28 September 2015

The Burning Question debunks peak fossil fuels

I recently met a certain Green Party councillor of a nearby local council who said he thought New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions would decline by 10 percent in the next twelve months. The decline would be caused partly by restrictions on the availability of oil and gas and partly by the recent decline in the global whole milk powder prices.

I proposed a bet of one thousand dollars (to be given to a climate change project) that there would be no decline in either net or gross greenhouse gas emissions from 2015 to 2016, let alone a decline of 10 percent. In other words I was happy to bet against 'peak oil'. Because don't see how any one can claim to understand anthropogenic climate change as an issue and still hold the view that declining supply of liquid fossil fuels will damage the world's economies.

So I am very pleased to find this talk by Duncan Clark given at University College London on 2 July 2013 about the book The Burning Question co-authored with Mike Berners-Lee.

Their simple thesis is that the available proven reserves of oil gas and coal, that are already recognised as assets on the balance sheets of fossil-fuel companies, exceed a 'likely' carbon budget consistent with limiting average global warming to two degrees Celsius by 2100. And therefore the policy question is "how do we keep trillions of dollars of fossil fuels in the ground?"

The Guardian has a good review of The Burning Question.

24 September 2015

What is a Intended Nationally Determined Contribution?

Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) are outlines of the actions that countries intend to take to address climate change, submitted ahead of the December 2015 Paris UNFCCC negotiations (Source: The Road Through Paris).

This is explained in this short video.

The video is the creation of Climate Countdown,

who examine different facets of this complex issue and break it down into bite-sized bits

09 July 2015

Tim Groser and New Zealand's impersonation of a 2030 Climate Change Target

Gareth Renowden at Hot Topic covers the release of New Zealand's 2030 Climate Change Target.

I think we need to understand that this target, just like its predecessors, is a complete fiction. Groser and National have no intention of ever adopting any measure that will make NZ’s greenhouse gases deviate from continued ‘business as usual’ growth.

Note that the Ministry for the Environment's website says; “New Zealand will meet these responsibility targets through a mix of domestic emission reductions, the removal of carbon dioxide by forests and participation in international carbon markets.”

Brian Fallow says the MFE’s (dodgy) economic modelling assumes 80% of the “reduction” will be “met” by buying international carbon units. On that basis, they can then just repeat the Kyoto Gross-Net forest accounting fudge of saying the baseline is ‘gross’ or total emissions and that the target will be ‘net’ including credits for afforestation and reforestation. There we have it! Zero domestic reductions in emissions.

Note also the very conditional language in the INDC sent to the UNFCCC and in Groser’s press release.

The target is provisional and conditional on 1) access to carbon markets, 2) land use and forest rules NZ agrees with (presumably to keep the Kyoto Gross Net fudge), and 3) effective and affordable mitigation technology for agriculture.

On that basis, NZ might start to reduce domestic emissions but only if the rest of the world at the UNFCCC Paris December 2015 meeting bends over backwards to meet Tim Groser’s unattainable provisos.

Whatever approach Paris 2015 takes and whether it “succeeds” or not, the rules of whatever agreement, if there is one, will probably take several more years to thrash out. All of which enables NZ to claim the conditions haven’t been met, so no reductions. Even if some perfect rules appear, NZ can say “Sorry our little-battling-punching-above-its-weight Agricultural Research Centre still hasn’t given us affordable mitigation for pastoral agriculture.

This is real “heads we win, tails the atmosphere loses” approach.

07 June 2015

1.5 degrees Celsius or 2 degrees? Maybe it's turtles all the way down

In November and December later this year, the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC will meet in Paris and hopefully conclude an international treaty that will begin in 2020 and limit emissions of greenhouse gases enough to keep average warming of the planet to no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures.

A group of law students from Victoria University of Wellington are deconstructing the existing draft text of the proposed treaty.

