Climate change and New Zealand – Mr Groser leads us to the promised land…

Two months ago, international scientists reported that the Polar ice-cap had melted far faster than the IPCC anticipated, about 80% since 1980.  It might have its first ice-free day about 2015 (half a century ahead of expectations) and be completely ice-free around 2030-35. This was described as ‘terrifying news’ by the leading scientist, since it portends another step closer to the unpredictable ‘tipping-points’ that could seriously destabilise Earth’s climate.

Meanwhile, here down-under, the bill amending the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme has landed back on the floor of the House, albeit with a dull thud.  The Select Committee, having been given a truncated period to hear submissions in the name of democracy, reported back, by (Government) majority as if the 803 submissions had not been lodged.

So back in the House, the Bill goes into Committee of the Whole in the chamber and it is open for MPs to propose amendments (SOPs) to the Amendment Bill. This is indeed done by two MPs – Labour’s Moana Mackey and Green’s Kennedy Graham.  The Minister, Hon. Tim Groser, sits next to the Chairman.

My Supplementary Order Paper 147 would strengthen the ETS, sending genuine price signals to the national economy:

–       Accept the UN targets for emission reductions for New Zealand (range: 25%-40% off 1990 in 2020 and 80%-90% in 2050), rather the Govt.’s 10-15% and 50% respectively;

–       Introduce five-yearly quantitative budgets from 2016-50 to meet those targets;

–       Introduce measures to strengthen the ETS to achieve those targets and budgets;

–       Establish an independent Climate Change Commission and an Appeals Tribunal for relief.

I speak (here and here) to my SOP.  Labour supports it.  When the vote comes, Minister Groser casts a financial veto on the grounds that it affects fiscal issues, and also was submitted too late.  Accordingly it is not voted on.  This is done through the Chairman.  The Minister speaks not at all.

I submit a second SOP from the floor.  It would change the name of the Amendment Bill to the Climate Change Response (Emissions Encouragement) Amendment Bill.  I explain that this reflects an inescapable logic:

–       The Review Panel’s Report (Figure 2.1, p. 22) shows emissions increasing between 2010 and ’50 on the strength of the ETS as it currently operates.

–       If an Amendment Bill is then introduced that demonstrably weakens its provisions by deferring any increase in the price-cap, continuing free allocations, continuing the one-for-two surrender obligation, refusing to restrict importation of cheap foreign credits, and deferring agriculture indefinitely, then it cannot be otherwise than that emissions will increase.

The Chairman decides not to put this SOP to vote also, on the grounds that it is frivolous.  A Labour MP calls for the Speaker to be called to the House to review the decision.  This is done.  The Speaker confirms the decision.  A vote is not taken.

There are two elements to the argumentation of any legislation passing through the House.  There is the important underlying dimension to the content of the Bill, and there is the tactical dimension on the floor.  Our substantive points are made, despite the tactical setbacks.

But that is transitory.  What, in fact, was the most telling and significant feature of the entire proceeding was the Minister himself.  Slumped further down as time passed, he was called upon on two separate occasions to answer a question.  Which was this:

“The UN indicates that global emissions must reduce from 48 Gt. to 44 Gt. from 2010 to 2020.  Comparable emission reductions for New Zealand are from 51 Mt.(net) to about 40 Mt.  Can the Minister show to the House how he sees New Zealand achieving this, with the amendments to the ETS he is proposing?  What is the critical path he is developing for New Zealand on emission reductions that will achieve these targets – or even his own weaker target of 15% (= 49 Mt.)?

I asked this of Minister Groser twice – once before dinner, once after.  Then the Bill was finally voted on.  Not once did the Minister speak.  Through the entire debate, from 4.00 pm to 8.30 pm, not once did the Minister speak.  When the vote was taken, he slowly arose and left.

What type of character prompts a Minister to show such disrespect to the House?

Is one so Olympian, of such all-encompassing arrogance, that it is too unbecoming to respond to the minions in the NZ House of Representatives, those mere servants of democracy who seek to hold ministerial action to account?

