Nick Smith: incompetent, negligent, or something else?

It’s a very serious question which I don’t take lightly, but I am beginning to wonder why the media aren’t asking this question when it comes to the Minister’s handling of the Climate Change portfolio.

Probably the most vexing issue is the Minister’s cynical use of a flawed NZIER/Infometrics report, which he commissioned, in order to inform his 2020 emissions reduction target, a use for which the report itself claims it cannot be used:

To be clear, this report investigates the impact of changes in New Zealand’s AAUs under the framework of an international agreement whereby New Zealand takes responsibility for any emissions above a given amount. This is not the same as investigating different domestic emissions targets and should not be interpreted as such.

How were the terms of reference for this report developed, and who developed them? The seriousness of the flaws has prompted significant debate in economic circles, with a damning analysis by economist Geoff Bertram:

Economic models are, unfortunately, rather like fast cars, alcohol and tobacco: their consumption has significant external effects which makes them lethal to the public interest in the hands of addicts and children.

Is this a veiled reference to Smith? He goes on:

To retain the idea of “Business As Usual” as a world in which New Zealand has no emission commitment is a basic analytical error unless the assumption is made that withdrawal from Kyoto is feasible and likely.

When Mr Bertram re-runs the same models with the assumption that New Zealand is in fact part of the Kyoto Protocol, (i.e. reality), he concludes that the picture for New Zealand is much improved, and surprise, surprise:

Pushing technical change in agriculture would really yield a big gain in emission reduction at low cost to the economy.

I could go on, but there are other issues with the Minister’s analysis, like the complete pretension that forestry has no role to play in our carbon reduction scenarios.

The 2020 Cabinet Paper that Minister Smith sent to his colleagues claimed that:

Estimates of the economic impact of the different 2020 target scenarios do not include the impacts on forestry, due to difficulties in modelling this.

However, an OIA by NoRightTurn found yet another government forestry report, aside from the one we Greens used for our Getting There analysis, showing that forestry is one of the biggest and one of the cheapest options for New Zealand going forward.

Why is the Minister deliberately playing this down? Why the proposal to cap the price of carbon, which will kill any chance of the market (and forestry) to save our necks, while making the taxpayer subsidise all of New Zealand’s foreign owned big emitters?

Gareth over at Hot Topic discusses the vexing issue of hiding the facts on forestry in great detail so I won’t say more.

Another issue is that of alignment with Australia. While pleading our uniqueness, the Minister repeatedly refers to the need for alignment with an Aussie ETS that doesn’t even exist. The Australian ETS legislation was shot down in flames last week for a second time, and the likelihood of it being resurrected before Copenhagen are slim to none.

How can the Minister continue to claim alignment and that he’ll have a modified NZ ETS before Copenhagen in December? It’s not possible and Smith is deluding himself and the public if he thinks he can do it. There is speculation here at home that National cannot even get the numbers to amend our ETS. Does he think we’re stupid?

Meanwhile, the scientific head of the IPCC calls the Smith’s position “disappointing, inadequate and unambitious“. Smith’s response? To write him and

to explain how New Zealand’s high proportion of farm emissions means it is a developed country with a developing country’s emissions profile.

This was was not well understood, he said.

“I don’t think in his comments he has comprehended the scale of the challenge that New Zealand has in reducing emissions,” Dr Smith told Newsroom.

In other words, to write and whinge like a petulant two year old with special pleading.

I could go on, but this post is far too long as it is. Back to my original question. Is Nick Smith incompetent, negligent, or something else? Is it time he was replaced with someone who will do a proper, bottom up analysis of new Zealand’s options?

40 Comments Posted

  1. At one of the ‘public consultation you have when you’re not having a public consultation’ meetings I warned Nick Smith that he was in danger of becoming New Zealand’s ‘Climate Villain’. Seems his own team is sewing his suit and cape for him already.

  2. Day 5 of the Kiwiblog poll and Nick Smith’s in freefall:

    How do you rate the performance to date of Nick Smith as Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and ACC?

