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Devil in the detail

Written By: - Date published: 4:00 pm, September 1st, 2009 - 31 comments
Categories: climate change - Tags:

I’ve had a further read of the select committee report on the Emissions Trading Scheme, and found a huge problem – National, United Future, and ACT want to get rid of the cap on emissions.

The normal emissions trading scheme is called cap and trade. A cap on the total number of carbon credits is set and polluters either get a free allocation or buy credits in an auction (or a blend of both). Polluters who find it economic to do so reduce their emissions while others who find it economic to do so increase theirs buying the right to do so from polluters with surplus credits. The least-cost reductions to emissions get made and emissions are limited. Over time, the cap is lowered and the goal of this whole exercise is achieved – greenhouse emissions go down.

There’s another approach called ‘benchmark and trade’, which the Greenhouse Policy Coalition – the major greenhouse polluters’ lobby group – has been after all along, for the very sound reason that it’ll cost their employers less to pollute. Under benchmark and trade, polluters get an allocation based on how much they pollute as a ratio of output. If you increase your output, you get more credits, more right to pollute. So, a polluter can increase their pollution without having to buy more credits, as long as they don’t become more carbon-intense (ie more pollution per output) which is easy because carbon intensity tends to fall anyway with technological advances.

The EU has something like this and, while it’s not as good as cap and trade – it’s not so bad because they still have an overcall cap on emissions and that cap falls. The EU system is delivering on the important thing less greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere. But National, United Future, and ACT don’t want our system to have an overall cap.

Think about what that means: polluters get free rights to pollute, and they can get more rights to pollute simply by producing more. There will be no meaningful price on emissions because you can just get more credits for free and there will be heaps of surplus credits as businesses naturally become less carbon-intense, meaning even a company that wants to become dirtier will be able to buy more credits cheaply. No meaningful price on carbon = no incentive to reduce emissions.

The select committee report admits as much, citing these cons for the plan (p59):

  • May well be more fiscally expensive than other options for a given level of subsidy per unit of output.
  • Weak signal to reduce emissions, as output related subsidy.
  • National emissions may increase relative to other options.
  • Administratively complex with respect to defining intensity base.

I’m sorry, but any climate change policy that is a ‘Weak signal to reduce emissions’ and under which ’emissions may increase’ is no policy at all. It is a thieves’ charter, an unlimited licence to pollute.

As the situation stands today, the Emissions Trading Scheme (working on cap and trade) that Labour passed with the Greens last term is still in effect and more sectors will come into it over the next four years. John Key and Nick Smith have said they want to replace it with their gutless ersatz ETS and have threatend to repeal the ETS altogether if they don’t get their way, which shows where their hearts really lie. Labour, the Greens, and Maori Party have pledged not to vote for a gutting of the ETS. ACT will only back scrapping the ETS altogether.

So, the Government has the numbers to keep the ETS or to scrap it but not to gut it. Surely, they won’t go so far as to throw out the only policy we have that can start making a serious dent in our greenhouse gas pollution.

If they care at all about our future, they should just let the ETS we have stand. Anything less will do nothing to fight climate change.

31 comments on “Devil in the detail ”

  1. ghostwhowalks 1

    Notice Key doesnt want to meet with Goff on the future ETS.
    Too complicated for Key to understand.
    So now its time for bipartisanship ? Hello Last year he could have been bi- partisan

  2. snoozer 2

    Rod Oram made a similiar general argument this morning on Nine to Noon, didn’t get into this detail though.

    Basically, he says it beggars belief that National wants to convert the ETS into a meaningless exercise that migght actually result in emissions going up, we’ll be laughed out of the room at Cogenhagen. Worth a listen http://podcast.radionz.co.nz/ntn/ntn-20090901-1110-Business-048.mp3

  3. Draco T Bastard 3

    Surely, they won’t go so far as to throw out the only policy we have that can start making a serious dent in our greenhouse gas pollution.

    That’s exactly what I expect them to do.

    If they care at all about our future,

    They don’t. They only care about their and their mates profits.

    • Gordon Shumway 3.1

      Say what you like about the ETS policies, but what makes you assume that any savings from NOT introducing ETS will instead go to “their mates pockets”? That’s pure bollox, isn’t it?

      Will you at least concede it’s just possible the money will be used for new hospitals, servicing public debt, more police, paying for a recent investment in trains…?

      (Sorry I forgot, all politicians who disagree with you eat babies and/or are only interested in personal financial gain.)

      • ghostwhowalks 3.1.1

        Since when has national had any principles that arent related to to private gain.