The draft Paris text mentions a global temperature increase of 2 degrees C about 20 times. Sometimes followed by "or 1.5 degrees C", obviously an alternative. The usage is that these metrics are a "global temperature goal" (page 6). This is more obvious when set out in full: "holding the increase in global average temperature below 2 degrees C or 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels" (page 5).

So we can understand 1.5 degrees C and 2 degrees C as the quantitative measures of the undefined phrase 'dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system' from the UNFCCC.

The 2 degrees C limit has a long history. It was in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord and was agreed to in the 2010 Cancun Agreements. The New Zealand Government has endorsed the Copenhagen Accord and the the 2 degrees C limit.

So the 2 degrees C limit can be described as the de facto goal of climate policy, or possibly the central pillar of climate policy a bit like the myth of the World Turtle on which the world of climate policy rests. But more about turtles later.

The alternative 1.5 degrees C limit was proposed in July 2009 before the 2009 Copenhagen Summit by AOSIS, the coalition of 42 of the world’s most vulnerable small island states as they considered a 2 degrees C limit would exceed a safe threshhold for their survival and protection.

At the 2009 Copenhagen Summit, the AOSIS countries were joined by the mainly African Least Developed Countries bloc in rejecting the 2 degrees C limit in favour of a 1.5 degrees C limit. Tuvalu unsuccessfully proposed to amend the UNFCC treaty to include the 1.5 degrees C limit.

At the 2010 Cancun UNFCCC convention, more than 100 countries or 70% of the UNFCCC members, mainly Least Developed Countries and the AOSIS countries, renewed the call for the 1.5 degrees C limit The Cancun Agreement included a review of the 2 degrees C limit with a view to changing to 1.5 degrees C. Even the UNFCCC's Christiana Figueres supports the 1.5 C limit.

Consequently the 2012 Doha UNFCCC meeting set up a Structured Expert Dialogue. This involved a series of meetings or dialogues between UNFCCC diplomats and selected Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) authors. We will return to this 1.5 degrees C dialogue after a look at scientist's criticisms of the 2 degree C limit.

Climate scientists have disputed the scientific validity of the 2 degrees C limit. NASA's James Hansen says the 2 degrees C limit is not safe More specifically Hansen and co-authors said in a 2013 paper 'Cumulative emissions of 1000 GtC (billion tonnes carbon), sometimes associated with 2 degrees C global warming, would spur 'slow' feedbacks and eventual warming of 3 to 4 degrees C with disastrous consequences.'

In 2011, the Tyndall Center's Kevin Anderson gave a presentation called 'Going Beyond Dangerous Climate Change: Exploring the void between rhetoric and reality in reducing carbon emissions' (You-tube, audio, slides).

Anderson said the science behind the 2 degrees C limit was now a decade out of date and that 1 degrees C was the new 2 degrees C in terms of a boundary with 'dangerous' impacts. Anderson criticised his fellow climate scientists for giving a 'rose-tinted' framing of emissions pathways that were compatible with continued growth of GDP and the 2 degrees C limit.

More disturbingly, Anderson said the 2 degrees C limit didn't really matter any more as all realistic emissions pathways were now pointing to a 4 degrees C rise in average global temperature by 2100. See also this summary by David Roberts of Grist.

If a 4 degrees C rise in average global temperature was a taboo subject for a while Anderson shattered that idea by organising a 4 degrees C conference and a '4 degrees and beyond' edition of the Royal Society's journal Philosophical Transactions.

In 2012, Anderson gave the Cabot Institute Annual Lecture where he noted that almost all the current low emissions pathways compatible with the 2 degrees C limit included 'negative emissions' and bio-energy carbon capture and storage (BECCS).

Anderson said that these unproven geo-engineering technologies amounted to a 'Harry Potter magic wand' and that therefore most climate scientists were soft-selling the real difficulty of reducing greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to avoid 2 degrees C of warming.