    * Average (27%, 135 Votes)
    * Very Poor (24%, 118 Votes)
    * Poor (20%, 99 Votes)
    * Good (20%, 98 Votes)
    * Very Good (9%, 50 Votes)

  3. Yes, some of the more rabid suppoerters of the bash on Farrar’s troll farm appear to taken exception to the PM’s very sensible decision yesterday.

  4. Day 4 of the Kiwiblog poll on Ministerial performance, and Nick continues to plummet:

    How do you rate the performance to date of Nick Smith as Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and ACC?

    * Average (27%, 120 Votes)
    * Very Poor (24%, 108 Votes)
    * Good (20%, 91 Votes)
    * Poor (19%, 86 Votes)
    * Very Good (10%, 46 Votes)

  5. Day 3 of the Kiwiblog poll and Nick’s polling continues to drop:

    How do you rate the performance to date of Nick Smith as Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and ACC?

    * Average (27%, 108 Votes)
    * Very Poor (23%, 90 Votes)
    * Good (22%, 88 Votes)
    * Poor (17%, 68 Votes)
    * Very Good (11%, 44 Votes)

  6. Won’t ask you then d4j!

    Hey, and that poll is on Kiwiblog where all the right wingers hang out. Seems that even they think he is a crap Minister.

  7. The knives are out for Nick. Steel that blade toad. What is the green policy on pushing and the constant rant as to blame somebody else. Careful you don’t hurt yourself falling from the utopian cloud you lurk on, and the swamp thingy, well you know eh?
    The greens are very ill ask anybody with a braincell.

  8. Nick’s struggling even more on the Kiwiblog poll now:

    How do you rate the performance to date of Nick Smith as Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and ACC?

    Average (28%, 104 Votes)
    Very Poor (22%, 83 Votes)
    Good (22%, 82 Votes)
    Poor (16%, 61 Votes)
    Very Good (12%, 43 Votes)

  9. Meanwhile, as the votes flow in, Nick isn’t doing much better over at Kiwiblog:

    How do you rate the performance to date of Nick Smith as Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and ACC?

    * Average (29%, 97 Votes)
    * Good (23%, 76 Votes)
    * Very Poor (22%, 75 Votes)
    * Poor (16%, 53 Votes)
    * Very Good (10%, 35 Votes)

  10. The problem was – and is – a complete lack of certainty, and Labour and National share the blame for not getting together on action four or five years ago. Labour bottled out of a deal with the Greens, and National was being led by a man who denied there was a problem.

    However, going into the election there was a policy framework, and planting was going to happen. That all stopped the minute Key caved in to Hide, and for that Key and Smith have to take 100% of the blame. And they will have to live with the shame.

  11. Greenfly, so they probably won’t listen, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Having some sort of plan is always better than none.

  12. Emerald said:

    The Green party should be pushing the govt ..

    Hardy har, har! (Please excuse me, I have to go lie down. Push the government..oh dear, oh dear!)

  13. Greenfly. I agree completely that the study farms have very low biological actively compared with biodynamic or other farms under sophisticated organic style management.
    This is why I find the Green party’s obsession with cow farts so bizarre.
    The Green party should be pushing the govt to do or recognize research that shows the difference in warming gas status of farms under different types of management. The differences are enormous, orders of magnitude.
    Recognition of this will encourage the type of farming that the greens profess to support.

    Sir Henry. You seem to think that the labor parties forestry policies had some merit. I don’t think that they had any merit of any sort. My view is supported by the actual effects of them, which were entirely negative.
    “MAF model isn’t a perfect forecasting tool for planting rates”. I agree, in fact it is totally useless and you would get significantly better predictions by throwing a dice!
    Nick Smith’s performance should be judged against the record of the Labour /green government. Remember that this didn’t even mange a reduction in the rate of increase of carbon emissions. LOL.

