31 December 2012

Christmas in the Ruahine Range

I went tramping from Christmas Day until yesterday the 30th December, in the Ruahine Range.

I started at the North Block road-end, about 35 km inland from Waipukarau in the Hawkes Bay region. Right at the North Block road-end is Triple X Hut.

On the 25th, I left the car at about 12:40 and walked up the well-maintained Sunrise Track. This track zig-zags up a spur through luxuriant red beech forest interspersed with rimu, miro and mistletoe. I got to Sunrise Hut at 3:00pm.

In spite of the misty but warm and humid conditions, I continued up to Armstrong Saddle and headed northwards on the main divide of the Ruahines towards Sparrowhawk Bivvy. Within 30 minutes, the mist had cleared, and I had several fine hours of good visibility to traverse the largely untracked tops to the biv, before arriving at 8:15pm.

Note that the bivvy is nestled just off the tops amongst leatherwood shrubs and stunted Mountain beech trees. The bivvy has two distinct parts; the lower original NZ Forest Service 'dogbox' biv structure and the larger attached vestibule added by DOC. It provides a lot of utility as it has a bench seat and a cooking bench. ANd you can stand up in it.

I am afraid that's it for photos. I took the Sparrowhawk Biv photos on my cell phone. I had no spare batteries for my digital camera.

After waiting out a migraine, and a day's rain, I tramped further along the tops in mist again, before dropping down to Maropea Forks Hut. Of biodiversity interest, was seeing a couple of Powelliphanta snails and shells in the tussock herb-fields above Sparrowhawk Biv.

That night at Maropea Forks Hut I met a lovely couple from Auckland, Brinley and Connie. Later that evening, near the hut, I saw a rifleman.

The next day I tramped up the Maropea River (where I saw one blue duck) to Top Maropea Hut, an excellent-condition NZ Forest Service design 4-bunk hut with a great outlook. The outlook back over the Ruahines was so nice in the afternoon sun, that I sat for too long with no shirt on, drinking a cuppa, and reading a 'New Scientist' magasine, that I got sunburnt shoulders.

Finally, yesterday, I tramped out to Triple XXX carpark via Amstrong Saddle, Sunrise Hut and the Sunrise Track again before driving home.

20 December 2012

New Zealand's double dealing and special pleading over the Kyoto Protocol second period Tim Grocer special

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 once more try to make sense of New Zealand's double dealing and special pleading over the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period and the Doha hooha. This time with the aid of Tim Groser, who has written an opinion editorial in the Herald.

Tim Groser, New Zealand's most forthright Minister for Climate Changes, has a shocker of an Op Ed in the New Zealand Herald.

When I first read it, I wrote down my responses to what seemed the most misleading claims. The headline shocker is that either Tim Groser is so out of touch with his portfolio that he has no idea what the current price of carbon in New Zealand, or he is so incompetent that he can't tell US dollars from NZ dollars.

But there are shockers for all of us. I present Groser's quotes in italics and in indented blockquote format, followed by my response in plain text and no indents.

TG: "It's time to move past Kyoto agreement"

Canada o Canada. Groser is channelling Canadian Minister of Environment Peter Kent "Kyoto for Canada is in the past."

TG: "The unrelenting emphasis (on Kyoto) has sucked energy out of debate, diverting attention from the real problem."

This is a classic PR spin tactic of diversion. Groser wishes to divert attention towards the USA, China and India and away from New Zealand's double dealing.

TG "The science, as I interpret it, remains pretty clear"

Yes, Tim Groser does not deny the science, it's just that National and Mr Groser have no intention acting domestically in any way consistent with the science. Perhaps that makes him a 'policy denier'

TG "The international community needs to develop a more robust approach involving far more of the major emitting countries. Whatever New Zealand does will be completely irrelevant unless the major emitters participate."

Canada o Canada "We support a new international climate change agreement that includes commitments from all major emitters. That is the only way we are going to achieve real reductions and real results" Canadian Minister of Environment Peter Kent.

TG "some of the confusion has been deliberate"

Ah the old fifth column within, the extreme green economic traitors, those awkward truth telling ecologists like Mike Joy, Ha I can just find some with other opinions.

TG "First, the ETS has not been "gutted" by the changes passed recently in Parliament"

No, because the NZETS was "gutless" from day 1, as it has no cap, and it always allowed unlimited importing of international units. In 2012, National did defer indefinitely agriculture's entry and extend indefinitely the provisions for half-price emissions for emitters (2-for-1 deal).

TG "No New Zealander - no household, no company - has to pay more, or subsidise anyone because of this decision"

Except New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Limited and Norske-Skog Tasman.

TG "Our top priority is to strengthen the recovery in extremely difficult international economic times."

That really means Groser's top priority always was to have an emissions trading scheme with a more-or-less zero carbon price.

