Searching for a consensus on climate change – seeking a genuine dialogue with National – Part II

Picking up from Part I of this blog post, I had occasion to question Minister Tim Groser yesterday about climate change and his Government’s policy.  This followed from Russel Norman questioning him 30 minutes earlier.

Given that he has declined to come to my conference in Parliament today for a cross-party dialogue on climate change, our question-and-answer in the House, together with this blog post, is as close as we may get to the adversarial-consensual style of democratic exchange that I am advocating.

So let me lay out my best effort at a ‘dialogue’ between National and Green views on climate change.  I shall do my best to accurately reflect the National view, as it is articulated in the House.

What we agree upon

National have acknowledged, through signature of the 1992 Framework Convention, the existence of climate change as a global problem, and the common objective of stabilising GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will avoid dangerous interference with the climate system.  So do the Greens.

National has acknowledged, through the ‘common but differentiated responsibility principle’ (CBDR) in the Framework Convention, and through signature of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, that the developed countries, with higher per capita emissions and greater historical emissions, must take the lead in reducing emissions.  So do the Greens.

[This presumes that the Key Government perceives the phenomenon of climate change in broadly the same way as the Bolger Government did. This is not entirely clear, given that John Key said in 2005 that he was suspicious of climate change, some 13 years after his predecessor’s Government had formally acknowledged it.]

What we partially agree on

National appears to acknowledge the scientific findings about climate change, at least as set out in the IPCC’s 4th Assessment Report of 2007 (even though it was in opposition then).  And, in Government, it has agreed with the UN decisions from Cancun (2010) to Doha (2012): thus the likely temperature increase and sea-level rise in the 21st century, based on projected global emissions, and the threshold of 450 ppm CO2 atmospheric concentration and 2°C temperature rise.   The Greens agree.

National, however, appear reluctant to accept that scientific findings since 2007 carry any new significance – such as the faster polar cap ice-melt, the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice-sheets, and the emerging evidence of potential large-scale methane release from the northern tundra and seabed.  It refers to ‘uncertainty surrounding the numerics’.  And it refuses to label the phrase ‘climate change’ to the extreme weather events, claiming instead that farmers are traditionally used to adapting and can adapt in the future.

The Greens contend that the precautionary principle requires the international community to accept the latest scientific findings as evidence of unacceptable danger or potential thereof, requiring action.  It contends that, while a specific extreme weather event cannot be proven to be causally related to climate change, their increasing frequency and intensity fits the pattern of climate change, thus warranting immediate action.

What we disagree on

In recent years, National has developed the following policies:

–          The distinction between the global North (developed) and South (developing) has blurred in the past 20 years to the point where the CBDR principle no longer applies – China and India are catching up with the US and Europe in economic power and emissions;

–          There is therefore no justification for any 2nd Kyoto commitment period in which Europe, Japan, North America and Australasia have a legally-binding obligation to cut emissions, unless the South does also;

–          New Zealand will therefore take a non-binding target for 2020, joining the ‘other 86% of global emissions, and will concentrate on the negotiations just starting for a global agreement post-2020.

–          Meanwhile, the ETS will remain with modest settings to avoid New Zealand getting too far in front, and suffering from any short-term economic pain.  This includes aligning the domestic carbon market to ‘international market’, virtually without exception, even when the prices are seriously depressed through over-supply of units or economic recession.

The Greens advocate the following policies:

–          The North-South distinction remains valid, through the Kyoto 2nd commitment period (2013-20), because the per capita differentiation remains significant, historical emissions and projected emissions have not equated; and because the present decade is the critical one for peaking of global emissions;

–          There is therefore a requirement (under the Framework Convention) for the North to assume a continuing legal obligation to cut a second time, ahead of the developing world, and that the international community can be treated as one economic unit for mitigation purposes in the global legal agreement post-2020;

–          New Zealand must therefore accept the UN target of 25-40% reduction off 1990 level by 2020, as a legally-binding obligation under the Kyoto Protocol’s 2nd commitment period (2013-20);

–          Meanwhile, the ETS requires strengthening immediately, or replacement with a carbon charge; and failure to do so leaves New Zealand behind in the collective transformation to a low-carbon economy.  This includes separating the domestic carbon market from the negative effects of the international carbon market, whose over-supply of units grotesquely depresses the domestic carbon price.