  14. The piratical Nick (ain’t that the cabin boy’s name?) is negotiating seas that will become increasingly choppy as his term continues. His pugnaciously set jaw and steely eye will only get him so far. He’ll have to take a look at himself at some stage. God knows we tried to hold up a mirror.

  15. I reckon he’s simply doing his job serving the powerful profit making bastards of this country. how about that???

    Any reaction to Smith’s actions that conveys some sort of surprise is almost dangerous – certainly when it comes to engaging the public on this massive issue. It really does lend legitimacy to the notion that Smith and the rest of them are in any sort of position to give a shit about us all.

  16. Ar don’t pick on Smithy – i love sailors – see that year round tan – sailing the Tui sea – brave!
    Kia Kaha Nick
    Help, I’ve become a Troll.

  17. Nick Smith will be being given the ‘thumbs down’ for reasons quite different from those we might give here. Any response other than do nothing will earn Smith a smackdown from the sweating hordes on Kiwiblog.

  18. Kiwiblog is running one of those reader polls on performance of front benchers. It’s early days, but Nick Smith isn’t faring too well over there currently:

    How do you rate the performance to date of Nick Smith as Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and ACC?

    * Good (27%, 30 Votes)
    * Very Poor (24%, 26 Votes)
    * Average (24%, 26 Votes)
    * Poor (15%, 17 Votes)
    * Very Good (10%, 11 Votes)

  19. Oh right so instead of taking the lead in something that is supposed to be your “thing” the greens will just stand back and throw stones?

    You don’t know what you’re talking about. Not my area, but I hear 2nd hand that our forestry policy is already favoured in the industry and I understand that meetings have occurred with David Carter, who realises a long-term solution is needed. But there is not enough common ground with the Nats and given their ETS debacle, it likely won’t come into the MoU. Maybe when the ETS is sorted some space will be created for real work in this area.

    They are not my mates

    Hard to tell when you defend their poor policy.

  20. Shunda – we’ve an MOE to show you that we are ‘working together’ with National. If that doesn’t include forestry issues, then I’m guessing we weren’t invited to be involved there. You are not trying to rob us of the fun of being in opposition are you?
    Key’s been a bit tardy about changing the smacking law don’t you think? The people have spoken and demand instant gratification. Key just doesn’t seem to be hearing his people.

  21. Oh right so instead of taking the lead in something that is supposed to be your “thing” the greens will just stand back and throw stones?
    MMP is about parties working together, I am sure if the greens developed a comprehensive well thought out plan to advance the forestry industry you would be able to be very influential.
    Or is that ideological divide just to difficult to cross to work with “father Pepsi”
    This is an opportunity for the greens.

    “Go talk to your mates in Blue.”

    They are not my mates, but they are not Labour either.

  22. The issue is certainty Shunda and its very funny to hear you complain about politicisation and then rail on about how the left were wrong and the right will fix it. Ridiculous. Labour did poorly and then National added to the politicisation and uncertainty when they failed to support the carbon tax that they would now like and which would have ended this years ago. It didn’t suit their purposes then so we have this to deal with now. And your solution is for the Greens to wake up? Go talk to your mates in Blue.

  23. All the while greenfly, the trees are not being planted.
    This is where the greens could use their supposed “common sense” thinking.
    Develop a plan to progress the forestry industry and work with national to implement it. These are the things the Greens should be developing, it would win votes and regain a bit of credibility for the cause of the environment.

  24. Shunda – reminder this is a GREEN Party blog. Smith is doing a bad job. Smith is responsible for sorting out the issues now.

  25. Emerald says:

    the methane fluxes on most biologically active land are so large that the output of a few cows is almost irrelevant.

    but the farms in question are not even approaching the level of biological activity they should, because of the management they are under. Compare the biological activity of a Biodynamic farm with one managed in a conventional manner for example.

    As for Nick Smith and Green criticism of his ‘plan’ for forestry – He’s the one in Government and wielding the resources he does – if his plan stinks, anyone has the right to tell him it stinks. There is no requirement to offer a better plan. It’s his obligation to come up with the goods.

