well, or watch your kids starve.

                That’s really just an example of how there are people already doing the transition work. I could probably find similar examples in transport, housing, etc too. I think we need to be looking at that work and figuring out how to integrate it into the political sphere (transition people tend to be averse to conventional politics for very good reasons).

  5. katipo 5

    Like a lot of ‘scary’ issues that need to be addressed the Nats know it’s in their best interest to to as little as possible because when Labor are back in power and action is finally taken they know it will be unpopular, especially with Nat supporters and they can use this as a stick to beat Labor with come next election.

  6. b waghorn 6

    If the nats keep running things into the ground like they have with solid energy we might get to zero emmisions by accident.

  7. This http://robinwestenra.blogspot.co.nz/2015/08/discussing-abrupt-climate-change-with.html
    is a good interview of Paul Beckwith from Ottawa Uni
    near the end of part 2 (20 min?) they talk about the political situation in Canada, and the ‘Prime Minister’s Office’ something like 3,000 people from all over the world work in this department, and we think we got problems, well apart from run away climate change lead extinction )

  8. Smilin 8

    The climate change that is most damaging to NZ is the one of the period from 2005 to the the present and sooner we remove it the better hopefully by 2017

  9. NZ Groover 9

    Thanks Micky, that’s awesome news. When the government annouced the target I was worried about the impact this would have on the economy. Sounds to me it’s “sufficently vague” to tick the box while not actually doing anything. Great outcome for a non-problem like climate change (whatever the hell “climate change” means).

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