National opposes ‘alarmism’ over climate change and will proceed with great caution and deliberation in national policy.  Failure to do so threatens the short-term financial interests of established economic sectors.

The Greens see the scientific evidence and UN policy prescriptions as requiring greater and faster national action by New Zealand and contend that failure to do so constitutes a breach of inter-generational responsibility. In short, it threatens the planet.

These are the commonalities and differences in perception and policy between National and Green views, as I understand them to be.

I would not have thought it would be impossible to have a reasoned dialogue on this matter.  Failure to do encourages polarisation of party policies and a lack of predictable national policy as a result.



14 Comments Posted

  1. The most important paragraph in the Joe Phone/Tom Harris piece is IMHO this one:

    “It would make more sense to “do the science” because then at least we would be able to account for the now obvious divergence between computer-based climate models (supporting the IPCC and McKibben’s ‘math’) and the actual satellite-measured temperatures. Global temperatures have gone in one direction while CO2 and the IPCC’s computer models have gone in the other for nearly twenty years, with no sign of anything changing in the foreseeable future as the divergence becomes more and more pronounced. Obviously then, something is seriously wrong with the science despite the ‘math’ used to prove it.”

    By saying “global temperatures” rather than “global surface temperatures”, they ignore the ocean temperatures which continue to climb. The surface temperatures are affected by the El Nino/La Nina oscillation, rising when in an El Nino phase and falling in a La Nina phase. The peak temperatures in 1998 coincided with an El Nino phase and we are now in a long La Nina phase, so it is not surprising temperatures haven’t been climbing. However they haven’t fallen either (despite the claim that they have), which would be expected if there were no global warming. Taking this into account along with increased aerosols and variations in solar radiance and the “obvious divergence” is accounted for, revealing a continued increase in underlying temperatures, and also revealing the total lack of actual science in this piece.


  2. Actually I find the best bit to be where they rubbish the IPCC backed computer models and replace them with a zero dimensional model of their own which just doesn’t fit any realistic understanding of the heat transport to space:

    “It is well known that CO2 and temperature do not change in direct lockstep, with temperature obediently following, as activists would have us believe. The relationship is much like painting a window-the first coat blocks out most of the light. Successive coats take out less and less light until adding more does next to nothing. CO2 in the atmosphere works the same way.”

    What actually happens is that the CO2 absorbs some infrared energy and then re-radiates it in a random direction, or exchanges the energy with neighbouring molecules. The more CO2, the more opportunity for absorption of the re-radiated infrared energy as well, increasing the probability that the energy will be lost to neighbouring molecules or radiated back downwards rather than escaping into space. Their zero-dimensional model is decades out of date and too simplistic thus giving the wrong result – and they probably know it.

    I wonder if a case can be taken under misleading advertising legislation regarding their use of the word “science” in their name, or possibly by scientists alleging defamation?


  3. The submarine argument is what’s tipped me over to the ‘AGW is a hoax’ side – it’s proof positive that there is no climate change. If humans can live inside a can filled with CO2 then damn the torpedoes, I say, let’s burn that coal like there’s no tomorrow!
    I did wonder to myself though, imagining the interior of a submarine and how very like planet Earth that is (identical situation really), how often rain-clouds form in there, so there’s still that tiny mote of doubt in my mind that perhaps those putting the ‘submarine scenario’ might be completely insane.

  4. Trevor289 notes:

    The ETS and also any CO2 tax are both just methods to achieve a goal.

    Not so, good bud. They are both ways of legitimising emissions, thus ensuring that the goal will not be met.

    Whenever the choice is between change anmd “throwing money at the problem”, the latter nearly always wins, as it is less disruptive.

    The real problem is that there is a widespread believe that ETSs and carbon taxes will work, and thus we continue to fiddle whilst Rome burns.

    Not a bad analogy, that last one.

  5. On the topic of CO2 conecentrations, you really should check out the 1946 thriller “Green for danger”, a movie I watched as a kid, now remastered, and you can even rent it on iTunes.