        Kiwisaver ? Working for families ? Foreshore & Seabed ?
        They cant even stick to what they opposed in oppostion , but be it money for their funders they become limpets

        • Gordon Shumway

          And eating babies… Don’t forget that they eat babies.

          Just so stupid it’s not funny.

          • Zetetic

            poor bro. is that going to be your response every time your hero is criticised ‘whaa! whaa! you’re calling him a baby eater, whaa!’

            legitimate criticisms and you’ve got no answer.

        • Draco T Bastard

          Roading forum donates money to NACT, they get in, more roads. And do remember that they’ve still got those tax cut promises hanging over them which be where any savings they make (which are highly unlikely) will go.

          Gordon, you’re holding on to the delusion that NACT actually believes in the good of the community and it doesn’t. That’s why it wants to subsidise their mates polluting from taxpayer money rather introduce a decent cap and reduction on emissions.

  4. Andrei 4

    Carbon Dioxide isn’t a pollutant, it is a natural component of the atmosphere and
    essential to life as we know it

    Did you sleep through your science lessons at school?

    • Izzy 4.1

      Iron is a mineral that our bodies need. People die of iron poisoning. You are a git.

      • Andrei 4.1.1

        A git I maybe but a superstitious scientific illiterate I am not.

        And I know from history that morons who believe utter dribble fed to them by politicians end up going over the cliff.

        For goodness sakes wake up. ETS schemes are just snake oil designed to put control of the worlds wealth into the hands of the elite who do not have your interests at heart.

        • lprent

          Bullshit – the dribblers are morons like you who are apparently incapable of understanding basic physics.

        • outofbed

          ETS schemes are just snake oil designed to put control of the worlds wealth into the hands of the elite who do not have your interests at heart

          Much like now then

        • Izzy

          Fair enough, I probably am scientifically illiterate. I’m an imperfect person, and can’t boast that I possess all the knowledge there is in the world. But hey, the first thing they teach you in year eleven economics (that’s fifth form for you old farts) is that we gain from specialisation and trade. And the people who I trust to specialise in science are saying that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid runaway climate change in the pretty near future.

          If you can tell me why ‘ETS schemes are just snake oil designed to put control of the worlds wealth into the hands of the elite who do not have my interests at heart’ and back it up with facts (or even propose an alternative?) I may be willing to listen. Unless you try to tell me climate change isn’t an issue. That ship has so sailed…

        • Pascal's bookie

          Carbon Dioxide isn’t a pollutant, it is a natural component of the atmosphere and essential to life as we know it

          What’s stopping it being both a pollutant and a natural component of the atmosphere, essential to life as we know it?

          ..a superstitious scientific illiterate I am not.

          So you’re not the Andrei that used to blog at wishart’s place then?

          • ghostwhowalks

            When oxygen in the atmosphere first appeared it killed off all life nearly 2.5 billion years ago.
            While ozone in the high atmosphere protects us from ultraviolet radiation near the surface it is harmfull.

        • Draco T Bastard

          The worlds rich already have control of the worlds resources.

        • mickysavage

          Sorry Andrei but you are a superstitious scientific illiterate. Can’t you construct a more coherent argument?

          It is like arguing with a 5 year old that (as Lynne puts it) the earth is actually round.

          Rather than waste precious bandwidth perhaps you could come up with a real argument.

      • Gooner 4.1.2

        So is too much carbon a pollutant then Izzy?

        That argument rests on the fact that if too much Co2 is released and the greenhouse effect is pronounced as a result then we’ll fry – like the planet Venus. That’s the argument that was made here:


        But that argument is not justified. Venus only rotates on it’s axis once a year so the Sun slowly roasts it. Venus also doesn’t have plate tectonics: instead of volcanoes releasing pressure, every 500 million years or so, the continents on Venus simply tip up and slide into the molten core, producing huge amounts of heat.

        So Co2 is not a pollutant to be worried about and therefore you’re hysteria is unnecessary.

        • NickS

          Back in my day we bothered reading all the comments in a thread before posting

          You know, because I’ve got a post not that far bellow detailing why increasing CO2 is not a good thing…

          Also, Massive. Science. Fail..

          Why? Because unless the atmosphere absorbed that heat, it would bleed off into space quite (geologically) quickly via infrared radiation emission, since the sulphur cloud coverage is far less than 100%. Guess what gas makes up most of the atmosphere of Venus? That’s right it’s CO2, which is known via both experimental and observational evidence to absorb heat. Which also means that without CO2 to act as a store which can be transported via strong winds the night side should be far, far colder than is it. Not to forget either, that I’d bet that a energy budget of Venus’s atmosphere would show that the vast majority of thermal energy stored in it is from solar inputs, rather than volcanic means.

          anti-spam: upset.

