IPCC 5th Assessment Report – exposing NZ on climate policy

The IPCC’s 3rd Working Group has just released the final section of its 5th Assessment Report.  Following WGI report on the science and WGII on impact, this one focuses on a response strategy.

The Report recalls that annual global emissions were 38 Gt. (billion tonnes) in 1990 and 49 Gt. in 2010.  Some 40% of emissions since the ‘pre-industrial era’ (1750) have been emitted in the past 40 years.  In short, things are extremely grim.

The Report proceeds to lay out a series of emission ‘pathways’ for the 21st century which the IPCC scientists identify for policy-makers to choose from.  The four scenarios indicate annual emissions in the year 2100 vary from zero to 132 Gt.  This is the critical contribution of Working Group III.

These emission levels are associated with consequences, of atmospheric carbon concentration and consequent average global temperature rise.  The Report says that baseline scenarios without mitigation result in global mean surface temperature increases in 2100 from 3.7 to 4.8°C above pre-industrial levels.

Already the world has warmed 0.8°C, so the increase this century would be an additional 3 to 4°C.  This kind of increase has been variously described as ‘dangerous’ to ‘catastrophic’ climate change.

These pathways are essentially global carbon budgets.  The only one that avoids dangerous climate change is the lowest (RCP 2.6).

The Panel does not divvy up that budget, leaving that task to the policy-makers.  IPCC chief, Rajendra Pachauri, describes this latest report as a ‘defining document’.  The scientists, he says, are simply ‘photographers’ who offer snapshots of where humanity is, and where it might be heading with emissions and climate change.  Their job, he says, is to ‘convince the public of the realities that are facing us’.

It is then for the policy-makers, the ‘navigators’, to determine our fate.  And part of that fate is a formal recognition of the temperature threshold (2°C), the global budget (some 500 Gt.,) and – hardest of all – an equitable division of the global budget into national emission budgets.

So far so good; now let’s proceed from the global to the international.  Here the going gets tough because, for the first time ever, the international community is obliged to agree on dividing up a global pie – the global atmospheric commons.  Think-tanks are working on this – developing an ‘equity reference framework’.  It is possible to do, intellectually.

But politically, that is another story, because historically nations have competed in international negotiations – trade-style – to get the best outcome for themselves.  But with the commons, competition does not do it.  You will not solve a global problem through having 195 countries each ‘punching above [their] weight’ – it is a logical impossibility.  And so our international UNFCCC negotiations drag on, 19th-century style, failing to solve a 21st-century global problem.

Now let’s go from the international to the national. In all of this, is New Zealand doing its ‘fair share’ in the increasingly desperate task of curbing global emissions in time to avoid dangerous, and even catastrophic, climate change?

Leading Kiwi scientists on the IPCC say ‘no’.  Their views resound with greater force than either a National MP (Minister Groser) saying ‘yes’ or a Green MP (me as opposition spokesperson) saying ‘no’.

See what they have to say:

Prof Ralph Sims (Massey University:

“Minister Groser states: ‘The emissions reduction opportunities available to other nations through conversion to renewables, mass public transport, and energy efficiency in industry have already been done or have far less scope in New Zealand.’ The IPCC mitigation report clearly shows this is far from correct.”

Dr. Bob Lloyd (Otago University):

“In international climate negotiations, New Zealand is regarded as a particularly tough negotiator.  By ‘tough’, read ‘selfish’. Many other countries would regard New Zealand as not making a fair contribution to equitable global reductions. … [b]y avoiding short-term financial costs of substantial reductions, there is a substantial ethical issue here – of equity.”

Dr. Jim Renwick (Victoria University):

“New Zealand is as well-placed as any nation to lead the world on this, provided we have the political will. That appears to be lacking right now.”

This IPCC report is crunch time. Denialism is virtually dead but prevarication remains alive and well.

The National Government has been schizophrenically split between private denialism, public assurance, and official prevarication.  Its ETS has been gutted to the level where gross emissions are encouraged and forest sequestration is turning to net emissions from deforestation.   It has bickered, prevaricated and rationalised.   Under National since 2009, our emissions have grown 20%.

So, what does the 5th IPCC Assessment Report of 2013/14 mean for New Zealand?  There will be a Synthesis Report out in October.  But having regard to the three reports now released, it means the following:

–    Climate change will affect New Zealand negatively, and is doing so already.  If current global emissions trends continue, such climate change will be dangerous and could be catastrophic.

–    New Zealand’s record of emissions increases parallels the global emissions record, whereas our emissions were meant to decline between 1992 and 2012.  New Zealand’s emissions projections over the next 30 years are even worse.

–    The National Government’s five-year climate policy has consciously, and somewhat cynically, prevented us from doing our ‘fair share’ (in the collective effort by developed countries to reduce), and has accordingly damaged our international reputation.