TG "the (NZETS) legislation was, in effect a , a one-way bet taken on the last day of the Labour Government's life in 2008 that the 2009 Copenhagen Summit would deliver a 'single, comprehensive and ratifiable climate change agreement' (the political mantra of the day)."

That statement is a totally revisionist Chairman Mao-like rewrite of history to suit a political agenda. The staggered entry of sectors dates back to Helen Clark's MOU with agriculture signed after the Belch Tax debacle. It also reflects political lobbying by Business NZ and the need to find votes of support from Peter Dunne to get the legislation passed.

TG "We no longer have to pass amending legislation to avoid an automatic ramping up of the scheme, irrespective of either economic conditions or international progress."

By saying this Groser lets us know that for National the delayed entry dates and the apparent all-sectors design were a "Potemkin village". National never had any intention of bringing agriculture into the NZETS.

TG "At current low international carbon prices - they move around but they are clustered around $5 - there is indeed little petrol in the ETS tank. But that is exactly the way it was designed - to be aligned to world prices, whatever world prices are, up to a cap"

To me this is so gobsmacking it's...Hekia Parata. Groser has no idea what the current NZ carbon price is! Groser can't even read the price of a New Zealand unit (NZU) off the Bloomberg website without confusing US dollars and NZ dollars. What an idiot!

Here is the chart Groser can't read

The NZU price is NOT "around $5" Its around $NZ2.50/tonne

So Tim Groser says the NZETS is designed to import the international carbon price and thats a good thing. If it is so good being wedded to international prices, why has he taken us out of the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period?

TG "The domestic political debate has confused the structure of the policy with the international drivers of the carbon price."

Thats just adding insult to financial injury to the Kyoto forestry sector where some have has lost 80% of the value of the post-1989 Kyoto forests. It's a double blow, as the Government is keeping forestry removal units (earned for the same forests) to itself to fudge the Kyoto net position.

TG "watch what happens to the carbon price when the international recession is over and the EU moves to strengthen carbon markets and, hopefully, more countries start adopting carbon policies. You will then hear, no doubt, the exact opposite of the current political debate. Foresters will be happier as the carbon they sequester becomes more valuable (paper profits unless they sell them) and emitters will be less happy as they pay a higher carbon price."

Thanks for lecture on prices, Tim. By the time the Eurozone has dealt with the over-allocation their carbon markets, and if they ever do, it will be way past 2015 or 2016, and New Zealand won't even be in Kyoto's second commitment period and Tim Groser will probably have canned the NZETS by then anyway!

TG "NZ continues to make remarkable progress in increasing the share of our electricity coming from renewable energy - it is 77 per cent and climbing."

Tim Groser is taking credit for past Ministry of Works hydro projects. Does he really think the public are so stupid as to see that argument as in any way relevant to climate change mitigation? Meanwhile the younger generation are calling for the power shift to 100% renewable electricity. How long until Groser calls them 'extreme greens'?

TG "So is this a great time to put new costs on our major exporting industry when we have a huge need to increase our exports?"

I could say how else could a carbon price work if it is not a real cost? How can any NZ carbon price policy be effective if half the economy is out? This is Groser's and National's real policy bottom-line. Exports uber alles! Exports above all else! National truly and obviously have no intention of pricing New Zealand's domestic greenhouse gas emissions.

TG "Our agriculture sector is, by and large, the most carbon efficient agriculture sector in the world."

Thats very Bruce Wills of him. So agriculture will be fine with a no-exceptions emissions trading scheme or carbon tax.

TG "This is the Global Research Alliance on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, which we lead."

Great but what pays for it? Thats right, taxpayers. So that's a subsidy, then. Having agriculture in the emissions trading scheme would help pay for it.

TG "A few days ago we joined another international initiative on climate change - the Climate and Clean Air Coalition"

Great! so now we mitigate climate change by friending someone's Facebook page. I think I will let William Nordhaus know he doesn't need to run carbon pricing on the DICE global model anymore as it's all on Facebook.

TG "It is time to move beyond Kyoto and find a solution that can have a real environmental impact."

Canada o Canada. "Kyoto for Canada is in the past..","Copenhagen and Cancun agreements, which were negotiated in 2009 and 2010 as the world stared down the end of Kyoto, are the future." Peter Kent, Canadian Minister of Environment.

TG "We are on track to meet or exceed our Kyoto commitment to 2012."

Only because of the "Kyoto escalator" of the gross 1990 baseline for the net target forest fudge.

From 1990 to 2010, New Zealand's gross emissions grew by 20%, from 60 million tonnes (mt) to 72mt. Net emissions grew by 59% (from 32mt to to 52mt (data New Zealand's Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990-2010) So both gross and net greenhouse gas time series show a relentless upward trend.

