How petty can Nick get?

Nick Smith posted a press release today calling the government’s climate change initiatives a failure because the Ministry for the Environment’s emissions grew from 735 tonnes CO2e in 2005/06 to 897 tonnes in 2006/07, mostly as a result of increased air travel associated with, <shock & horror>, their climate change and environmental work.


Is this the best we’ve got on them? From our side we’d love to see the government do more for the environment and do it faster, but this sort of petty-mindedness won’t get anyone anywhere. Like MfE and other Govt3 agencies, the Greens work hard to measure, minimise and ultimately offset the flight emissions we cannot avoid, air-miles which kind of go with the political territory.

From this lilly pad I have to ask. Are the Nats making an effort to measure and manage their emissions, particularly from flights? Are they expecting them to decline or increase during this upcoming election year? Should John Key be riding a bike to all his engagements? How about Nick Smith? This frog doesn’t think so. When Nick Smith fronts up with the National Party’s plan to manage its emissions, then follows up in an annual report with an honest account of how they’re doing, I’ll tune back in.

16 Comments Posted

  1. The govt announcement and Q&A seems to make clear that it is the ministries only and it is only 6 of the ministries that are going carbon neutral, the rest are just trying to reduce emissions. The Q&A says:

    “Why not expand beyond the core agencies?
    The government intends to encourage Crown entities, schools, DHBs, etc. to participate in emissions reduction measures, and the Govt3 programme will expand in the future to support those efforts. It is not planned at this stage to make it compulsory for schools or hospitals to become carbon neutral.”

  2. Good point. I’m not sure. I stand corrected if this is the case, and think that Govt3 therefore needs expanding to cover the sector, not just the administrators. Yes, more achievable; but not very ‘aspirational’!

  3. q Says:

    “Health can cut emissions and save big $ by doing energy audits, changing lighting and heating regimes, installing solar hotwater, etc, cause it is hospitals and so on, not just an office block”

    My understanding is that the government has made a comittment regarding the Ministry of Health, not the whole health sector. The Ministry of Health is a small component of the whole sector, as it doesn’t include, for instance, hospitals.

    Only a small point, but it suggests that the goal is much more feasible than other posters suggest.

  4. Nick C, we do need to be vigilant on carbon trading to make sure the carbon sinks and reductions are read and enduring. They should not be able to buy existing trees – it has to be new trees, or young trees which can sink more carbon, etc. And it has to be perpectual for forestry offsetiting to work. Can’t use them as sink now and cut down later, the carbon removal or reduction must be permanent. I’m not sure which carbon credit provider MfE are accredited to. I think the Green MPs use Landcare’s carbonzero, which is a credible provider.

    On the other matter, Health can cut emissions and save big $ by doing energy audits, changing lighting and heating regimes, installing solar hotwater, etc, cause it is hospitals and so on, not just an office block. We still require Health to pay GST and other taxes, and to tender contracts so contracters can make a profit, so there will always be a money-go-round to some extent. Otehr angle is what is the present and future health cost of run away Cliamte Change – this item says 150,000 people die annually from CC now, how many more in future, and when cliamte and weatehr changes start to affect NZ more. Carbon cost is minor compared to other wastage and money-leaks and profiteering by contractors in the health sector…IMHO

  5. $27,000, at $30 per ton. Not too bad for the ministry considering what Hugh Logan gets paid. But I must say that I have yet to be convinced that Carbon Trading actually works. For example it is quite possible that the trees which the enviroment ministry is buying credits from are trees that were there anyway, so all thats really happening is that money is changing hands, and the ministry now has an excuse to pollute more as it thinks its emmissions are being ofset.

    Also one of the ministries that has to be carbon neutral by 2012 is health. The health ministry is much bigger then enviroment, so their carbon bill will be much more then the enviroment ministry. Do you think it’s acceptable that the health ministry will have to spend all this money on carbon credits when our health system is short of cash already? Although it should get better now that David Cunliff is running the show :).

  6. Nick C, that is a good question, but there is a good answer and it highlights the problem with the ‘carbon neutral’ concept actually. The Govt’s idea of carbon neutral is not zero-emissions, it is zero net emissions. This means you reduce emissions as much as you can, and then you ‘offset’ the rest by buying credits that represent a reduction elsewhere (e.g. some forest planted). However, as long as there are plenty of offsets to buy at a cheap price, then you can happily increase your emissions and just buy more offsets. This is exactly what NZ has done since 1990: we’ve increased emissions 25%, but we can buy Kyoto credits to pay for the difference. The Govt ETS assigns some of this liability to industry sectors (polluters) but much remains subsidised by the public (taxpayers). So, carbon neutral allows them to buy their way out of emissions rather than have to reduce them to zero, which is logical in the sense that zero-emissions is rather difficult with current infrastructure, but is also a danger if it allows emissions to keep increasing due to cheap offsets being available. MfE’s 900t would cost $27,000 to offset at $30/t, which is not much for a large ministry. So, no MfE staffer will be planting trees, they will buy that offset service from someone else. This problem is why certified schemes like carboNZero require efforts to reduce as well as to mitigate.