  26. Oh so now the last 10 years of mucking around by the left is Smiths fault? Labour are to blame for this mess and it will take time to sort out.
    All the while the environment is going down the toilet.
    Labours approach was a joke Sir Henry, and you know it.

  27. It says ‘land use decisions are not based on rational economic behavior’.

    No, it doesn’t. It warns “Actual land use decisions do not necessarily reflect “rational economic behaviour”, and may appear to be “suboptimal”…, which is not the same thing at all.

    The reason the MAF model isn’t a perfect forecasting tool for planting rates is because it’s not possible to predict log prices. In the case of carbon credits, however, the report tests two carbon prices and finds that both boost planting enormously because the rates of return are boosted enormously by the extra revenue stream.

    Smith is not applying “business as usual” because he actively dismantled the previous governments policy framework – which while far from perfect, did at least offer some certainty for foresters. Smith’s failure to offer rational policies is what makes him incompetent.

  28. Emerald, these are exactly the problems that politicising the environment causes, forestry in NZ is in rapid decline and there is no clear solution in view for this industry to move ahead.
    All this carbon trading nonsense has done is rapidly increase forest clearance, native and exotic, and has caused a massive amount of environmental degradation in the past 10 years.
    The Greens need to wake up to this reality if they really care about the environment.

  29. You are being a bit hard on Nick Smith here. His “Business As Usual” attitude is no different to the Green’s “Business As Usual” attitude . No NZ party is willing to change their attitudes or plans more than a small amount to deal with carbon emissions.
    If Nick Smith were to claim that the Nats had a workable plan to drastically increase forestry planting then he would be lying. the same as the Greens are being less than honest when claiming that vague support for more planting is the same as a real plan in their ‘policy’ document.
    The MAF document on “New forest planting and harvesting intentions under high carbon prices” that the critique is based on admits that the models don’t have any success in predicting planting.
    It says ‘land use decisions are not based on rational economic behavior’. This is not news. Most forestry in NZ has been planted just because people wanted to plants trees.
    The disenchantment with the NZ govt (of all flavours) felt by foresters is at a level that makes new planting unlikely.
    No matter how good a deal it looks the feeling is that the clowns in Wellington will find a way to screw it up or steal it.
    This has just been proved by the new bunch announcing last week that they feel that not allowing forestry carbon credits to be sold to anybody but them at an artificially low price is a good idea.
    The hard reality is that even long time committed foresters are now early harvesting Kyoto plantation and not replanting.
    Do the Greens have a plan for forestry that would make their criticism of Nick Smiths lack of plan credible?

    Owen, That Aussie piece on methane is nothing new. Every piece of detail research on methane production/destruction shows that the methane fluxes on most biologically active land are so large that the output of a few cows is almost irrelevant.

  30. So, what you are advocating Owen, is that we reduce our stocking rate to one cow per hectare, as the Professor requires? That’s even more ambitious than our 19% reduction or Nick Smith’s 33% reduction!

    Owen wants to eliminate 66% of the herd! Will you be publishing that in the NBR? I’m sure that it will align well with the Greenhouse Policy Coalition’s agenda.

  31. Indeed BOSH. My thoughts exactly. I had to restrain myself from writing more and more. My question to you is; which moniker in the title applies to Smith?

  32. Any “alignment” with Australia is going to be problematic, and not just because there isn’t a settled Aussie ETS with which to align. Smith is keen to point out that our emissions profile is very different to most countries – it is also very different to Australia’s. Australia will end up with an ETS that is designed to address their emissions/industry mix, adjusted to their own political priorities – targets, feather-bedding of big emitters etc. The chances that this will magically align with NZ’s best interests are, in effect, zero. There is also a risk that “alignment” could make emissions cuts here harder, thus increasing the cost of meeting any target.

  33. Thanks outofbed. I had no idea what the complaints were about yesterday. You have made it clear and I’ve got the web gurus onto it.

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