The climate week that was

This was the week we put climate change back on the political agenda.

It seems people were waiting for it.

The strength of feeling that’s emerged – frustration at New Zealand’s slide backwards into inertia over the climate crisis, anger at National’s indifference, excitement that the Greens have tabled a win-win proposal, and a real sense our country can be part of the climate solution rather than remaining part of the problem – has surprised and humbled us.

What we’re proposing is quite simple – a charge on pollution, with all the money going back to families and businesses, so that New Zealand can make the transition to a low carbon economy without households having to pick up the tab (as they’re currently doing under the Government’s failed emissions trading scheme).

Critics of the policy have been limited to those benefiting financially from the current system; in other words, those who’re enjoying being able to pollute as much as they want while taxpayers foot the bill.

And of course the National Government has criticised the Climate Tax Cut- although it’s difficult to know how it’s possible to express any view at all when your head is that deep in sand.

A Dominion Post editorial has described Climate Change Minister Tim Groser’s response to the policy as “lazy and arrogant”.

But overall, support for the plan has been overwhelmingly positive. Here is a summary of responses:

Business reporter Pattrick Smellie in the Dom Post describes the tax as a good idea and the Government’s response to it “mildly hysterical”.

Business commentator Bernard Hickey told Marcus Lush on Breakfast that “most people think the ETS has been a failure“, that NZ had “back peddled” on climate action and that a carbon tax would be more efficient than the ETS. Lush described climate change as “a matter of life or death..if you read the scientists“.

The Herald’s business columnist Brian Fallow described it as a way of “shifting the burden form household incomes and business profits and on to polluters”.

Prominent economists Matt Nolan and John Small have shown support.

Farmers Weekly interviewed Green Party candidate and Wairarapa farmer John Hart, then ran with the headline: “Emissions Plan to Reward Good Farmers”

The policy was described as a “masterstroke” on Nine to Noon on Tuesday.

Right wing commentator Matthew Hooton was an early adopter, tweeting on the day of the launch….

David Farrar said on Kiwiblog the policy had credibility and merit.

Political commentator Bryce Edwards said “the Greens have shown us why they’re still amongst the smartest operators in politics”.

Toby Manhire writing in the Herald said the Climate Tax Cut is welcome because it “puts climate change squarely on the agenda for September’s election”.

The Taxpayers Union said the carbon tax is “simpler, more transparent and likely to reduce New Zealand’s overall tax burden“.

Labour, while confirming its preference for an ETS over a tax, told Carbon News that “there is some interest in the idea within Labour’s caucus, from MPs who see the ETS has failing to encourage emission reductions”. Its climate spokesperson David Parker said the Climate Tax Cut was a “well thought-out policy”.

WWF welcomed it.

The Climate Health Council described it as a “specific, fair and realistic plan to curb our greenhouse pollution“.

Forest and Bird said the Green Party is right to be making climate an election issue and to be campaigning for an end to subsidies for major greenhouse gas polluters

Left Wing commentator Martyn Bradbury called it a “brilliant political masterstroke“.

John Armstrong in the Herald said thatIn one deft stroke, the policy has the Greens saving the planet, helping the poor, giving big carbon users an incentive to be more efficient, while stimulating investment in more sustainable industries

Gareth Renowden on Hot Topic said: “This a carefully considered and constructed set of coherent policies that should deliver substantial emissions reductions without causing substantial economic dislocation”.

It’s worth adding that in the midst of all this, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment released her report into fracking in New Zealand, honing in on climate in her introduction: “The biggest issue [with fracking] is not a local environmental effect, but the global effect of climate change.”

Thank you New Zealand – both your left and right wings –  for being open, bold and positive about meaningful action on climate change.


18 Comments Posted

  1. Right on.

    In fact we don’t need milk as it causes more health problems than what is recognised.

    We do need wet nurses to assist in raising young but that once widespread practice is now frowned upon. Nothing more important for babies nutrition than HUMAN milk. Cows milk is for calves, and definitely not suitable for humans.