As we know, in 2013 and 2014 the three working reports of the Fifth Assessment Report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)) were published. These reports included a new set of global emissions reduction pathways, the representative concentration pathways (RCPs). There were only four pathways ranging from a (more or less) 'business as usual' scenario (4 to 6 degrees C by 2100) and down to the 'crash mitigation' pathway, Representative Concentration Pathway 2.6. That pathway is the only one consistent with the 2 degrees C limit.

The defined pathways have been replicated (repeatedly simulated) by different climate modelling groups on different climate models in order to provide likely outcomes (warming) expressed as probabilities. You know, median warming, warming between 90% confidence intervals or warming of no more than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial temperatures with a probability of 67%. It is these modelling exercises that are behind the IPCC's 1000 billion tonne carbon budget consistent with a 66% probability of staying within 2 degrees C of warming.

In the median RCP 2.6 scenario, GHG emissions from the world's energy system must become negative after 2070. Meaning that the world's energy system, currently some 35% of annual emissions, must operate so that it sequesters more carbon dioxide than it emits.

This means a massive world-wide roll-out of bio-energy carbon capture and storage - thermal biomass power plants allied with faultless carbon dioxide capture and storage in geological formations. The IPCC fifth assessment report included some 116 emissions pathways consistent with keeping warming below two degrees C. Almost all, 101 of 116 scenarios, rely on negative emissions after 2050.

A recent paper in the journal 'Nature' Betting on negative emissions, concluded that the IPCC was betting on unproven technology in relying so much on bio-energy with carbon capture and storage. At this point I must say I am starting to worry about the turtles supporting the pillar of climate change policy. One of the authors of that paper Glen Peters argues that only in computer models will negative emissions limit global warming to two degrees C.

So where does this depressing news leave the UNFCCC's review of the 2 degrees C limit? The Structured Expert Dialogue wrapped up only last month on 11 May 2015 in a 182 page report. Which I wouldn't download. A ten-page summary by Climate Analytics tells us that the expert dialogue report agrees with island states and the less developed countries that that 2 degree C is too high and that the 1.5 degree C goal would reduce risks.

A final pertinent point is made by one of the SED IPCC authors Petra Tschakert that

"a single-index of climate change risk inadequately capture(s)) the complexity of the climate system, it also poorly reflects locally experienced temperature increases and extremes and hence the large variation across regions and continents. No single person or any single species faces a global average."

Perhaps we can take heart from another recent paper in 'Nature', Energy system transformations for limiting end-of-century warming to below 1.5 degrees C that examines the technological feasibility of holding global warming to 1.5 degrees C. The paper concludes that yes 1.5 degrees C is feasible. It just needs a further halving of the already tight 21st century carbon budget and for negative emissions to be achieved some 10 to 20 years earlier than for the 2 degrees C scenarios.

Roll on the BECCS. Roll on some more turtles. If negative emissions and BECCS represent emissions reductions policy resting on a supportive mythical turtle then the claim of feasibility for holding warming to 1.5 degrees C is Turtles all the way down.

19 April 2015

Is it ‘doing our fair share’ to use creative accounting to meet the 2020 climate change target?

Simon Johnson (aka MrFebruary) looks at how the National Government intends to use creative carbon accounting to ensure that New Zealand meets it’s 2020 climate change target (a five percent reduction) in spite of a projected trend of increasing emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) to 2020.

On 10 April 2015, when he was releasing the latest inventory of greenhouse gases, the Minister for Climate Change Issues Tim Groser made this very confident statement about the NZ 2020 climate change target; “We’re well on track to meet our 2020 target"

That target is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to five per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

When this was announced in 2013 the ambition (-5%) of the target was criticised as useless, pathetic and inadequate.

The five percent reduction stands in stark contrast to the Ministry for the Environments projections of increasing emissions out to 2020. The Ministry estimates that the increase in gross (total) emissions in 2020 will be 29% above the 1990 baseline (from 60 to 77 million tonnes) and the increase in net emissions (gross less any increase in the stock of carbon stored in forests) to 2020 will be 130% (from 33 to 75 million tonnes). So why is Tim Groser so confident that the target will be achieved?