        • Izzy

          What NickS said 🙂

        • lprent

          You are a scientific idiot. By your spurious reasoning (if I understand your convoluted statements correctly) the night side of Venus would be as cold as the night side of Mercury instead of the balmy hundreds of degrees that it actually is. The weather does a heat transfer from dayside to nightside in the 580 odd terrestrial days that make up its day.

          Sure it doesn’t appear to currently have plate tectonics, but like Mars it is likely to have done so in the past when it had liquid oceans. Subduction needs lubricants.

          Unlike Mars there appears to be a really active molten core that helps resurface and wipe any evidence of fossil rifts. There are pretty big calderas clearly visible on the radar scans. No-one knows if there are bigger resurfacing events. Although there has been some speculation about it because of the lack of expected lava shields like the Deccan flats. However heat from such an event would dissipate within decades purely by radiating.

          In any case, we’re unlikely to find out until a machine goes down and survives there.

          Umm I just looked at wikipedia and I see where you misinterpreted your sources from. Very fanciful…

          However it has nothing to do with CO2 levels on earth because we’re talking totally different levels of the relevant gases and insolation. Venus is an example of a runaway greenhouse effect of a wholly different magnitude to anything we’re likely to get here. Well at least until the sun starts doing the red giant trick in a relatively few billion years. Earth has an active biosphere (ie not the desert of Venus) that reacts badly to big climate changes of less than 10 degrees. It causes mass extinction events especially at the top of the food-chain – which is where we happen to be.

          Please learn to wank with more skill. It is boring to all who observe your minuscule mental ejaculations…

    • NickS 4.2


      Science says not exactly to clearly negative effects, particularly when one starts including rising temperatures and changes in precipitation (warning, all links are .pdfs);

      Science 6 December 2002:
      Vol. 298. no. 5600, pp. 1987 – 1990
      DOI: 10.1126/science.1075312


      Grassland Responses to Global Environmental Changes Suppressed by Elevated CO2

      M. Rebecca Shaw, Erika S. Zavaleta, Nona R. Chiariello, Elsa E. Cleland, Harold A. Mooney, Christopher B. Field

      Simulated global changes, including warming, increased precipitation, and nitrogen deposition, alone and in concert, increased net primary production (NPP) in the third year of ecosystem-scale manipulations in a California annual grassland. Elevated carbon dioxide also increased NPP, but only as a single-factor treatment. Across all multifactor manipulations, elevated carbon dioxide suppressed root allocation, decreasing the positive effects of increased temperature, precipitation, and nitrogen deposition on NPP. The NPP responses to interacting global changes differed greatly from simple combinations of single-factor responses. These findings indicate the importance of a multifactor experimental approach to understanding ecosystem responses to global change.


      Science 9 January 2009:
      Vol. 323. no. 5911, pp. 240 – 244
      DOI: 10.1126/science.1164363

      Prev | Table of Contents | Next
      Historical Warnings of Future Food Insecurity with Unprecedented Seasonal Heat
      David. S. Battisti and Rosamond L. Naylor

      Higher growing season temperatures can have dramatic impacts on agricultural productivity, farm incomes, and food security. We used observational data and output from 23 global climate models to show a high probability (>90%) that growing season temperatures in the tropics and subtropics by the end of the 21st century will exceed the most extreme seasonal temperatures recorded from 1900 to 2006. In temperate regions, the hottest seasons on record will represent the future norm in many locations. We used historical examples to illustrate the magnitude of damage to food systems caused by extreme seasonal heat and show that these short-run events could become long-term trends without sufficient investments in adaptation.

      Haven’t had the time to dig further into the research on this, but I assume you’re fully capable of using google scholar’s citation results for both papers to educate yourself further /smug

      Adding onto Izzy’s comment, also, there are many “nutrients” that can become pollutants when concentrations are increased/”high”. e.g. quite a few enzymes use some transition metal ions as co-factors key to enzyme activity, but if concentrations are too high, they can negatively impact on the organism, unless it’s adapted via evolution to deal with that environment. Though my memory doesn’t serve me quite well here for specifics, except for some murky references to iron, and copper soil concentrations and soil acidity. Anyhow, generally most compounds and atomic elements have concentration dependent effects on biological systems (r.e. LD50 data), so going “CO2 = nutrient, therefore = not bad” is a false analogy.