    No dairy would also reduce our health budget. Milk does NOT build healthy bones. That is a business propagated myth.
    Countries with high dairy consumption have the highest rates of osteoporosis, and a range of other diseases.

  2. And the bad news for BAU keeps pouring in

    A new analysis by Stern

    A detailed analysis for the USA

    The world bank

    While here we see the spectacle of the Dom Post providing a half page guest opinion from Federated Farmers that basically argues:

    1. We’re too small to matter but if you force us to reduce our exports of milk we’ll significantly increase emissions because of all the less efficient foreigners replacing our efficient production.

    2. We’re successful so we shouldn’t have to pay tax like everyone else.

    Which is admittedly, a principle embraced by many NZ governments, not just National.

  3. While the Huffington Post is no arbiter of wisdom, the recent clip of business worries about profit has some merit in as much as sharing a signal that climate consequences are unable to be ignored.

    A somewhat ominous suggestion that business / finance may well be the leaders in addressing necessary change defies their pedigree of driving us all further into the mess chasing more of the same with mitigation of tactics rather than addressing the underlying problems.

    Profit depends on consumers, lots of them, so population reduction will never be a part of their strategy just as reduction of non renewable resource use would seem to be a missed opportunity to grab before someone else does. War activity show how ruthless the profit hawks are.

    Leadership out of the downward spiral cannot be left to business or any corporate welfare initiatives.

    Meanwhile peak food is passing more quickly than predicted.

  4. Trevor, I was paraphrasing this: “It would require sequestering more carbon than we dig up”. That’s all. Such things are easy to say, of course.

  5. No Tony, Trevor didn’t say just anything. Planting more trees is just part of the package of solutions. So is improving our energy efficiency. So is increasing our renewable electricity generation and harnessing renewable energy for direct use (such as geothermal and solar heat applications). So is dealing with waste biomass more intelligently than simply burning piles of shelterbelt trimmings. So is changing what we do to make better use of what we have, such as increasing our use of telecommuting and teleconferencing. There will be lifestyle changes too, such as reduced air traffic. I am sure there are many other parts of the solution that I haven’t mentioned.


  6. Indeed, Gerrit. Carbon neutrality at our current level of industrialisation and involvement in world markets is a dream. Now, changing behaviours and living arrangements might allow us to approach carbon neutrality but it’s not a policy that could currently be sold to the populace.

  7. Tony,

    It is not just staying in the world consumer market. Even if NZL was to withdraw from the world consumer market and become self sufficient to a far greater degree, we would still be importing carbon positive products to survive.

    For example, to be self sufficient one needs to be able to produce bearings (ball/roller)locally. Well to do that requires a reasonable volume of Chromium (to harden carbon rich steel).

    NZL would have to mine this locally (oops, mining in NZL=bad) so more likely to import the raw material. To be carbon neutral this raw material would need to be either certified carbon neutral at source or rated carbon positive to a measurable and locally offset-able level. Another layer of non trade-able bureaucracy to implement a taxation regime on imports.

    Another example is smelting aluminium. This can be done carbon neutral in NZL for we don’t have to count the carbon positive importation of bauxite nor the distribution carbon footprint of the finished ingots. To be fully carbon neutral one would need to offset these by having some (compulsive?) mechanism to unsure the end users “plants” trees as a carbon sink compensation.

  8. I rarely see some acknowledgement of limits. If we just change that fuel source or use some more renewable mix, then life can go on as before, no need for any real behavioural changes. That is what was really behind my question. The Greens may have an aspiration for a carbon neutral and sustainable society but we keep getting the message that continued prosperity is assured, jobs for all, and a continually rising standard of living. There is never any acknowledement that we’ll have to give up doing that, alter living arrangements this way, and so on.

    Gerrit hinted at the impossibility of staying in the global consumer market without being responsible for any net carbon emissions. Trevor says (in effect) just plant more trees. So many people are going to have a rude awakening one of these days.