Time for a change – before the Synthesis Report comes out….

At least we can then say things will begin to turn around.

18 Comments Posted

  1. ETS does not represent a significant change of direction in addressing our energy use and fossil fuel folly. As such it would have had to be implemented heavily 35 years ago.
    Any money from such a tax as the proposed ETS non starter, can hardly go into the govt coffers and be put to use reducing taxation for the wealthy.

    A massive budget for planting, reducing energy usage and reducing non renewables consumption is necessary. Private interests will not attend to this area of urgent exploration.

    We no longer have a DSIR that was working in a multi disciplinary project prospecting our needs in a comprehensive sustainable direction.

    Instead we hear single issues discussed in isolation when multiple interconnected problems are facing us.
    Just as you can’t negotiate with a bomb dropped and in mid flight, then the consequences ahead can hardly be affected with just discussion.

    While private interests control / heavily direct the media and climate deniers such as Hoskins front the TV, then the radical education needed for public understanding of what lies ahead will not occur.

    Public opinion will not provide a guide to what actions are needed to face catastrophic collapse. We are totally unprepared.

    Meanwhile we pump out toxic dairy products for human consumption with highly inefficient use of our land and water. How many tons of oil does it take to produce and deliver one ton of dairy milk powder from NZ.

    Brainless economics for short term profit for a few and long term chaos for all of us.

  2. You were right the first time, thats exactl;y how the populace sees it.

    The funny thing is, they’re not that wrong.

  3. I must be tired. I didn’t mean to type “…the money rape from these…”, rather more like “…the money raked from these…”.


  4. The detail about both Carbon Taxes and Emission Trading Schemes that tends to be forgotten is that the money rape from these doesn’t just disappear. In the case of a Carbon Tax, it is all government income, and can be returned to the taxpayers by lowering other taxes and/or increasing benefits. The credits sold by the government in an ETS are also government income, while those traded are income for those businesses who reduce their emissions or develop low or zero emission alternatives.


  5. Fonterra is the biggest player in New Zealand’s Dairy Industry but there are more and more others (Synlait, Westaland, Gardians, Yashilli, etc.).

    Surely they all will go for the cheapest and to their opinion easiest and most reliable form of energy.

    To me the biggest problem here is that there is no price on carbon and the New Zealand’s air and water emission standards are compared to Europe pretty low hence coal fuelled energy pants are cheap. If we’d have responsible limits on air emissions like SOx, NOx, CO, etc. their energy plants would be come expensive and the would look at alternatives like wood and biomass.

    What doesn’t help the biomass industry is that we’re prepared to deforest the country hence these renewable fuels become more and more expensive as the transport cost are going up.

    To move a carbon intensive industry/country to a low carbon industry/country there needs to be a responsible price on carbon, that’s why there is and ETS and/or a carbon tax. However, the current carbon price is way too low to make a change hence we’ll continue to deforest and to use fossil fuels, and although I think that’s complete irresponsible what the Fonterra and others are doing, from a business and a shareholder point of view its not (…and CEOs don’t care too much about sustainability and future generations if their KPIs ask for increased turnover and profits).


  6. What’s up with Guyon Espiner parroting Bill English about power bills going up under the ETS? That was all he could talk about when he interviewed Kennedy and again today when he talked to David Cunliffe.

    Because if the answer is an ETS, then the personal impact of those additional costs are all people are interested in.

    Mr Espiner did not express any concern about the fact that the IPCC reports have shown there is a chance the planet probably won’t be able to support western civilisation by the end of the century.

    That because people keep talking about an ETS. We have to get beyond thinking that an ETS is even part of an answer, because as long as it is on the table, then there will be no traction on the underlying problem.

    At best, an ETS is a derivative answer to the problem: trying to control emissions by making emissions (or, in Joe public’s eyes, “everything”) more expensive.

    Simply put: If an ETS is the solution, then we’re fucked.

  7. My point is that Fonterra uses huge amounts of fossil fuels … and what is the actual genuine benefit to the country.

    The vast majority of Fonterra’s product is exported, so I would opine that those tonnes of carbon emissions from creating those exports (including cow belching) should, on paper, be exported along with the product, and be accounted for in Fonterra’s customers carbon balance sheets, not ours.

    If you subtract the exported farming emissions off the New Zealand’s top line emissions, then “our” emissions have actually risen quite modestly. Agriculture does account for a large percentage of New Zealand’s emissions, much more so than most other countries.

  8. I do not need to defend Fonterra but calling them selfish shifts the focus of CC mitigation from where it needs to be – on the economic imperative that drives our society to devalue the environment.

    Being largely a price taker in their markets, Fonterra must focus on what they can control – their input costs.

