19 December 2012

New Zealand's double dealing and special pleading over the Kyoto Protocol second period and the Doha hooha Part 1

Is Tim Groser a Kyoto pariah? Or a Kyoto visonary? A global emissions reduction emissary or is he tar-sanded with a Canadian brush? I try to make sense of New Zealand's double dealing and special pleading over the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period and the Doha climate change talks hooha.

I am very confused about New Zealand's climate change policy since the Doha international climate change talks (COP18) and New Zealand opting out of a second period of the Kyoto Protocol back on 9 November 2012.

The Kyoto part two opt-out is described as a lose-lose decision that shuts New Zealand out of the Kyoto international carbon markets and is a shambles and a disgrace.

So I have a question for all Hot-topic readers.

If Minister of Climate Change Tim Groser is serious about New Zealand's 2020 greenhouse gas target, why would he forego formally lodging the 2020 target into the existing Kyoto Protocol framework (where the national institutions and arrangements are already up and running), in favour of pledging to meet the target on a voluntary basis?

Let me break that question down into several parts.

  1. Imagine you are the Minister for Climate Change in the government of a small developed nation.
  2. This nation has signed an international treaty with a few other nations which states a short-term national target for emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs).
  3. This nation enacts the treaty by creating some new institutions; a national register for emissions units, national inventories of GHG emissions, national surveys of afforestation, and public servants to report the predicted progress towards the national target.
  4. The nation has adopted several policies relying on the treaty institutions; an emissions trading scheme, forest sink schemes, research alliances, and international trading of emissions units.
  5. The nation has a second publicly stated medium-term target for GHGs for the years following the expiry of the first target.

If you are serious about that second GHG target, why would you pledge the target on a voluntary basis, when you could have formally lodged your target into the existing treaty (where the national institutions and arrangements already exist)?

Any answers? Anyone? Would you like to phone a friend?

Okay, here's a hint. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has said that we are on track to exceed the 1990 GHGs baseline by 30% rather than meet the 2020 target of reducing GHGs by 10 to 20% compared to 1990.

Figure 3.2 from page 18 of Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, “Lignite and climate change: The high cost of low grade coal”, December 2010. Data from MfE 2009. Fifth national communication under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Ministry for the Environment, Wellington.

Now just because New Zealand's net emissions are likely to consistently increase through to 2020 doesn't automatically mean New Zealand would not meet the 2020 target if translated into a Kyoto second commitment period target. We could just buy extra emissions units from the international Kyoto carbon markets.

That is, if there was a sensibly designed emissions trading scheme. Such a scheme would be 100% "emitter pays", with emitters making their own market-based decisions to either reduce emissions or to buy the emissions units. Well we certainly don't have that.

So my conclusion is that it is not just that Tim Groser has absolutely no intention doing anything domestically to achieve the 2020 target of a 10 to 20% reduction in GHGs. Groser and National also have absolutely no intention of imposing any real carbon price on New Zealand's industrial and agricultural emitters.

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