Simon Terry of the Sustainability Council has commented on the ‘kicking the can down the road’ features of the Government’s climate change policies: the mismatch between the emissions target and the predicted emissions, the absence of a credible plan or carbon budget approach and the deferring of liabilities into the future.

Taking Simon Terry’s work as a starting point, I am going to look at how the Government intends to apply the accounting rules for carbon credits to achieve the 2020 target in spite of the likely predicted increase in gross and net greenhouse gas emissions.

So how is NZ going to reduce emissions by five percent by 2020?

In December 2014, at the Lima, Peru, climate change conference, NZ climate ambassador Jo Tyndall was asked that specific question. Her answer was that NZ had four ways of achieving the 2020 target;

  1. through a combination of domestic emissions reductions,
  2. removal of carbon dioxide by forests,
  3. participation in international carbon markets and,
  4. recognising surplus achieved during the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

Domestic emissions reductions are unlikely. In 2013, Tim Groser told the Herald that his "strong advice" from officials was that the 2020 target could be met without any changes to settings of the NZ emissions trading scheme (ETS). The relevant Cabinet Paper for the 2020 target also states that the 2020 target can be met without changing policies or ETS costs. In other words, the NZ ETS will remain in its current induced coma, and stay ineffective in reducing domestic emissions.

NZ can’t meet the target by buying carbon credits from international carbon markets as access was blocked at the Doha meeting because we didn’t sign up to a formal Kyoto Protocol second commitment period target.

That leaves two ways of meeting the 2020 target; removal of carbon dioxide by forests, and recognising surplus units from the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. I will look at the removal of carbon dioxide by forests next.

Forest carbon and Kyoto gross-net carbon accounting

By saying “removal of carbon dioxide by forests”, politicians and officials actually mean that carbon credits will be accounted for using the Kyoto Protocol’s gross-net forest carbon accounting rule. This sounds innocuous, if a bit sleep-inducing. It is in fact a method of creative accounting that NZ has already relied on to meet the 2008-2012 Kyoto first commitment period target.

The 'baseline’, 1990 emissions, is “gross” - the sum of all emissions without subtracting any “credit” for carbon absorbed into sinks such as growing forests and land use changes. The target (2008 to 2012) emissions are “net", as credits for carbon absorbed in growing forests are recognised and are subtracted from the gross emissions. This is called gross-net accounting. This makes the comparison between baseline and target inconsistent - it is not an “apples with apples” comparison.

I have blogged on this before but Professor Martin Manning, an IPCC author and formerly of the Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University of Wellington, explained it better in 2012.

..achieving the Kyoto Protocol target can be quite misleading because it compares net emissions over the first commitment period, 2008 – 2012, with the gross emissions in 1990. If one compares the net emissions in 2012 with those for 1990, then the increase in NZ has actually been more than 100%.

The National Government intends to repeat this gross net accounting for the 2013 to 2020 target. As long as forest growth exceeds deforestation, this will allow both net and gross emissions to increase up to the quantity of carbon absorbed in forests that was ignored in the 1990 baseline.

The Climate Action Tracker website thinks the credit for carbon absorbed in forests could be up to 25 million tonnes CO2e a year and the ‘recognition’ (under Kyoto rules) of all the units would allow NZ gross emissions to increase up to 35% above the 1990 baseline.

Surplus Kyoto units from first Commitment Period 2008 - 2012

Jo Tyndall’s final method of achieving the 2020 target is to recognise surplus units from the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. According to the latest Ministry for the Environment’s net position statement for the Kyoto Protocol, NZ will finish the first commitment period (2008-2012) with a surplus of 90.8 million units.

Even though NZ has no formal 2013-2020 Kyoto ‘commitment’, NZ intends to ‘carry over’ millions of these surplus Kyoto units to the 2013-2020 period in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol rules.

The carry-over rules are of course complicated, but I calculate that NZ will be able to ‘carry over’ almost all of them - 86 million units of the various types of units (see final paragraph - Appendix ‘Carry-over’ of Kyoto first period units).

