23 January 2010

The seventy percent fossil fooled country

Quite often I hear politicians or journalists say that New Zealand can't really be expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels as 70% of our energy is renewable, due mainly to our hydro power schemes.

A typical recent example was business journalist Fran O'Sullivan, writing in the New Zealand Herald on December 9, 2009.

O'Sullivan wrote this about NZ's positioning on climate change prior to the UNFCCC summit at Copenhagen.
"Where the Government negotiators will focus is on getting across New Zealand's position...the fact that 70 per cent of energy is renewable leaves little room for gains on that score"

The trouble is this 'truism' is not only a bad reason for not reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it is also factually incorrect. As the barchart above shows, renewable energy including Hydro power supplies 30% of New Zealand's energy supply. Fossil fuels supply 70%.

So, I sent Fran an email.
"Fran, You state; "Where the Government negotiators will focus is [in respect of climate change negotiations] on getting across New Zealand's position...the fact that 70 per cent of energy is renewable leaves little room for gains on that score, and that agriculture makes up 50 per cent of emissions." I think you are confusing electricity generation with NZ's gross energy supply. Only 30 percent of NZ's gross energy supply is renewable. Refer to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_New_Zealand and the Ministry of Economic Development 2009 energy figures. Kind regards"

Fran replied the same morning "Yes you are right. Real oversight on my behalf will get it corrected on website".

As I write this, six weeks later, the '70%-renewable' statement is still on the NZ Herald website. We seem doomed to be seventy percent fossil fooled for a while longer.

The source of the data for the barplot is the Ministry of Economic Development 2009 Energy File. I created the barplot with the R programme.

The commands were:

engy<-c(83.1, 280.8,159.9,80.3,113.2,47.4, 1.2)

names(engy)<-c('Coal','Oil','Gas','Hydro', 'Geothermal', 'Other renewable', 'Waste')

cols <-c("brown4","green","green","brown4", "green", "brown4", "brown4")

png(file="NZ_Energy4.png",pointsize=14, width=650, height=550)

par(mar=c(6,9,6,2)+0.1,cex.main=1.5, cex.lab=1.2)

barplot(sort(engy),horiz=T,las=1,xlim=c(0,300), border=1, space=0.8, col=cols)

legend(165,4,c("Non-renewable 69%","Renewable 31%"),lty =1,lwd=4, col= c("brown4", "green"))

title(main="New Zealand Primary Energy Supply 2008", xlab= "Gross Petajoules")

mtext(side=3,line=0.25,"Source: Ministry of Economic Development")


I have uploaded two versions to the Wikimedia Commons website; an SVG chart and a PNG chart.

09 January 2010

More on The Story of The New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme

This post will also appear on the Project Rameka blog. It includes the Story of Cap and Trade video again.

My friends Jonathan Kennett and Bronwen Wall set up 'Project Rameka', a carbon sink project near Takaka. I am one of the trustees of this project.

The three of us are climate-change junkies and we have been going to some talks about climate change hosted by Victoria University of Wellington. Jonathan has posted on a talk by NIWA's main climate scientist David Wratt and on a talk about sea level rise and the Antarctic Andrill ice-core drilling project. Usually, we grab something to eat afterwards, and have a yarn about what we thought of the talk.

One talk I went to by myself was about the NZ emissions trading scheme. I caught up with Bronwen and Jonathan soon afterwards and filled them in on the talk. They both thought I should post on the Project Rameka blog about the NZ emissions trading scheme (or "ETS" for short), as it has implications for the carbon credits that Project Rameka, as a carbon sink, will be eligible to receive.

Also, shortly afterwards, Climate Issues Minister Nick Smith rammed through some major changes to the 2008 Labour version of the ETS, in a big rush so New Zealand would look like a country with a good climate change policy at the UN climate summit at Copenhagen. Yeah, right!

I have been trying to write that post for a while now. It's a massively complex scheme and I had been struggling to come up with something readable about it. Jonathan has said, correctly of course, that it's got to be short and easy to read, each post no longer than about 500 words, and not too technical. 'Mission impossible', I thought, then I joked to Jonathan: "What say I sum it up in a cartoon?"

But, joking aside, I found a video about emissions trading! That's got to be easier to take in than reading some jargon-heavy blurb about economics and climate change! Here it is!

The video is called The Story of Cap and Trade from Annie Leonard who was behind the Story of Stuff viral video.

'The Story of Cap and Trade' gives us a nice simple definition of an emissions trading scheme.

  1. There has to be an annual limit on carbon emissions, a 'Cap'.

  2. The 'Cap' is the total number of 'permits to pollute' or emissions permits.

  3. The 'Cap', and obviously the number of permits, declines over time.

  4. Within the 'Cap', innovative companies that reduce their emissions can sell permits to other companies, the 'Trade'.

Annie Leonard says 'we get rich and we save the planet! What's not to like'.

But, seriously, Annie Leonard says there are several pretty major things not to like

about emissions trading:

  1. Free 'giveaways' of permits to the polluters (which undermines the price incentive not to emit).

  2. Offsetting - polluters may buy unverified permits that do not represent valid emissions reductions, so emissions don't reduce.

  3. Climate injustice to less-developed countries, where many 'offset' projects are set up.

  4. The lack of internationally agreed Caps.

  5. 'Cap and Trade' is a distraction from real policies that reduce emissions, and is really about maintaining 'business as usual'.

There is also a 'Story of Cap and Trade' annotated referenced script (PDF), and a FAQ.

What do you think of the video? I think it's great explanation of a hard topic.