  6. You missed the best bit Trevor:

    In fact, CO2 concentrations on submarines can reach levels well above 10,000 ppm, thirty times the “safe” limit, with no harmful effects to the crew.

  7. Of course National probably feel that they can ignore public opinion while it is divided, and public opinion is divided when the denialists get equal coverage such as this item from Stuff:

    written by Joe Fone and Tom Harris from the Climate “Science” Coalitions.

    Just reading what they say about the 350ppm CO2 limit and attacking this because plants do very well under 1500ppm (which is totally unrelated to the reason for the 350ppm limit) shows that there is very little “science” in these coalitions. Yet they can get this published.


  8. The clarity of your summary is very impressive – certainly brings the problem and the various responses into sharp focus – extremely disappointed that neither Groser nor Bridges deigned to attend – shame on them.
    Many thanks Kennedy.

  9. One point of difference is that the Green Party heeds the warnings of the IEA, when they come out with statements like this one:

    Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA, and one of the world’s most respected energy experts, told the Guardian that greenhouse gas emissions were continuing to rise so fast that pinning hopes on a replacement for the Kyoto protocol would set the world on a path to 5C of warming, which would be catastrophic.

    The article continues:
    Birol urged governments to take urgent action on improving energy efficiency, replacing fossil fuels with low-carbon power, stopping the construction of inefficient power plants and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, as low or no-cost ways of reducing emissions quickly. “This will not harm economic growth, and they are policies that can be taken in a fragile economic context,” he said.


  10. One way to reduce dependence on fossil fuels is to harness geothermal energy, either for electricity generation or for direct use. Low temperature geothermal resources are better used directly if possible, as the conversion of thermal energy to electricity is low for small temperature differentials. Direct use can include drying, water heating and space heating applications. Can we find any common ground with the National Party on government action to promote geothermal energy, such as a research program to locate suitable geothermal resources or to develop better geothermal technology?


  11. The ETS and also any CO2 tax are both just methods to achieve a goal. They are not the only methods available. It is worth considering the overall goal and the different ways that this might be achieved, searching for possible other common ground.

    To reduced forecast CO2 levels, we need to reduce CO2 emissions and/or increase CO2 absorption. One way of increasing CO2 absorption is to improve the health and size of our forests, so increasing forest planting and pest control in existing forests, national parks, etc would help. Would National consider increasing funding for pest control? How can we encourage additional forestry planting?

    To reduce CO2 emissions, we can reduce electricity and heating demand. The Warm-Up program is a good example, supported by both National and the Green Party. Can this be expanded? How can we encourage houses to be more energy efficient? What are the obstacles?

    Solar water heating would reduce electricity or gas demand. How can we increase the uptake of solar water heating? Are there barriers that might be addressed? (When I was involved in having a house built, the building company never suggested anything relating to solar water heating, just offering a standard electric cylinder.)

    I am sure there are other areas where some common ground might be found.


  12. Impressive summary. I think that National are too impressed with the “But we’re only 0.x% of emissions globally, what we do won’t matter” argument.

    We do understand that moral responsibility is dead to them.

    We do understand that collective action is communism in their eyes (unless it is companies colluding with government, and then it is a good thing).

    We do understand that as a Nation we have a responsibility to act, and when nobody else acts, to lead. Our responsibilities to future generations are NOT determined by the moral and intellectual limitations of others. Within our abilities we MUST act… and the limitations we observe are far less than the loss of monetary advantage that hobbles the policies of National.

  13. “The government has failed to act on climate change.”

    If only.

    This government has acted on climate change, but all of its acts have been to favour the emissions of GHGs rather than curtail them. The moratorium on new fossil fueled base load power stations was “gone by lunchtime”. Labour’s ETS has been gutted. The government has deliberately not committed New Zealand to the next Kyoto period. Instead it is selling off the electricity generators, making it harder to create an electricity industry that maximises the use of renewable electricity and minimises the use of fossil fuels.


  14. Thanks Kennedy for this concise summary. Clearly it is essential that we strengthen ETS or impose a carbon charge. The government has failed to act on climate change.

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