What’s wrong with having a surplus of units? An effective emissions trading scheme with a real cap would never have surplus units. Units would be scarce and realistically priced. A surplus of units is of itself evidence of a failed implementation of cap and trade frameworks such as Kyoto and the EU ETS.

A surplus of units is one consequence of emissions trading with no cap, unlimited access to international carbon markets and over-allocation of units to industry and a rock-bottom unit price. Which is exactly what we have had with the NZ ETS.

We need to remind ourselves why NZ has a surplus of units for the Kyoto Protocol first period. Although net and gross emissions increased, NZ gained surplus units by using the gross-net forest carbon accounting rule and allowing the nearly unlimited import of low-priced international units with dubious integrity which were surrendered by ETS participants to match their emissions.

According to Climate Analytics, internationally, the Kyoto first commitment period ended with 14 billion surplus units; enough to allow all the signatory countries to “comply” with their 2020 targets without restricting business as usual emissions growth.

And this is exactly what the Government intends to do.

Each Kyoto unit carried forward will be counted towards NZ’s 2020 target and will allow an additional tonne of domestic GHG emissions above the 1990 baseline.

Similarly, each carbon credit recognised for carbon absorbed in forests between 2013 and 20120 will be counted towards NZ’s 2020 target and will allow an additional tonne of domestic GHG emissions above the 1990 baseline.


Our politicians and bureaucrats could have focused on policies to reduce domestic emissions to meet the 2020 target. Achieving the 2020 target won’t be an outcome of policies to reduce emissions. Like fixing the emissions trading system. It will be an outcome of the accounting rules chosen for the carbon credits the Government can hold. That’s called creative accounting.

Appendix “Carry-over” of Kyoto first period units

The Kyoto Protocol has “carry-over” rules for unused units at the end of the 2008 - 2012 first commitment period. Some surplus units may be 'carried over’ to the second commitment period and then be used to comply with a country’s official commitment. Although NZ has not taken up a Kyoto second period commitment, NZ none the less intends to mimic the application of Kyoto rules designed to carry over surplus units from CP1 to CP2.

NZ will have a surplus of 91million units after transferring 378 million units to a cancellation account for the 378 million tonnes of emissions between 2008 and 2012.

There are limits on which and how many units can be “carried over”. All assigned amount units (AAUs) can be carried over; forest removal units (RMUs) cannot be carried over, carry-over of Certified Emission Reduction units(CERS) and Emission Reduction Units(ERUs) are limited to 2.5% of NZ’s initial assigned amount or 7.7 million each. See the UNFCCC Reference Manual

The Government will probably prefer to retire units that cannot be carried over in order to maximise the number it may carry forward.

On that basis, all 72 million RMUs will be cancelled, 37.3 millions CERs and 37.3 million ERUs will be cancelled, leaving 7.7 million each of CERs and ERUs carried forward. Then 231.4 AAUs need to be cancelled to make up to 378 million units.

The total carried over will be 86 million units composed of 7.7 million CERs, 7.7 million ERUs and 70.6 AAUs.

16 March 2015

Does the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme affect retail petrol prices?

Of course, my title asks the wrong question. The more policy relevant question is "How much does the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme affect retail petrol prices?

The Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment has a page on weekly oil price monitoring and some week by week data on petrol prices. I made a R chart from that data.
Click on the image for a decent sized graphic.

The NZETS component of the NZ retail price of petrol pretty much just hugs the zero point on the vertical axis.

A note lower down the web page states "The costs associated with the ETS are provided by Hale & Twomey based on the prevailing carbon price from the New Zealand Carbon Market". So we need to note that this data is an estimate.

Over the four and a half years of the NZETS, the estimated NZETS component has ranged from a maximum of 2.4 cents per litre from late 2010 to June 2011 to a minimum of half a cent from July 2013 to December 2014.

