Climate policy vs. Princess and the Pea – better to stick with the story-books

As we all now know, we are running out of time to prevent dangerous climate change.  Twenty-one years after Earth Summit and the UN Framework Convention, we are still to strike a global agreement that will bind all countries to curb and then reduce emissions to stay under the 2°C threshold.

In fact, we are about a decade behind schedule, having meant to bring such an agreement into force in 2013, immediately following the end of the Kyoto Protocol’s 1st commitment period.  The way things stand now, we are negotiating for an agreement that will come into force in 2020 – about a decade too late.

So, how are things going, even on the slow timetable?  Well, slowly. The 19th UN climate meeting in Warsaw last month called for countries to do their preparatory work this year with a view to adopting the text in Paris in December ‘15.

The UN resolution adopted in Warsaw urges countries to get real.  The time for smoke-and-mirrors is over. It warns that climate change represents an ‘urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies, future generations and the planet’.  It notes that the elements of a draft negotiating text would be considered by the Parties in Lima in December ’14.  It therefore invites all parties to initiate or intensify their domestic preparations for post-2020 national contributions, and communicate these by the 1st quarter of 2015.

Then the parties sloped off home.

But the Europeans take this stuff seriously.  The EU commenced work immediately after the Warsaw resolution.  Member country ministers urged the Commission to adopt a target for 2030 of at least 40%.  This, incidentally, would be a domestic EU reduction target, that is to say, not one dependent on the purchase of external Kyoto credits (mainly CERs acquired through projects in developing countries).  “It is essential”, said British, French, German and Italian ministers, “that we get an ambitious agreement if we are to avoid the most serious and damaging effects of climate change”.

By 24 January, the EC had reached agreement. After considerable debate, they decided on the 40% target.

But how, dear Lord, is New Zealand going to respond?  We were as silent as a mouse during Warsaw.  So I thought the Government might appreciate an opportunity to address the NZ public on the matter.  Yesterday I asked the question: will the Government be announcing a target for 2030, if so, when?

‘No’, said Minister Tim Groser.  For “multiple good reasons, no”.  The exchange is here. In short, the reasons the Minister gave for refusing to announce a 2030 target were the following:

  1. We already have an aspirational target of 50% for 2050.
  2. We also have a 5% unconditional target for 2020, which is marginally better than Australia, Canada and the US.
  3. Try to implement a 40% cut for New Zealand and you will ‘destroy the economy’.
  4. Picking figures out of the air without reference to a country’s national circumstances is ‘insane’.
  5. It is ‘insane’ because our forestry works on a 27-year rotation cycle, and by 2040 our forests will become a carbon sink again.
  6. The EU is projected to be about 25% off 1990 levels by 2020, so a 40% cut ‘looks entirely different’.
  7. The EC had failed to agree on a 27% increase for renewable electricity, which was a difficult ask of the European Union ‘because of its actual national circumstances’.
  8. What we need is a comprehensive, internationally-binding agreement that deals with the problem, not the 1.4% of emissions New Zealand contributes.

Brief answers to the Minister’s reasoning will suffice.

  1. What the UN COP-19 is calling for is not the 2050 aspirational target; it is a target for the Paris agreement that will apply to post-2020 and is relevant essentially to the period 2020-40.  That is why the EU is doing it.  Yet again, New Zealand, under Tim Groser, is being gratuitously truculent.
  2. The 5% unconditional target for 2020 revels in the company of the other pioneer societies, all of which are irresponsibly below the range recommended by the UN-IPCC for 2020: between a 25-40% cut.
  3. Every economy will be destroyed by dangerous climate change.  The challenge for 2015-20 is to commence a decarbonisation transformation through strong price signals in which all participate and no-one is unduly financially hurt (unless they wilfully oppose the transformation) That requires political leadership.—skills of a kind that the Minister lacks.  His Prime Minister has those skills but not the wisdom or depth of understanding to deploy them on climate policy.
  4. Nobody is picking figures out of the air. The UN-IPCC made it clear, back in ’07 (Synthesis Report, Box 13.7) that for the 2°C threshold, developed countries would need to reduce from 1990 levels between 25% and 40% by 2020.  The range is designed to account for national circumstances.  No developed country, whatever its circumstances, can be below the 25% lower limit, or it is failing to ‘do its fair share’. The ’92 Framework Convention identifies as one of its basic principles the ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ of all countries – something this Government is developing a weird antipathy towards.
  5. Forestry plays a supplementary role to reductions in gross emissions, as was made clear in the Kyoto Protocol of which New Zealand remains a member.  To place a national climate policy on the vagaries of forestry planting that reflects non-climate related market conditions only, with spikes and falls from the 1990s to the 2040s, is a policy failure of monumental proportion.  Insane, really.
  6. The reason the EU is on target for 25% by 2020 is because it commenced serious policy from the ‘90s, while New Zealand fluffed around.  We are not exonerated from global responsibility simply because we have developed an agricultural-based economy. Our gross emissions could have been reduced – at least the 50% non-agricultural – and we have failed to do so.
  7. Here the Minister got himself badly confused. The EC actually did agree on a 27% target for electricity renewables for the EU, and that target is also binding.  It decided not to recommend national targets so as to accord intra-Union flexibility – that is the whole point of the EU. It is astonishing that Mr Groser can make this kind of mistake, in such cavalier manner. It denotes incompetence or wilful deception. Either one is unacceptable.
  8. It is time the Minister dropped the pathetic ‘we are so small as to be unimportant’ plea – it is demeaning to his country and contrary to the national spirit that was born in Gallipoli.  Neither the Europeans nor our Pacific neighbours regard us as unimportant.  The point of percentages, Minister, is that it reduces disparities to comparable dimensions.  New Zealand has the same obligation to reduce by an agreed percentage as do the largest countries.  It is not rocket science, but it is beyond the Minister.

