Kennedy Graham

Climate failures Part II – Eliding towards policy incoherence

by Kennedy Graham

I have not been so angry in my five years in Parliament.

Yesterday I wrote about the obscene policy failure of this Government in forecasting an increase in net emissions of greenhouse gases from 56 million tonnes in 2011 to around 98 m.t. in 2028.  It was, I suggested, perhaps the biggest policy failure in New Zealand history.

I quoted the Prime Minister from his post-cabinet press conference, to the effect that – not to worry, he was feeling pretty relaxed – science would come to the rescue.

With leaders like this, we have no need for enemies.  We are our own worst enemy.

Thursday, the Prime Minister was at it again.  At Question Time, I asked the Climate Minister how, in the name of Mammon, New Zealand could reach this Government’s (modest) target of 30 m.t. in 2050 when its projected level for 2040 is now 90 m.t..

Acting Minister Bridges, well-known for his work as Energy Minister, thought it would be easy.  “We will meet our targets” he responded breezily, through the ETS, other domestic initiatives and ‘reductions from overseas’.  The ETS, you have to understand, is ‘a long-term tool’.

Yes, Minister, it is.  But it also has to be a near-term one, as well – ever since Marrakesh 2001.    

Yet, Mr Bridges did not find it hard to imagine that, with a new global legal agreement and leadership from the new major economies, New Zealand would need to adjust its domestic policy response.

This competes for the prize of parliamentary understatement of the year. 

But, is he responsible for a projected 50% increase rather than a 50% decrease?

No. Because the projections are limited since they are based on a very low carbon price.  “We know that, as we make progress in international negotiations, that carbon price will surely rise.”

Just to be sure, I asked, with respect: “was it his weakening of the ETS that resulted in the low carbon price, and had that been occurring since 2009, by chance?

Mr Bridges began to lose patience.  “As I have just said, and it was implicit in my answer, it is a product at the moment of a low carbon price right around the world.  But what is of course very true is that as we make progress internationally, it is highly likely that the price will rise, and with that the projections and the progress that we will make around this world.”

Thus: progress in reducing emissions, globally and nationally, depends on a carbon price rise, coterminous with successful international negotiations.

So far, so good.  Until the Prime Minister intervenes, riding to the Acting Minister’s rescue.  Mr Key, believing he needs to assist his young protégé, put his relaxed foot in it: “What”, he said, is the likely impact of a much higher carbon price and much more fulsome [sic] emissions trading scheme on residential consumers when they pay their electricity bill, if one was to be promoted?”

Mr Bridges lifted the chalice: “Well, of course, prices will rise exponentially and it will be a terrible thing for consumers all around New Zealand”.

It will dawn, sooner or later, on Mr Key and Mr Bridges that, in their joint enthusiasm, they contradict themselves.

-          Progress in reducing emissions depends on a rise in the price of carbon.

-          A rise in the price of carbon will be a terrible thing.

It is policy incoherence of this breath-taking dimension that wins us fossil awards at the UN conferences – with Warsaw beckoning next month.