As far back as 2007, the Labour Government predicted that petrol prices may rise up to 4 cents a litre possibly based on carbon price of $25 per tonne. From memory, the early 2011 price for a NZ unit was about $21 a tonne.

Wikimedia Commons has the R script I wrote for the chart (except it's a .svg file, not a .png).

10 September 2014

Labour's climate change policy - Something borrowed something blue something old not much new

As I was saying in my previous post Labour do have a seven page climate change policy that is at first look pretty comprehensive.

Labour will

  • begin the transition to a low carbon clean energy economy
  • set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets and plans to achieve them
  • set up an independent climate change commission
  • will implement a comprehensive risk assessment framework in order to develop a comprehensive climate change response plan
  • establish a carbon budget process
  • achieve 90% renewable electricity generation target by 2025
  • reduce per capita domestic transport emissions 50% by 2040 from a base year of 2007
  • ensure that there is no retail carbon price gouging of consumers
  • manage the transition to ensure social justice particularly with respect to low income families
  • restore the carbon price to the NZETS (NZ Emissions Trading Scheme)
  • require emitters to cover at least half their emissions with NZ issued Units (not the cheap international 'hot air' units).
  • bring agriculture into the NZETS from 1 January 2016
  • give agriculture a free allocation of NZ units equal to 90% of 2007 production

Something borrowed

This really does appear to be a great list of policies. Interestingly, some of these policies have been borrowed from a variety of people.

The carbon budget idea is borrowed from the Sustainability Council back in 2011 and in 2012 and from Generation Zero's "Big Ask" Report of July 2014.

The independent climate commission idea is also borrowed from the Sustainability Council in 2012 and from Generation Zero's "Big Ask" Report of July 2014.

The comprehensive risk assessment framework and climate change response plan is borrowed from the Wise Group.

The policy requiring ETS emitters to use at least 50% NZ units is borrowed from the long-suffering carbon forest industry who in 2012 asked for limits on the amount of ultra cheap 'hot air' imported units that emitters can use to meet their ETS obligations.

Labour's policy also has a swipe at National for ignoring the foresters request to do something about the catastrophic decline in the NZ carbon price.

"Also, National sat on its hands as an influx of cheap, imported, international emission units collapsed the price of NZUs.

So, Labour's fix for the price collapse is to;

"..restrict international units by requiring at least 50% of all units surrendered to meet obligations under the ETS to be NZUs (on an ongoing basis).

The problem with this measure is that it won't work. It won't stop the cheap dumpster diver international units holding down the NZ unit price. If its compulsory for 50% of units surrendered to be NZ units, then thats the same as permitting 50% to be cheap international units. So the international units will still drag down the NZ unit price.

I have argued in a previous post that allowing use of international units was a fundamental flaw in the design of the NZETS (along with the lack of a cap). Previous partial restrictions on international units have not had any impact on prices.

The ironic thing about the Labour policy swipe at National "sitting on its hands", given that their 50% restriction fix won't work, is that that the unlimited importing of international units into the NZETS was hardwired into the original design of the NZETS in the Labour government's 2007 Framework for a New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme document. In other words, it was originally Labour's idea that the NZETS be so open to international units that they set the NZ carbon price.

The only way to set a "real" carbon price in the NZETS is to ban the use of all international units and manage the supply of NZ units and assigned amount units so that the carbon price is sufficient to incentivise changes in behaviour. If Labour won't do that, then their position is closer to Tim Groser's view that the international price should set the NZ price than to the views of the environmental NGOs and foresters who want an effective carbon price.

Something old

The rest of Labour's policy to "fix" the emissions trading scheme is to largely return it to the 2008 version Labour originally enacted.

Labour's "something old" policies on the ETS are to:

  • strengthen the ETS by bringing agriculture in on 1 January 2016
  • base the amount of free emissions units allocated to agriculture on 90 per cent of its 2005 emissions
  • continue with free allocations for carbon-intensive industries exposed to export competition, such as steel and aluminium.