In his State of the Nation address, President Obama said that he wanted to be able to look his grand-children in the eye and say we did all we could.  I conveyed that insight of political emotion to Mr Groser.  He said he reads The Princess and the Pea to his mokopuna.

I am glad he does.  I wish him well, and more particularly his family.  But it is time he stood aside and gave them a chance to inherit a half-decent planet.

21 Comments Posted

  1. Frog – How about putting this link up in some form on our pages? We don’t get the open threads any more I see, and I don’t have any other way to re-emphasize that this is THE.SINGLE.MOST.IMPORTANT.ISSUE of this century.

  2. dbuckley – the spinning reserves are needed to cover the loss of generation. The loss of one transmission line can be covered by other transmission lines providing the rating of the remaining lines is not exceeded. With 2 strings of pylons, we would get 4 x 700MW poles using our current voltages and currents allowing 2100MW to be fully backed up. Beyond that would need additional spinning reserve in the island receiving the power.

    A second converter station could be located at the bottom end of the new 400kV link into Auckland which is well placed to receive power from the Waikato hydro stations and the geothermal stations, and can deal with the power sent up from the South Island.

    I like the idea of a converter station at the top of the South Island, particularly for power being sent south.


  3. New Zealand’s population has been increasing due to people living longer but this is now stabilising.

    With deaths rising faster than births, annual natural increase (births minus deaths) is likely to decrease. From 31,000 in 2012, there is roughly a 3 in 4 chance that natural increase will be less than 27,000 in 2036. There is a similar chance natural increase will be less than 25,000 in 2061. There is also a small chance of natural decrease (deaths outnumber births) by 2036, but roughly a 1 in 3 chance of natural decrease by 2061.

  4. The best option for dealing with dry years is to have enough renewable electricity generation to meet our dry year electricity years and to handle the surplus in other years and during summers when the demand is lower by controllable loads. The Aluminium Smelter can be ramped up and down over periods of a few months. We can also use surplus electricity to generate hydrogen for our oil refinery and for our ammonia/urea plant, both of which currently generate hydrogen from steam reformation of natural gas – a process that releases CO2.

    If we want more dry year reserve, we can burn biomass, preferably in a Combined Heat and Power plant.


  5. But it is NOT Green Party policy that is leading to New Zealand’s population increase. Instead it is immigration. Given that we have enough resources in New Zealand to support these newcomers, why not? We just don’t want to be overwhelmed by a flood of immigrants.


  6. Soltka notes:

    Population growth is NOT a problem for New Zealand. The Fertility Rate in New Zealand has been sitting at replacement level since 1978, having dropped evenly from its peak at over twice that level in 1961.

    This isn’t about fertility or births, its about population. I appreciate there is a link, but it isn’t absolute. Since 1990, New Zealand’s population has increased 17%.

  7. I’m with Trevor29 on a second, geographically disparate HVDC link. It could, as he says, then provide the spinning reserve for the first contingent event, which would almost certainly be a loss of a pole of HVDC link. And, given the the South Island has lots of hydro, it can be hydro running tail water depressed, so actually not wasting fuel, unlike running a thermal station.

    HVDC Light is now proven up to 1.8GW at 500KV, and thus could be a real contender, as an intermediate converter station could be built at the top of the South to reinforce that traditional weak area.

    Lots of positives.