  7. Did the government specify its goal to make large parts of the public sector carbon neutral q? Or am I just making that up?

    Well no, its a fact. The Govt has set a goal to make the Enviroment Ministry and 5 others carbon neutral by 2012. Of course they have to go to meetings in other countries, maybe Helen Clark should have thought about that before she made a commitment to carbon neutrallity in the public sector.

    But now the commitment has been made and it will be a huge political liability if it isnt met (assuming Labour is in office that long). So how are we going to do this now that air travel is factored in? It looks like Hugh Logan better get planting! And it gets better. Another of the public sectors that has to be carbon neutral by 2012 is the Treasury, and apperently 45% of their staff get paid over $100,000 per year. Imagine all those highly paid officals out the back planting trees rather then doing their job!

  8. > Is this correct??
    Environmental Performance Index – 1st out of 80 countries, at 88.0/100[61]

    1. It is relative to other countries who have had human exploitation for a lot longer than our mere 200 odd years of intense environmental transformation; we had a very fertile, rain-fed, resource-rich environment to start with (which we have done our best to wreck as fast as possible); and a low population to land area.
    2. But look at the measurements at
    We’re doing really well on some like obvious ones like child mortality, indoor air pollution, drinking water, sanitation, and so on. These swamp the result, so the baddies of overfishing, energy efficiency and agriculture are not obvious.
    3. Actually some of these numbers are a bit wierd. Why we register so well on nitrogen loading I don’t know considering our biggest river, the Waikato, is effectively dead from Huntly downstream due to pollution loading. and 95% of lowland rivers are not safe for swimming…
    4. Also note that it only counts Co2 emissions, not all GHGs.
    So I don’t think 88 is a score to crow about, it is one to think about what makes up the 12% considering we have such a head start on many of the indicators.

  9. >3 News didnt think that it was so petty, infact they ran it as their lead story last night didnt they? And no one has every accused 3 news of being a right wing mouthpeice.

    But they didn’t mention numbers so the difference in scale between tonnes and megatonnes is lost. MfE’s 900t is equivalent to burning ~450t of coal. NZ exported 2.7Mt of coal in 2006, which released 6.5Mt of Co2. That’s only 7,000 times as much as MfE’s emissions! Or the Nat’s sacred cow of dairy farming produced ~14Mt of CO2e last year; just 15,000 times as much as MfE. Scale is important. MfE’s increase is dwarfed by the effect of the work they do.

    Of course we need to reduce air travel and car travel where we can, and MfE needs to stop using taxis and take the bus or train, but we can’t not send NZ representatives to international climate change negotiations, which are likely to increase in frequency and size over the next few years as the urgency of addressing the issue is realised.

  10. And a question, what does the green party do to manage its emmisions? Does it have a written plan that records all its emmisions, and to off set them?

  11. 3 News didnt think that it was so petty, infact they ran it as their lead story last night didnt they? And no one has every accused 3 news of being a right wing mouthpeice.

    The main reason that this is so embarasing is because the government has actually outlined specific targets to make parts of the public sector Carbon neutral, had they not done that then this wouldnt be so important. It now looks like Hugh Logan, instead of running off to important Kyoto meetings and firing national party related workers (while hiring Labour Party related ones) Will have to spend his entire day planting trees out the back to meet govt targets. Have fun Hugh!

  12. Actually the main reason why MfE’s emissions have gone up is because they have increased international travel as a result of preliminaries for the next round of Kyoto Protocol negotiations and various bilaterals now looking to include environmental clauses, including with Thailand, Singapore and a few others I’ve got in my notes somewhere.

    Does Nick think we should stop MfE staff travelling to international forums to negotiate these things? Well, no, when Hugh Logan discussed this at the Local Government and Environment select committee with him he said he thought that was important work and his real point was that getting the public sector to cut emissions was a waste of time compared to addressing things like power generation. (I note he did not mention agriculture – always the cow in the corner)

    It may be true that MfE’s emissions are minimal compared to Huntly power station’s but does that mean the ministry should do nothing? I would have thought that getting the public sector, especially MfE, to show leadership is important, quite apart from the significant savings of taxpayers money from both reducing the carbon liability as well as reductions in things like the power bill, transport costs, waste disposal costs etc etc.

  13. Actually, there is one way that National gripe about the Greens’ use of air miles could be consistent, and that’s if National admitted that it thinks global warming is a hoax.

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