18 Comments Posted

  1. Trevor – I guess it depends on the alternatives that are cheaper than status quo + tax. I’ve probably been a bit focussed on oil but of course there’s farming etc.

    bjchip – Interesting article regarding the Swedish policies. I think the ‘whacking great charge’ is the reason they actually got results though – it actually affected affordability. Our ‘piddling around the edges’ combined with CPI adjusted benefits / minimum wages (and usually all wages, particularly in the public sector depending on who’s in power) mean I can’t see ours having much effect other than what Trevor pointed out. I think there needs to be some ‘discomfort’ before alternatives are taken up – otherwise why would people change their behaviour?

    Haha nice engine, bet it sounds bad-ass. Haven’t owned a vehicle in over ten years though – don’t need one here in Wellington, everything within walking distance + good public transport.

  2. but not sure how you figure giving it back does also

    We don’t.

    The “giving back” it a way to ensure (among other things) that Government does not rely on this particular tax.

    As the tax works it will become less because people will become better at avoiding making expensive emissions. It would be a mistake to allow the government any incentive at all to keep that revenue stream flowing strongly.

    To an extent of course, it also DOES have the effect of removing money from some “owners”, to people that are guaranteed to spend it… which *will* have an effect of increasing consumption… but consumption of what? The incentive to NOT pay the tax remains for all.

    That effect is small enough to ignore in the effort and we know that the process actually DOES work as Sweden implemented a whacking great charge on their CO2 and got impressive results. The thing is that they actually did for real what we got promises and politicians posturing about.

    I have said many times, we should fire the entire government here and send a guy with a photocopier to Stockholm.

    The education/affluence thing is difficult to tickle out. I tend to agree that education is the more important factor, particularly education of women, but I suspect that they work together rather synergistically as the effect has been pretty clear. I don’t think GIVING people money solves things well, better that they have jobs and opportunity to feel valued as members of the society, but there are other problems wrapped up in that. Here the principal issue we attempt to solve is the CO2, the deeper structural economic issues are not addressed.

    Impoverishing people hemi… the specific value proposition that someone presents us at any given time is not relevant to the overall tax injustice that prevails here. A dollar earned one way (PAYE) is taxed and a dollar earned another way (Capital Gains) is not. Money paid out one way is tax deductible, but money paid out another is not. It is all arranged to suck money out of the lower class into the hands of the owner class, and that is not relevant to the value proposition that people present.

    i’m actually Hemi, only now registered

    So… you don’t own one of these…

    THAT is sort of disappointing… the 426 Hemi Head engine is still one of the really impressive engines on the planet.

    Green AND Motorhead… it is a daily wonder my head doesn’t explode 🙂

  3. Hemi – you seems to have missed the point that the ETS (or a carbon tax) is intended to change behaviour beyond simply affecting how much people can buy. By pushing up fossil fuel prices, people and companies are encouraged to buy other fuels or other forms of energy, or to invest in measures that will cut down on their fossil fuel usage. The aim is not to impact on the quality of life for each person, just to impact on how that quality of life is achieved.


  4. Hemi. One of the more original self justifications for keeping themselves rich and the majority of New Zealanders struggling that I have heard.

    In other words you want the poor to take the brunt of paying for AGW solutions while the very rich continue to get 20% increase in wealth/consumption.
    How many jet flights to Hawaii equal a bit more healthy food for a NZ child?

  5. Hi Kennedy,
    If Labour was prepared to support your Supplementary Order Paper 147 to improve the NZETS, do you think they would adopt it as their policy on the NZETS? It would certainly be a huge improvement on the policy they had at the 2011 election in which it seemed the only change from the Smith-Groser NZETS status quo was ‘agriculture in with 90% free allocation in 2013, not 2015’.
    BTW your speeches and metaphors (Rio+20 as global governance crisis and ecological crisis) ‘ecocide’, ‘childish logic’ of Groser) have been great!! Kept it up!
    Kia kaha.