So for my conclusion, I might just recycle some from a previous post. But with one difference.
  1. When we hear Tim Groser talking of focusing on a global climate solution that involves 86% of the emitters that can have a real environmental impact, we now know he is just recycling speech notes from Canadian Minister Peter Kent and diverting attention from New Zealand's policy shambles.
  2. Tim Groser and National have absolutely no intention doing anything domestically to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
  3. Tim Groser and National also have absolutely no intention of imposing any real carbon price on New Zealand's industrial and agricultural emitters.

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.

More climate change and energy policy shambles - Gerry Brownlee's anti-carbon tax

Gerry Brownlee, formerly a minister of energy and fossil fuel, and currently the Minister for Transport and for bulldozing democracy, heritage and social order in Christchurch, today announced that petrol duty will be increasing by 3 cents a litre annually for the next 3 years.

Specifically mentioned are the Rangiriri and Tamahere-Cambridge sections of the Waikato Expressway, the Mackays to Peka Peka section of the Wellington Northern Corridor and the four-laning of the Groynes to Sawyers Arms (Johns Road) section of the Western Corridor in Christchurch.

The reason given for this policy is that the funding is needed for the Roads of National Significance programme and some upper North Island transport projects. I guess that means more spaghetti motorway in Auckland.

This is crazy policy.

The first level of craziness of the petrol duty hike is that it will affect the benefit-cost analysis (BCA) of each Roads of National Significance (RONS) project. Projects like Transmission Gully Expressway, have already been justified to hearings before the Environment Protection Authority on very marginal benefit/cost ratios. Julie-Anne Genter of the Greens said the benefit/cost ratio of Transmission Gully was 0.6. The RONS don't even break even in BCA terms. Now with the added petrol duty, the marginal benefit/cost ratio would be even worse. However, I bet that won't make Gerry Brownlee or Steven Joyce any less obsessed with them.

The second level of craziness with the petrol duty increase is the Government's complete failure to understand carbon pricing (which is what a petrol duty is) and to anchor their transport, energy and infrastructure policy with effective carbon pricing.

I have no problem with the price of petrol or diesel increasing. Road transport has many externalities that are not priced. It is "elephant in the room" obvious that the most important unpriced externality of liquid fossil fuels is global warming. And not a lack of four-lane expressways.

"But we have an emissions trading scheme!" I hear some one say. "Surely, road transport fuels are included in the NZETS?"

Yes we sort of have an emissions trading scheme which includes liquid fossil fuels which sort of prices carbon. But NZ carbon prices have crashed 72% in 2012.

According to estimates by the Energy and Data part of Steven Joyce's mega-ministry MoBIE, in the three months ended on 30 September 2012, the NZ emissions trading scheme probably accounted for 0.93 cents out of the regular petrol price of $2.09 per litre.

So we may describe New Zealand's petrol pricing policy as having two mutually conflicting parts. The price includes a component for revenue gathering for unneeded four-lane RONS expressways (3 cents/litre). The price also includes a component for the NZETS carbon price (0.93 cents/litre).

And the four-lane expressways part exceeds the carbon-pricing ETS part by a factor of 3.

This is the complete opposite of effective carbon pricing. Brownlees's petrol duty, to coin an expression, is an anti-carbon tax. What a shambles!

18 December 2012

Keeping it real. Carbon offsets from a permanent forest sink

In this post, I guest-post as myself! This post describes a carbon forest sink project that I am involved in and our debate about whether we should provide carbon offsets to anyone as part of the project. I originally wrote this for the Greens Frogblog

I am one of the trustees of a small 47-hectare carbon forest sink and native re-vegetation project and mountain bike park; "Project Rameka" in the east Takaka hills in Golden Bay.

It's really a response to climate change made by two of my old friends, Bronwen Wall and Jonathan Kennett, who bought the land in 2008. Bronwen and Jonathan decided to apply their experience organising native planting projects in Wellington to climate change after reading the 2007 fourth report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

It's been embraced enthusiastically by the Golden Bay community who do the planting, pest control and track work through Project Rameka Inc.

The land is owned by a trust and I am one of the trustees. I did the early accounting for the trust and prepared the application to get the land into the Permanent Forest Sinks Initiative (PFSI).

In return for a 50-year covenant restricting the land use to forest, we receive about 800 carbon credits (assigned amount units) per year for Project Rameka. These units started life as part of New Zealand's 1990 baseline amount of carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol.

How many credits we get is based on the amount of carbon withdrawn from the atmosphere by the trees. Thanks to the Golden Bay weather, plants grow really quickly. So we really are storing carbon. We have seen 3cm annual growth rings in the few pines we have removed.

For a couple of years we didn't do anything with the units. They sat in our account at the NZ Emissions Unit Register (the 'bank' for carbon credits). We initially thought the units could be a revenue stream to fund more traps or native seedlings. However the many donations to the project have always kept ahead of the costs.

