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Doing nothing in the face of climate change crisis

Written By: - Date published: 1:50 pm, November 22nd, 2010 - 21 comments
Categories: climate change, sustainability - Tags:

The Commissioner for the Environment says New Zealand’s greenhouse emissions will be 26% above 1990 levels in 2020, compared to the Nats’ promise to cut them by 10-20% – leaving us with a $1b bill. Worse, the IEA shows that even if we and other countries meet our promised cuts its only half of what’s needed to avert disaster.

At Copenhagen last year, John Key committed to a target of reducing New Zealand’s greenhouse emissions by 10-20%. Of course, this hasn’t been followed by any policy to meet the promise (what does Key care about 2020? You know he’ll be long gone from NZ by then, kicking up his heels in Hawaii). In fact, all National has done is weaken the already pathetic steps that were in place to limit greenhouse emissions. They gutted the ETS and now there’s every signal that they’ll make it even more useless by not including agriculture in it.

Jan Wright, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, says that, far from falling 10-20% in the next decade, emissions will rise 26% (would be interesting to know if she incorporated peak oil into those calculations). The difference between National’s promises and what they’re actually putting us on track to achieve will probably have to be paid for by us purchasing carbon credits from countries that have not only kept their promises but exceeded them. The bill could be $1 billion.

The International Energy Agency put out their annual World Energy Outlook the other week. It gives three scenarios:
‘current policies’,
‘new policies’ (the emission reduction promises countries have made, not actual policies),
and the ‘450 scenario’, which is what is necessary to keep carbon dioxide levels below 450 parts per million. This level that would, hopefully, keep warming below two degrees and avoid catastrophic ‘run-away’ warming.

The ‘new policies’ scenario is only half of what is needed to achieve the 450 goal. The IEA estimates that the weakness of the countries’ greenhouse reduction policies has already increased the cost of preventing climate disaster by a trillion dollars.

With governments that won’t even promise to do enough to avert run-away climate change, let alone put the necessary policies in place, I guess we’ll have to hope that peak oil (and peak coal) make it too expensive to burn so much fossil fuel. Some hope that is: that the global economy will be forced to shrink to an extent where its energy needs aren’t going to destroy the climate. The problem is that the oil industry is committed to even more dirty methods to replace falling conventional oil production, like Solid Energy’s crazy ‘lignite to liquids’ plan.

What we need is the vision and commitment to transfer our energy base away from fossil fuels – now – so that we can get the energy we need without destroying our future.

21 comments on “Doing nothing in the face of climate change crisis”

  1. Lanthanide 1

    “The difference between National’s promises and what they’re actually putting us on track to achieve will probably have to be paid for by us purchasing carbon credits from countries that have not only kept their promises but exceeded them. The bill could be $1 billion.”

    What happens if there aren’t any other countries that actually kept and bet their promises? What if there aren’t enough carbon credits to go around? Presumably the price of the credits that do exist rises stratospherically and we can’t afford them anyway. What then?

    If the price was stupidly high, then no other countries would buy them either. So the whole system would probably collapse.

    captcha: fears

    • Bill 1.1

      Using market mechanisms to cure a problem caused by market mechanisms is…what’s the word?

    • Bright Red 1.2

      yeah, at a certain price countries will just stop playing the game.

      And it is a voluntary game. carbon credits only exist because countries all decide to imagine they do. If the cost of that becomes too high buyers will opt out and the value to sellers will also disappear.

      A global carbon tax, collected on emissions, with a sinking cap, and re-distributed on a per capita basis would be the fair way to do it. But which country, outside Europe and the poor countries, would sign up to that?

      and sovereign nations could opt out of that too, unless it was too economically and politically costly to do so.

      • Lanthanide 1.2.1

        The converse is also true. If all countries meet and beat their targets, there will be a huge stack of credits sitting around with no buyers. Obviously the world will be better off because this will mean less carbon going into the air, but at the same time it means all of the businesses and individuals that invested in new technology, expecting to reap a reward from the credits, will be out of pocket.

        Essentially this means that a carbon trading system is *designed* not to meet it’s targets, otherwise it doesn’t work.

        • Bright Red

          ideally, the cap is set at a level that decreases each year to get emissions to a safe level. Not happening though.

      • KJT 1.2.2

        ETS is just another gambling forum for the money men. We should be taxing emissions and investing in solutions.

  2. Bored 2

    I just love this fixation with the $ cost and who will pay it.

    If we were to put it another way perhaps we would get the right answer and actions. Like “If you dont pay for this the end result will be that you, your family and everything will else will die out. Is that what you want? Will you write the cheque now”?

  3. vto 3

    “The Commissioner for the Environment says New Zealand’s greenhouse emissions will be 26% above 1990 levels in 2020, compared to the Nats’ promise to cut them by 10-20% ”

    Proof, as if anymore is required, that politicians very simply tell blatant outrageous lies. Total bullshit artists.

    Like Clark trying to credibly claim that labour would take NZ to the top half of the OECD.

    Like Key trying to credibly claim that national would close the income gap with Australia.

    Seriously, they simply cannot believe such bullshit themselves yet they keep saying this stuff. For this reason alone I do not like them one little bit.

    And on another similar vein, I loathe how people in control of govt commit other people not in govt to paying for shit the people in govt do. Like pay for the fiscal mistakes that people in govt commit govts to. Why should I be subjected to such? The power rests in all the wrong places.

