Far away from the media circus that surrounds the Internet Mana Party coalition the Greens have made a useful contribution to the debate on what should be New Zealand’s response to climate change. The proposals are:
A goal of net carbon neutrality by 2050.
The establishment of an independent Climate Commission to provide expert and independent advice to the government on carbon prices, carbon budgets, and complementary measures to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
The phasing out of the failed Emissions Trading Scheme and an initial price on carbon of $25 per tonne on CO2 equivalent emissions for all sectors except agriculture. Dairy emissions will pay $12.50 per tonne. Forestry will be credited at $12.50 per tonne.
The recycling of all revenue raised from a carbon charge back to families and businesses through a $2000 income tax-free band and a one percent company tax cut.
A suite of complementary measures to support the rapid transition to a carbon neutral economy.
The proposed carbon tax is not a new idea. It was Labour’s preferred policy response to climate change in 2005 and the ETS was only agreed to after New Zealand First blocked implementation of a carbon tax after the election. In Australia it was the Labor Party’s selected means of dealing with CO2 emissions.
The difference between a carbon tax and an ETS is, very simplistically, that a carbon tax requires a centrally designated price to be set for the emission of a greenhouse gas whereas an ETS sets an acceptable level of output of GHGs and then lets a created market decide what that price should be. The theory is that an ETS is able to respond rapidly to supply and demand pressures and reward activities that absorb greenhouse gasses. One of the major problems is with the quality of certification and the handling of large numbers of credits which the former Soviet Union nations amassed following the demise of their heavy industry.
The policy is brave and will be attacked on the basis that there will be a cost to ordinary New Zealanders. And no doubt the relatively minute nature of New Zealand’s emissions will be raised as justification for us to do nothing.
But as Russel Norman said (h/t Parsupial)
We cannot expect other bigger countries to reduce emissions if we are not doing so ourselves. Especially when many of those countries are poorer than us. On the other hand, by demonstrating that a transition to a clean economy is both possible and rewarding, we can help spur global action. We are a can-do country. We are not the kind of people who expect others to do the heavy lifting while we sit back. So why sit back on climate change?
National’s initial response has been typical. Stephen Joyce jumped onto twitter and claimed that as New Zealand’s carbon intensity has been dropping during National’s reign all is fine. But Keith Ng has elegantly deconstructed Joyce’s claims in a number of tweets which showed how inane Joyce’s claims are.
It is noticeable that Joyce has ignored the predicted doubling of greenhouse gas emissions. Instead he has focussed much more narrowly on carbon intensity which essentially is a different measure.
The tweets contain a treasure trove of information which establish conclusively that Joyce does not know what he was talking about.
The first matter that Ng raised was that energy emissions (not agriculture) have decreased since 2008. The information is contained in the MFE’s publication New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990–2011 and Net Position – Snapshot April 2013. The report notes that there are are a number of reasons for the decrease in energy emissions since 2008. These include:
So unless Joyce agrees that National is responsible for the commissioning of the Huntly gas turbine (initiated under Labour in 2007), the Christchurch earthquake, the GFC and the Pike River disaster then National deserves no credit for reductions.
Ng also pointed out that GHG intensity has been declining since the early 1990s, is a feature of the growth of the service sector, had little to do with the ETS and it is irrelevant. The amount of GHG being produced is the problem, not the intensity compared to industrial output.
And the contention ignores methane production. I presume that Joyce will dispute that cow farts are causing climate change.
The proposed reduction in tax rates as compensation for anticipated price increases is interesting. I suspect that everyone except for heavy polluters, farmers and climate change deniers will give the whole package some consideration.
Some are criticising Labour for not having a response to the policy. I personally think some careful consideration is required before any formal comment is offered.
Having said this it is good to get away from personalities and back to policy discussions. This is where the left excels and the right is weak.