  6. Eli has a point here:

    The correct answer to all of these people is rejection, not engagement. It isn’t a matter of debate anymore, the science is done, the debate is over. They lost on points, having none.

    The fact is that China now has more credibility on climate than New Zealand… because they recognize the problem and are working hard to reduce THEIR carbon intensity. We aren’t, and from the actions of our treasonous leadership, don’t care.

    With A Fork – Sideways

  7. As you’ve probably figured, i’m actually Hemi, only now registered 🙂 Good response bjchip, you had me thinking away for a while.

    I agree with you that taxation reduces consumption, but not sure how you figure giving it back does also – unless you figure those on lower incomes consume less with the same amount of money?!. I’d hazard a guess that the relation between income and consumption (or emissions) is logarithmic rather than linear. People can only eat so much etc. etc. – income surplus to requirements is likely to be saved or perhaps proportionally more spent on services or goods that don’t have the same carbon footprint.

    Therefore I suspect that giving $20 to someone on a low income will probably result in more emissions than giving $20 to someone on a high income who doesn’t need it.

    I understand that ETS + WFF / progressive taxation results in income redistribution, my point is redistribution is NOT the goal of ETS – it’s goal is a reduction in emissions. I don’t believe that taking away with one hand then giving back with another will achieve the desired goal UNLESS consumption reacts to the pricing signals proportionally greater than the increase itself (e.g. $1 of ETS results in $2 less consumption – of course this would have to also apply across all incomes, which it probably doesn’t).

    I disagree that “Affluence breeds abstinence” – I suspect it has more to do with education. Giving people money won’t make them smarter or achieve much in the way of educational outcomes.

    We ‘impoverish’ people at our peril? No-one impoverishes anyone. If someone isn’t producing something of value to society, how is that societies fault? If I prefer Jack’s pies to Peter’s pies, I’m hardly ‘impoverishing’ Peter because I choose not to purchase his pies! He had no entitlement to my $4.00 in the first place just as I had no entitlement to his pie. Perhaps you meant “We ignore the needy at our own peril”.

  8. How do your social and economic policies, largely those to do with income redistribution, reconcile with your goal to reduce consumption? If we accept that the environment is being destroyed by emissions (which the ozone hole would attest to), then how is taxing with one hand (ETS) then giving back with the other (WFF, progressive taxation, benefits linked to CPI) going to achieve anything?

    Taxing and Giving back does both Hemi… I fail to understand your confusion.

    The tax is on CO2 emissions. It isn’t hard to understand that such a tax which gets refunded to everyone somehow, DOES effectively redistribute wealth. Is it? Not only does it do that but every single person who goes to spend their share of it gets far more for their dollars if they manage to spend on things that AVOID The tax. So they buy insulation, they buy more efficient cars and refrigerators, they don’t take as many expensive flights to somewhere. Which reduces emissions, again, a market force of exceeding simplicity.

    I sense a massive contradiction between your environmental policies and your social / economic ones. The root cause of environmental destruction – overpopulation – is not going to go away

    Actually it DOES go away as education and access to other benefits of income/food security kick in. People living a first world lifestyle don’t need 15 kids to ensure that a couple of them survive to take care of them in their dotage. They don’t have that many kids. Look at the birthrate demographics a little differently. Affluence breeds abstinence… at least from having too many kids.

    We impoverish people at our peril.


  9. Hemi – the whole point of both an ETS and a carbon tax is to encourage moves away from fossil fuels. Both systems can take some of the price of carbon from the emitters and use it for supporting positive moves to reduce emissions such as better house insulation, more efficient lighting and heating, development of tidal power, etc. This will happen whether or not people react to the price signals. However the big reductions in emissions should come from people and companies reacting to the price signals by changing their behaviour. If the cost of water heating goes up, people are encouraged to install solar water heating or hot water heat pumps. If the cost of space heating goes up, people are encouraged to upgrade their insulation and install double glazing. If gas prices go up, electricity generators are more likely to invest in wind farms, geothermal plant and other renewable resources. If coal prices go up, burning waste wood or charcoal in the coal-fired power station (co-firing) becomes more attractive.