  4. Jono 4

    This is a really, really good link on the nat-amended ETS (not that it was great to begin with)


    Of note:

    Between 2008-2012, we will be paying farmers over a billion dollars in subsidies.
    Our kyoto debt will be between $1.6-10 billion during this time
    Households, responsible for only 19% of emissions, will pay over 50% of the bill. 90% of the bill will be paid for by those responsible for 30% of emissions. Farmers will pay 2%.

    During this time, our emissions will reduce from business as usual, not 1990, by…wait for it… 0.7%

    Can’t believe they manage to defend this with a straight face. It’s just shameful (and a colossal waste of money)

    • Lanthanide 4.1

      I’ve not really understood this whole “making households pay for emissions they didn’t create” shtick.

      The final consumer always pays in the end, because the companies will increase the price of their products in order to recoup their loss.

      • wtl 4.1.1

        Not if their products are exported overseas but the NZ households have to foot the bill for the farmers’ emissions. Not to mention the fact the whole point of a market-based solution is provide a disincentive for certain products/practices thereby providing an incentive to switch to low-carbon alternatives. It doesn’t work if high emission activities are being subsidised.

        • Lanthanide

          Hmmm, both good points. I get it now:
          1. Exported food would be more expensive if the producer paid it, therefore the customers in other countries would be paying the extra, instead of taxpayers in NZ.
          2. If producers have their bottom line made weaker due to high carbon costs, they will invest and act to reduce their carbon costs, thus improving their profit and allowing them to undercut the competition. If the taxpayers just give them a bunch of money, there’s no incentive to improve.

          So in #1 we’re paying extra money we otherwise wouldn’t, and in #2 we’re paying the same amount of money (or, in the long term, more) but not actually getting any reduced emissions for the $$ spent.

          Right, well that clearly outlines National’s scam for me, thanks.

  5. erentz 5

    Implementing a carbon tax would be so painless for a country like NZ. I’m still amazed that we almost had it back in 2005 before it was killed (I’m not sure why). It’s absurd that instead of this, the public has been sold on a complex and meaningless ETS. Simply tax fossil fuels at source. No exemptions. Keep it simple so everyone understands it and it remains transparent and free from corruption by lobby groups.

    To alleviate concerns amongst the unwashed about the government stealing their money through more taxes, simply give the money back through a dividend. It will still achieve the same outcome. Even better, make the dividend a kiwisaver contribution to grow the country’s savings.

    Another thing that would be so easy is to rebalance transport spending. Steven Joyce’s Think Big projects are economic vandalism. Politicians need to be remove the decision making process when it comes to transport (that goes for labour politicians too, they did bugger all to rebalance things during their term). Let Govt decide to either fund transport more or less, but how the money is spent should be up to the residents of that district in conjunction with transport and urban planning exports. Roll OnTrack into NZTA and spruce it up with people who are able to think about transport holistically, not just singularly focussed on laying as much pavement as possible.

  6. MrSmith 6

    I suggest we wait and do nothing in the mean time, Oh shit sorry we are already doing that, well how about stocking up on guns and ammunition then as there is some hard rain gonna fall kids.

  7. Would be good if Labour released its emissions reductions climate targets soon. Here are some comments on Labour and environmental policy etc from a recent ecological economics conference in Wellington:

    ‘David Cunliffe offers personal observations from the Greens’ economic conference, on how to do good — “to do good, first we must win”

    (from David’s talk @ the ecological economics conf)

    Looking forward, though, Cunliffe says, blandly, that “Labour is keen to achieve sustainability by exploring solutions that are clean, green and clever. We want to find the win-wins …” and “we are convinced of the need to move to a low carbon clean tech economy,” the challenge being how to get there with minimum disruption.

    But, he also says that “The Labour Party now recognises that the neo-liberal economic model cannot provide the basis for navigating the economic, environmental and social challenges of our times.”

    And, “We must live within the capacity of the Earth to support us. … The Earth is not just there for human utility.”

    And, “If the situation is as serious as we think, we must do the hard yards to back out of this corner … We have to ask the hard questions; ask what policies are available to get us from a collision course with nature to a future that is both more just and more sustainable.”

    Those ideas, if fleshed out and taken up by the party, would be a fundamental change.

    He says that for Labour, the environment is not an extra cost but an integral part of thinking about the economy.

    • Jenny 7.1

      Great stuff C.J., this is good news.

      I am glad that David Cunliffe has confirmed, that the Labour Party is “convinced of the need to move to a low carbon clean tech economy,”

      Like you I agree that, David’s ideas, “if fleshed out and taken up by the party, would be a fundamental change.”

      I would also like to add to your comments, by saying, it will not be an easy change for the Labour Party to make, and will take a lot of courage. Big business and their neo-liberal political hacks will be screaming.

      It would be a very principled and courageous stand for the Labour Party to make.

      They would certainly get my vote.

      I hope they release their detailed plans soon.

      Keep us posted.

      If the situation is as serious as we think, we must do the hard yards to back out of this corner … We have to ask the hard questions; ask what policies are available to get us from a collision course with nature to a future that is both more just and more sustainable.

      David Cunliffe

  8. Jenny 8

    Sensitivity over the Pike River disaster has been cited as the reason for delaying the release of a government report, entitled “Lignite and climate change: The high cost of low grade coal”, which was scheduled to be released by midday today.

  9. randal 9

    the nats dont care.
    they have always been resource rapers and robber barons at heart.
    when the shit hits the fan this lot will be dead and they wont have to worry!

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