    Can you imagine the public furore if the price of milk were to rise to reflect the cost of RE fuels replacing fossil fuels?

    In point of fact, Fonterra have a quite comprehensive sustainability program and instead of being selfish, I see them merely doing what is best for their shareholders. At the moment, that position simply reflects the energy intensity of fossil fuels compared to alternatives.

    We are heading in to difficult times so economic sustainability is as important a consideration as environmental sustainability is. To manage one without considering the other is like cutting of our nose to spite our face.

  9. My point is that Fonterra uses huge amounts of fossil fuels (I wonder what proportion of NZ’s GHGs that is) and what is the actual genuine benefit to the country. Sorry Trevor, I started replying to you and kept writing, didn’t mean to direct it all at you 🙂 I agree that Fonterra are being selfish.

  10. Viv – I am not sure what your point is. I agree Fonterra are being selfish. All I am saying is that CJ may have some numbers wrong, not that the sentiment is wrong.


  11. Trevor. The ‘Fonterra sustainability fact sheet’ on energy says ‘At our New Zealand manufacturing sites in 2010 we consumed over 5,500 gigawatt hours of energy’ and ‘The overall mix of energy sources is dominated by coal, gas and oil’. That’s not counting the 81 million kms they say their tankers travel each year. It would be interesting to know how many tonnes of CO2 that equates to. Thats before they release more GHGs shipping the product across the world. Add that to the damage to rivers from dairying and the Nats want to keep expanding the dairy sector! And the tax take from dairying is what exactly? Isn’t the dairy debt so huge that it is a threat to financial security? Age of Stupid indeed!

  12. What’s up with Guyon Espiner parroting Bill English about power bills going up under the ETS? That was all he could talk about when he interviewed Kennedy and again today when he talked to David Cunliffe. Mr Espiner did not express any concern about the fact that the IPCC reports have shown there is a chance the planet probably won’t be able to support western civilisation by the end of the century. That’s pretty damn close to denialism in my book.

  13. CJ – that is an unbelievable amount of milk powder, so sorry, I simply don’t believe it. I think you have slipped in 6 extra zeroes, given that the total annual global production of dairy products is under 100 million tonnes:

    However I agree that building new plants to dry this using fossil fuels is incredibly short-sighted and selfish.


  14. All I can say is that SOME of us do. It has been and is the defining reason for my own participation here. I worked at JPL alongside people studying the Greenland Ice, I know how worried the scientists actually are, and I understand the science almost as well as they do.

    End of the day, I moved my family to NZ because anyplace,USA is just too vulnerable. We’re staying because of that.

    The more people who join the party and make their voices heard about this priority, the higher it rises as an issue for us.

    Join and be heard. It isn’t like there are so many of us that you become lost in the crowd. 🙂

  15. None too many that I know have prepared or thinking about being prepared for any catastrophe, which by the looks of things is going to happen. So the policies will be? Its every man for himself???

  16. It’s a pity that it seems that just a few MPs understand their responsibility when it comes to sustainability and future generations, and it’s even more a pity that we’ll find those mainly in one Party.

    Especially in times when populistic centre-right parties seem to get the majority of votes in Australia and New Zealand, sustainability and environment will suffer as they’re determined to point with short term gains.

    Their reckless push for economic growth and success as well as additional jobs leads automatically to the exploitation of natural resources which gives them a competitive advantage against all those Nations which have decided to look after their resources and environment in a more sustainable manner or which are not “blessed” with them.

    In New Zealand’s case it’s even worse as we’re happy to deforest the country for dairy farming.
    As if deforestation wouldn’t be bad enough, in times where we’d capture carbon and solely use carbon neutral energy, we’re using fossil fuels to dry 1.3 trillion tonnes of milk power a year! (yes 1,300,000,000,000,000 kg of powder – about 5 times more than three decades ago), not to mention the amount of fertiliser we’re using to produce that quantity and the declining water quality cause by the farm effluents (…or the global warming methane emissions).

    There’s probably little hope for future generations and that New Zealand will lead the way again as they did many decades ago unless we’re going to vote for a change and that we will hold those accountable which destroy our environment and our children’s future.

  17. It is pleasing to see that the IPCC WG3 AR5 report is getting more airplay time on TV and radio and that it is doing so without the countervailing and obfuscating comment of denialists. That is good from a public education and awareness-raising perspective.

    How will the Green Party build on this exposure of an issue that is at the point of becoming critical?

    Will it?

    This is what I want to see become the prime issue of the 2014 elections: Sensible, viable and readily understandable policies for adaptation to and mitigation of climate change.

    I want this from people who are trustworthy and can lead us across the entire spectrum of governmental actions. No fuss, no panic, just demonstrable progress towards a solution that we all want, irregardless of what other nations are doing.

    Does the Green Party intend to be that leader?

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