    However, we still have a dry year problem, for which the current answer is thermal. It will probably have to stay thermal, too.

  8. There was a serious suggestion that the next trans-Tasman undersea fibre-optic cable should terminate at Invercargill rather than Northland, and that Invercargill could become a data centre making use of cheap, reliable Manapouri power. (There would be plenty of cold seawater available for cooling too :))

    The North Island is of course not without its own energy resources, including all of our current geothermal electricity generators. Being closer to the equator, solar power is also more likely to be usable although being in the land of the long white cloud is not optimum for solar power.

    I think we will need to give serious consideration to a second HVDC link. The problem with having a single link is that 700MW is a lot of power to lose suddenly, requiring 700MW of reserve generation in the island receiving that power. Having a second string of pylons would give us 4 circuits each of which could handle 700MW (or more) so we could run it at power levels up to 2100MW without requiring any reserve in the receiving island.

    Unfortunately this idea is also likely to provoke a knee-jerk reaction advocating something like “distributed generation” without thinking through the whole picture.

    My advice to the Green Party members would be to choose your battles wisely.


  9. Couple of things…

    Dams have to be maintained, sediment removed. There is an ongoing cost to this, but the process isn’t unknown. This one objection is brought to every single dam project that has been discussed in the past decade. We know how to do it. I’m not so keen on the natural process of erosion that I would dump sediment back into the river… some might be… but that’s a decision unrelated to power and flood issues. My point is that the Green party has a knee-jerk reaction to dams and power projects and that has to stop. It makes us look like we are NOT serious about the larger problem and that’s because some of US don’t understand the larger problem and are as a result not prioritizing properly. You know and I know just how seriously the shutdown of CO2 emitting plants and processes can affect our society.

    When we work out that we HAVE to shut down the CO2 emitting plants it’ll be too late to start thinking about resurrecting plans for a the dams we killed that could have produced electricity we’ll need.

    A lot of major sources of renewable energy are South Island based. The mountains and hydro are there… while Auckland is flat, overcrowded and has a lot of land built on that is apt to be underwater some 200 years hence. Developing it (as it is) more is very probably a poor use of resources. Turning Dunedin or Christchurch or even Invercargill into an industrial powerhouse would likely be a far more productive way to alter the economics, demographics, and power distribution problems of this country. ? “People to the Power” ?? 🙂

    Harnessing the power in Cook Strait would be productive too, but I don’t see that one happening. It would have to be a priority for a government that I can’t see coming until the building of it is beyond our reach.

  10. “move people to the south island!”, if everyone had the social skills of Marcus Lush, then social engineering might just work.

    Fair inclusion of externalities and valuation of public goods, this will let the market solve it. Without having to guess at social engineering policies.

    You guys sound very well informed, but if we read back on all this in ten years time, there will be lots of things our policy makers will have overlooked.

    We can use the planning resources of investers to solve with the most efficent and economic solutions. Governance here requires the removal of market inefficancies, so our society can solve this one without cumbersum policy.

    There is a collective will to get this right;
    – guidance though fair economic plicy
    – trust in the good of man.

  11. BJ – I don’t think we are really in any disagreement. You have simply offered another reason for building dams, which I don’t disagree with.

    However dams for flood control can cause more problems than they solve. Floods tend to bring down a lot of stones, etc. Putting a dam in the way causes all this to build up behind the dam, depriving the lower reaches of the fill and likely to impact on the dam’s capacity over time. Each one needs careful consideration.

    Whether moving the population to the South Island will help is an interesting question. The South Island is colder so more energy is needed for winter heating, but as AGW kicks in, there may be more use of Air Conditioning for summer cooling in the North Island. Moving our major power users south could help, but I am not sure what the other major power users are in the North Island. We already have the aluminium smelter down here and a cement works.


  12. Trevor, in this I am going to have to disagree – though it is in theory unnecessary, the dams have more than one purpose.

    Yes we must obtain more power from all renewable sources (as you’ve noted most of them I won’t repeat), and cut back (as you also noted), and shift transport loads to electric (as you noted)… but I do not perceive that as being sufficient.

    In the LONG run it might serve, but the transition is shaping as brutal.

    The secondary problems however, are alternate flooding and drought. We aren’t as ready for that result as we need to be. It isn’t possible to predict which places will get what either.

    So places where dams can reasonably be build probably need to have dams, and our party is going to have to think REALLY carefully about why it is opposing sources of electricity when dams are proposed that contain any significant hyrdo component.

    It is a small disagreement, but it is there. My default answer to a dam proposal has to be “yes”, solely for the flood control aspects in the face of climate change and a proposal that supplies additional electricity is far more likely to get that “yes” in spite of the many negatives that are possible.