    All these benefits occur even though the bulk of the government income from the ETS or carbon tax is returned via lower other taxes, benefit increases, etc.

    However virtually none of these benefits will happen at the current very low ETS unit prices which are the result of the government accepting the so-called “hot air” credits.

    Personally I would have allowed the government to buy these hot-air credits for offsetting agricultural emissions only and require other emissions to be offset by higher-quality internationally recognised credits.


  10. RE Hemi’s post: it does look like a contradiction on the surface to try to ensure fairness in society at the same time as trying to persuade society to reduce consumption.
    However, supporting the current unfairness of the few owning and exploiting most of the resources is totally incompatible with environmental responsibility too. Why should those with the least power bear the brunt of the irresponsibilities of those with the most? Marginalised people have nothing to lose.
    It is pretty well-researched that countries with higher levels of disparity between rich and poor have worse environmental impacts too. Addressing disparity does not mean we want everyone to raise their level of consumption – far from it. When people are warm and dry, they get sick less often, they learn better, participate more. Healthy, educated people are essential for the survival of the planet. Learning to share is a good trait to foster.

  11. National guilty of ecocide

    What National obviously fail to understand is that the cost of reducing GHG emissions, which is a required expense to reduce the effects of anthropomorphic climate change, might not be cheap… But the cost of failing to act will be even more expensive…

  12. I’m going to be completely rational here for a minute.

    How do your social and economic policies, largely those to do with income redistribution, reconcile with your goal to reduce consumption? If we accept that the environment is being destroyed by emissions (which the ozone hole would attest to), then how is taxing with one hand (ETS) then giving back with the other (WFF, progressive taxation, benefits linked to CPI) going to achieve anything?

    I sense a massive contradiction between your environmental policies and your social / economic ones. The root cause of environmental destruction – overpopulation – is not going to go away if we continually adjust to allow a comfortable family living in the face of rising prices (which can and eventually will be predominantly due to scarcity if we carry on the exponential growth path). And if your argument in response is ‘NZ isn’t overpopulated’, my reply would be that our emissions are relatively low in the grand scheme of things also. Why one token action and not the other?

  13. According to this evening’s news:
    “Scientists predict that in a decade’s time global temperatures will be 0.3 of a degree higher than they are now – our temperature in New Zealand varies between 10 degrees and 15 degrees every day,” said Nick Smith.

    Nick Smith doesn’t appear to realise the implications of this prediction. The rising temperatures won’t stop after one decade, as the drivers will remain. So after 50 years, we may be looking at a 1.5 degree C rise, along with rising sea levels (as the sea water expands with the rising temperatures), ice melting leading to more sea level rise, droughts in some areas, bigger floods, and other impacts. And if we don’t get emissions under control, the temperature rises will be even higher and go on for even longer.

    One definition of “madness” is “loss of contact with reality”. By this definition, the National Party MPs and their allies are mad.


  14. I find your comments incredibly sad Kennedy. Sad that a Minister of the Crown could be so blase about thier responsibilities, sad that this attitude is not well known by the general public, sad that you have to work with such plonkers. However it reinforces why we so desperately need a change of government witha strong Green presence. Keep on smiling.

  15. I think he is already working for someone else. I think he has been working for someone else the whole time. I think, much as many other members of the National Party caucus, his allegiance to the country of New Zealand and his responsibilities as a human being both come after his allegiance to the corporate owners of the National Party.

    In other words, along with John Key and Bill English, he has been committing treason.

  16. It is truly appalling that short-term fiscal considerations should come ahead of long-term survival – but I guess that is what has been voted in. I wonder how long it will take for the majority of people to realise that their futures are being sold off in this way.

  17. “What type of character prompts a Minister to show such disrespect to the House?”
    Apart from Nick Smith and Kate Wilkinson, who have at least recognized some degree of Ministerial responsibility, the kind of character that is happy to remain in the National Government caucus.

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