This means that Labour will continue gifting excessive amounts of carbon credits to major polluters like Tiwai Point smelter owner Rio Tinto Alcan NZ and Norske Skog Tasman. The base for allocation will change from past production intensity to historic 2005 production levels - which may end up being pre-Global Financial Crisis peaks.

Forestry lecturer Euan Mason points out that once agriculture is in the ETS with 90% free allocation, they too will be able to take advantage of the price differences in the ETS, just like the carbon intensive industries have. They will be able to surrender half of their free NZ units back to the government, with the other half of their obligation satisfied by buying 11c international units. They can then sell their remaining NZ units for say $4.00 each. They then pocket the arbitrage difference between the prices of the units.

It's important to remember that Labour's original NZETS wasn't particularly well designed or effective. As Jeanette Fitzsimons said in the documentary "Hot Air", the Greens only unwillingly voted for it as it was "the only game in town", a first step and better than nothing.

In 2009, economist Geoff Bertram gave one of those Victoria University Institute of Policy Studies talks about the Labour and National emissions trading schemes. After about 30 minutes of carbon supply and demand curves, some one asked Geoff to sum up in plain language. Geoff Bertram's reply is the only part of the lecture I can remember to the letter. He explained that both schemes were patchwork quilts of exemptions and loopholes and delays. Both schemes lacked caps on emissions. Both schemes introduced unnecessary NZ units whose pricing would be at the whim of the international markets. He concluded:

"Well the Labour ETS is a dog, and the National ETS is a complete dog"

Something blue

Are you surprised that I am saying that Labour's climate change policy includes "something blue', as in from the National Party? I am surprised as well. Any climate change policy in common with National would seem almost to be logically impossible given that National's list of policies does not even include a climate change policy.

This statement from the the third page is what I mean.

"Labour is committed to achieving a lasting consensus among New Zealand’s main political parties on an ETS. We have consistently tried to work with the National Party to reach common ground. But we aren’t prepared to compromise our fundamental principles to do so.

Labour also gave a similar answer to Forest and Bird in their "Polling the Pollies 2014" report. Forest and Bird asked why Labour wasn't supporting the Green's 'carbon tax cut' policy.

"Labour's preferred means of pricing is to fix the the existing ETS. Using an ETS to price carbon is the only broad area of agreement in climate change policy, particularly particularly between the two largest parties (despite National's lip service for an ETS). Labour would not throw that agreement away lightly to start again with a carbon tax."

Reading these statements removes any doubts I may have had about being too hard on Labour's climate change policy. Ultimately Labour are just borrowing the headline ideas of the NGOs to make their policy appear effective. The truth is that in terms of how they intend to price carbon via an ETS, they would rather be "something blue", closer to National than to the Greens. This is just raw political expedience masquerading as high principle. A compromise being justified on the grounds we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

In an enigmatically named post I wrote three years ago for the 2011 election, The snake swallows the elephant in the room and then flogs a dead horse, I suggested that climate change politics and particularly the NZETS could potentially descend into a politically institutionalised ritual of "flogging the dead horse".

My fears appear to have been realised. National and Labour in effect have the same policy narrative that explains the problem; "THEY undermined the NZETS", and a narrative solution, "WE will fix the NZETS". This creates the on-going cycle of the 'horse is underperforming' and the narrative’ solution (keep flogging the horse). But beneath the impenetratable detail and complexity of the arguments about fixing the NZETS, it will remain ineffective.

In summary, it is not enough for Labour's climate change policy to borrow some good policies from the NGO's when the fundamental problems of the NZETS are not addressed. It needs a cap on emissions. The number of units or carbon credits or permits must be limited to the cap. It needs to exclude all international units. There should be no free allocation of units. It should apply to all sectors. All the ducks must be in a row. All the cogs must turn in the same direction. Returning the NZETS settings to the 2008 design doesn't achieve this. Seeking a 'flog the dead horse' consensus with National also doesn't achieve this. Isn't climate change important enough to warrant policies better than something old, something blue, something borrowed and not much new?