  9. New Zealand could go carbon-negative if we tried. It would require sequestering more carbon than we dig up (including imported fossil fuels). Exporting carbon could count, such as timber or any biofuels. Burying carbon such as charcoal would be a more reliable long term removal of the CO2 from the air. However before there is significant effort put into such activities, the price on CO2 must be significant enough to pay for its removal, and under the NActs, that hasn’t happened.


  10. NZL can never be carbon neutral if any imported goods or service is carbon positive.

    It would be hypocritical to claim to be carbon neutral if imported products are carbon positive. For all we are doing is exporting our carbon usage overseas.

    Would like to see the Greens proposal that cancels the carbon positiveness of any imported goods or service.

  11. Tony – I do not speak on behalf of the Green party. I am just saying some of the possibilities. One word I did NOT use was “all”. I doubt that any one solution is going to meet all our needs. A variety of solutions are needed, and it is not immediately obvious which are the best solutions. However increasing our generation of electricity from renewable resources is a key part of many of the solutions.

    It may be that short hop aircraft will be hydrogen or LNG fueled, while long haul aircraft will use normal liquid fuels made from biomass. Recreational aircraft may be all-electric, using batteries for takeoff and fuel cells for continuous flight. But it may take many decades before we see the end of fossil fuels in aviation. One reason is the long life of aircraft, while it takes many years to develop and test new aircraft technology and then build it into new aircraft designs.


  12. Are you saying that this is how the Greens anticipate carbon neutrality being achieved? That all aircraft fuel (out of and into New Zealand) will be from converted CO2, or that hdrogen fuel will be used from slow electrolysis (using totally carbon free electricity, if there is such a thing)? Maybe you’re talking hypothetically, Trevor, but I’m interested in how the Greens, if they had the political power, would steer New Zealand to carbon neutrality.

  13. The petrochemical industry can manufacture virtually any organic (i.e. carbon-based) material from other organic materials. With enough hydrogen (from electrolysis of water using renewably-generated electricity), CO2 can be converted into methane and used to start this chain, so it is feasible to have carbon-neutral aircraft fuel. However the Russians have also flown jet aircraft using liquid hydrogen as a fuel, and more recently using LNG (Liquified Natural Gas – i.e. methane).


  14. Business as usual would include dairy and beef both of which could never be GHG neutral.

    Carbon neutral would be very hard to achieve with bio fuels. Population reduction would have to be a part of that mix.

    Dealing with any one aspect of the any of the problems we face for survival will provide no effective solution. Energy supply alone becomes a focus of the argument currently as we wrestle with the perceived need to change.

    Energy supply has been coupled with population size, food supply, pollution. industrialisation and non renewable natural resource depletion. You really can’t change one without looking at all the interactions between them.

    A new way of thinking about a low energy subsistence could include many solutions providing carbon neutrality. BAU in practically any form negates reducing atmospheric GHG.

    Finite limits are reached and consequences become uncontrollable.

    Provision of food without creating GHGs as a part of that process, is a start.
    Local negates transport largely.

    Cement is a problem while stone, cob. thatch, clay and other simple technologies work well in many places around the globe.
    Look at the populations that are largely carbon neural. Some of them occupy an environment that depletes atmospheric GHGs.

  15. That’s how I understand carbon neutral, also, but I was thinking more along the lines of how the Greens think New Zealand society can be made carbon neutral. I’m not sure about biofuels, unless all of the energy that goes into them also come from a carbon neutral source. Are they planning for the phase-out of air travel? How would industrial farming, including dairy and beef farming, be accomplished?

  16. I have always understood “carbon neutral” as emitting and consuming CO2 in equal measure, so there is no NET gain in the CO2 as a result of a process. This potentially provides for the use of a variety of biofuels or other processes that take CO2 out of the air as well as putting it in?

    Low Carbon on the other hand, emits some CO2, just not very much? I actually have more trouble with that one than with “carbon neutral”. Usually such terms should be explained in a document. This is largely honored in the breach.


  17. What does “carbon neutral” mean? That’s what the policy document states, rather than “low carbon”.

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