We also thought that if we owned these units then we would be keeping them out of the hands of emitters so possibly we might even be reducing New Zealand's emissions as well as sequestering carbon.

As we began to understand the New Zealand emissions trading scheme (NZETS), we realised that the good done by the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative couldn't make up for the design flaws in the NZETS, as they are joined at the hip. Both schemes create and use carbon credits that are bought, sold and have prices. We could say that the PFSI and the NZETS are both limbs connected by the blood flow of carbon credits to the body, the international carbon trading market.

So when we were approached by Green Party MP Kevin Hague, to offset his greenhouse gas emissions, we didn't say yes straight away. We had a bit of a discussion about it. Trying of course to avoid MEGO; "My Eyes Glaze Over", as we would rather be talking about this winter's planting plan than carbon trading. After much discussion we had two options.

One option was to say no we don't want a bar of carbon offsetting.

We were aware that the Tyndall Centre's Kevin Anderson has said that "offsets are worse than doing nothing".

Selling our units as "offsets" could imply that we accept that international Kyoto-style emissions trading and offsetting and schemes like the NZETS are sufficient responses to climate change. That clearly isn't the case. We would agree with James Hansen that the UNFCCC and Kyoto processes have not and will not achieve the magnitude of emissions reductions the science tells us is necessary.

We think the NZETS is a joke as it has no cap on the number of units given free to emitters and it allows unlimited use of cheap units from the much larger international carbon market.

The other option was acknowledge the problems with the NZETS, and come up with our own version of offsetting in negotiation with Kevin Hague. And that's what we did.

Why did we do this? Well, we know that Kevin's flying is not for a weekend of shopping in Melbourne, but part of the essential price of putting the Green message to the public. We support the Greens as the only party with good policy on climate change. The fact that the Green MPs offset their flying emissions does have real political value.

This struck home to me back in June this year when I went to a talk about the 'Rio+20' conference. Kennedy Graham described the conference's failure to address climate change as a double crisis, an environmental crisis and a crisis of international governance.

Neophyte Minister of the Environment Amy Adams defended business-as-usual and patronised Kennedy, saying he was too idealistic. Some one asked Adams if she offset her flying and what she did personally to reduce her emissions. She completely fluffed her answer. Moral victory to Kennedy who we know had offset his air travel to Rio.

What does this offsetting look like?

We cancel, not sell, our assigned amount units, in return for payment from Kevin. A sale means the unit can be resold many times before being used by an emitter in the NZETS to allow emissions. 'Cancelling' means the unit legally ceases to exist. It can never be used by an emitter. We could insist on a higher price per tonne of GHGs than the current NZ market price which has recently been less than the price of a cup of coffee. With Kevin we settled on $25 per tonne, which was the price discussed when the NZETS was being amended in 2009.

We also let our Golden Bay network know we are getting money for offsetting from Kevin Hague. The Project Rameka team had no problem and immediately came up with new trapping and planting projects for the money. As ever they exceeded expectations. They went out and bought the traps and installed them before any money had changed hands!

So far we have not agreed to provide any offsetting service to anyone but Kevin Hague. We have been asked a few times to offset discretionary personal overseas travel and we have said no. Flying that doesn't seem that essential doesn't tick all the boxes the same as our arrangement with Kevin Hague.

Since we started our offsetting arrangement with Kevin, the price of carbon has continued to decline and the NZETS has been made even more ineffective. The Government has permanently excluded agriculture from the NZETS and has extended the two-tonne-for-one-unit discount for emitters. Tim Groser remains welded to the idea of "lowest international cost".

As far as commercial carbon foresters are concerned, the NZETS has gone pear-shaped because of the price collapse.

Carbon foresters have seen the value of their forests decline by 90%. Pine seedling planting in nurseries has declined by millions and forest clearance for dairy conversions in the North Island looks like starting all over again.

Brian Fallow the Herald economics editor describes the NZETS and National's climate change policies as a shambles and a disgrace.

It appears the only people trading forest carbon in New Zealand that are happy at the moment are the Rameka Trustees and Kevin Hague.

We are happy as we are supporting the Greens, getting a realistic carbon price for our units and recycling the proceeds into more carbon-sequestering re-vegetation.

Kevin has said to us that he appreciates being able to go for a bike ride at Rameka where his flying is offset, and he also appreciates that we let him know what his money was spent on. He said to us "It felt real".

If only we could get the rest of New Zealand's climate change and emissions trading policies just as real in terms of being the right incentive at the right price to really reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

14 December 2012

Instant kiwi classic backyard Devil You Know butchering

Holy heck, Russell Brown just found this video on You-tube of some dudes in a backyard in Auckland "butchering" Dave Dobbyn's 'Devil you know'.

What did they do for an encore? Burn a couch?

09 December 2012