      Oh yeah, the two papers where via Peter Sinclair’s youtube channel

  5. More to the point, if they care about winning a second term they will not throw away the ETS.

  6. Tom Semmens 6

    The trouble with paranoid conspiracy theorists like Andrei is they are not even able to read history. The world has already acted on an immediate threat to our planet from industrial pollution. I would hate to think what denial cultists like Andrei would have made of ozone depletion; Or of the Vienna Convention or of the subsequent Montreal Protocol. The sad thing about global warming is as a species we’ve already acted collectively once. Whilst this problem is bigger, we have the model. Actually, I KNOW what fools like Andrei would have made of these things, since his chief claim to fame appears to be that he plays the part of Martin Borman to that paranoid dingbat Ian Wishart. Had fools like these two been around in the 1980’s they would have screamed one of their tiresome conspiracy theories, which are all just a variant on “it’s a communist plot” anyway. Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, before the internet gave voice to fringe merchant loons like Andrei, science observed, science conferred, science concluded, governments acted. Nowadays, big business has discovered that via the internet they have a willing army of the paranoid forever living in the dark alleyways off the mainstreet of sanity, ever ready and ever willing to believe anything that plugs into their fanciful and fearful assumptions.

    Personally, I think the time has come for sites like this one to simply delete posts by climate denial cultists. No website would tolerate being constantly derailed by the robotic repeating of scientologist talking points every time they tried to discuss that cult; Why should they tolerate the denier cultists? Time to simply ignore and delete them, and return them to the their proper place in the debate – nowhere.

  7. Gooner 7

    Aaahhh, good old Tom S, resorts to banning opinions he doesn’t like nor agree with. Just like the time he advocated regulating the media. You almost got your wish Tom with the EFA; shame National repealed it aye?

    • BLiP 7.1

      More lies. The EFA wasn’t about regulating the media, it was about regulating advertisers. There wasn’t a single provision of the EFA that dictated what the media could publish itself.

  8. RedLogix 8

    resorts to banning opinions

    Opinions are like arseholes; everyone has one. Your perfectly welcome to expose yours here just like everyone else, and as much as it’s tempting to sympathise with Tom, he knows as well as the rest of us that it would be counterproductive.

    So we’ll just have to put up with your opinions until even you are embarrassed by them.

  9. gomango 9

    Snoozer says

    Basically, he says it beggars belief that National wants to convert the ETS into a meaningless exercise that migght actually result in emissions going up, we’ll be laughed out of the room at Cogenhagen.

    Would that be the Americans, the Chinese, the Indians, the Russians, the East European countries, the Canadians (oil shale production!), the French or the Germans laughing at us?

    All of whom have exactly zero moral high ground when it comes to ETS. The only way to moderate the behaviour of carbon emitters is by a tax on carbon emissions – cap and trade won’t work because everyone – even the most fervent proponents(except NZ) – will rort the system. Who doesnt believe Russia isn’t capable of creating credits out of thin air with dodgy stats gathering? I can see how it works now – the EU accuses the Russians of fudging their data, the Russians say “bullsht, back down or we’ll turn the gas supplies off.” EU backs down and says “sorry we were wrong to doubt your integrity around economic statistics gathering”.

    Germany and France negotiated all manner of exemptions for their heavy industry on the back of “employment considerations”. Why was the baseline year chosen — because it was the most favourable point in time for Europe and recently emerging from communism eastern europe. The scheme is a farce, but will rebuild investment banking profits quite nicely, as a shareholder I’m all for that.

    How about some realpolitik here around ETS – why should we commit to a flawed scheme just because it helps us feel good that we are doing something (anything) about global warming, even if that course of action demonstrably won’t have the intended impact. And as to the cries of “we need to be a beacon for the world” – again I can see how that plays out – NZ publicly gets fulsome praise about our “strong and principled stand on reducing emissions blah blah blah” while the French etc privately laugh and rub their hands with glee at the negative subsidy on agricultural exports from NZ.

  10. Tom Semmens 10

    Just because you have an opinion doesn’t give you an automatic right to have aired exhaustively. The denial cultists have had more than a fair hearing – so it isn’t a free speech issue.

    I liken it to acting like the person who edits the “letters to the editor” section of the paper. Nutters who write to the paper every second day about some bizarre conspiracy theory to poison us all with something in the water supply don’t get into the paper just because they wrote a letter, put a stamp on the envelope and posted it.

    Their letters just end up in the bin, unread.

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