    We REALLY have to be working on moving population to the South Island. How I have NO idea, but we have to find the incentives needed to make it happen.

  13. We DON’T have to dam all our rivers for hydro power. However we do need to get moving quickly on providing renewable power to replace our fossil fuels, and that does include reliable power. Wind, tidal and solar power cannot meet our winter heating needs on still frosty nights, and the HVDC link is limited to 1400MW and needs 700MW reserve in case one pole fails. The rest of the North Island’s winter peak needs need to be met by hydro, geothermal, biomass and fossil fuels, so if we want to end fossil fuel usage, we need to up our hydro and geothermal generation or add pumped storage or other storage options. (Or we could add a second string of pylons to our HVDC link.) There are other measures we could take, but these are the main options.

    There is more flexibility in the South Island to pick and choose which rivers to harness, and scope to add pumped hydro storage to our existing lakes so that wind and solar power can supplement the hydro.

    The task is bigger than just finding substitutes for our existing fossil fueled electricity generators – we also need to cut back and eventually eliminate the use of fossil fuels for stationary energy – home, commercial and industrial heating, hydrogen production (yes, this is being done in New Zealand), drying, etc. And we also need to make improvements in the transport arena, which will require more electicity.


  14. DBuckley – Planetary Population Growth is not solvable by peaceful means in the next 10 years.

    It is thus NOT a fruitful avenue in the solutions. I’d be curious about which policies of ours are encouraging population growth, because it isn’t something we espouse, but there may be some unintended consequences you want us to think through. My experience has been that most of them HAVE been thought through pretty well, and that there are some conservative myths about supporting the poor that aren’t a large part of any problem despite their visibility.

    This will wait until Mother Nature convinces the majority, and then all hell will be out for breakfast because the only thing that will fix it at THAT point will be a complete dismantling of the economic system. It is entirely likely that after the 2×4 event, there will no longer be a conservative, ACT, or “National” party, nor any return of such moronic antics as they’ve been displaying for a thousand or more years.

    We should prepare ourselves for all those things, and stop pretending that there are hydroelectric dams we should not be building because some river would no longer be “wild”. It is going to rain A LOT MORE when it rains at all, when the warming kicks seriously into gear, more water in the air.

    Preparations… may not be perfectly right, but failing to prepare will prove perfectly wrong.

  15. Emissions from agriculture may be indeed taken into account, as they are quite big. But nothing compares to the amount of pollution produced by the burning of coal and other fossil fuels. What we all need is more clean/sustainable energy policies to run our economies.

  16. No economic tool to set a price/cost for emissions, that’s the problem, period.

    NZ’s carbon trading scheme in its current form, that’s just politial theater.

    For an enlightening read: Motu Economic and Public Policy Research

  17. Population growth is NOT a problem for New Zealand. The Fertility Rate in New Zealand has been sitting at replacement level since 1978, having dropped evenly from its peak at over twice that level in 1961.

    see: Total Fertility Rate 1921 to 2012

    New Zealand’s total fertility rate has been relatively stable over the last three decades, averaging 2.02 births per woman. During this period, the total fertility rate varied from 1.90 births per woman (in 2003) to 2.18 (in 1991 and 2009)….

  18. “If you take agriculture out of the equation, and compare per-capita emissions 1990 and today, there’s not a lot in it.”

    But we should have reduced our non-agricultural per-capita emissions significantly over that time frame.

    And I understand much of New Zealand’s population increase has been due to immigration.


  19. We are not exonerated from global responsibility simply because we have developed an agricultural-based economy. Our gross emissions could have been reduced – at least the 50% non-agricultural – and we have failed to do so.

    If you take agriculture out of the equation, and compare per-capita emissions 1990 and today, there’s not a lot in it. As I’ve noted in another recent thread, population growth is the problem, a problem which the Green Party support making worse.

  20. Even worse than the EU! Shame Mr Groser!

    EU policy fails; “Worse than useless”, artical by The Economist.

    With a carbon price of 5euro/ton, while Governments like Germany are subsidising renewables by paying up to 200euro/ton!
    The energy sector and others deperately need clear signals to channal smart investments. Fuctional economic tool are not sooooo difficult.

    Three options for tools:

    1. real price on czrbon trading (current system could be fixed)
    2. carbon tax (just make-up a number, aprox. 10x higher than 5euro/ton)
    3. or feel embarrassed like Mr Groser (does her really still believe his own words? If so it’s going to hurt the poor guy when he wakes up to the clearly reported truth)

    Much to do, lets go Team!

Comments are closed.