The Government has fallen foul of its own new carbon zero law. The Carbon Zero bill was passed into law by the Labour-NZ First, Greens Government in 2019. It was passed almost unanimously and to wide acclaim.
Government’s main tool for reducing emissions is the Emission Trading Scheme
(ETS). The ETS is a poorly designed scheme in the first place.
problems with the ETS are many. A significant one is the financial hardship it
causes. Pushing up the price of everything that causes emissions is a pretty
mean thing to do to Kiwi families, especially when these are things people
need, like food and heating and transport.
The Climate Commission advised the Government on price settings for
the ETS that were necessary to drive emission reductions. The Government
rejected this advice due to concerns about the financial hardships faced by New
Zealand families already struggling with the cost of living.
A group of lawyers called Lawyers for Climate Action took
the Minister to court, arguing that by disregarding the Climate Commission's
advice, he failed to consider the sections of the carbon zero law that require ETS
settings to be consistent with emission reduction targets. Being lawyers on lawyers’ salaries, economic
hardship and the cost-of-living crises are not things which concern them obviously.
Their sole focus is pushing for higher carbon prices, disregarding the
consequences for those who do not earn what lawyers do.
Minister admitted to the court that he got it wrong and did not take emission
reduction targets into account enough. He has been sent away by the Court to
have another go at complying with his own law and have another look at the
price settings. If he comes back with increases in the price of carbon and you
find heating your home or filling your car or feeding the family become
impossible, you can blame the lawyers.
The Minister may choose not to change anything, as he has an
option. While he violated his own law by disregarding the sections the lawyers
were concerned about, he is also obligated by the same law to consider the
impact on households and the economy. If he raises the carbon price to appease
the lawyers, he might break the same law again by not adequately considering
the economic devastation it would cause.
increase in poverty and inequality that the increase in the carbon price that
the Climate Commission was calling for and the lawyers want were acknowledged
as ‘not insignificant’ by the Commission. It also acknowledged that its advice,
if followed, would disproportionately affect Maori people, so there is an
element of racism in its advice and the lawyers’ actions and no doubt a Treaty
breach or two. Yes, the carbon law does require the Treaty to be front and
center and that there be no negative impacts to Maori people. It’s only
non-Maori that are allowed to suffer under this law. The Commission also states
that the Government will need to put in place a suite of complimentary policies
to fix the problems its advice was going to cause, namely increased poverty and
inequality. So that is another out because The Minister has not done this.
National Party, which is an enthusiastic supporter of the carbon zero law,
might want to consider the Commission’s warning that the carbon zero law brings
with it the need for even more welfare for the middle and lower class, as well
as more special treatment for Maori people.
National did support the law so one presumes it is ok with some racism
and some socialism, but whether it will be able to deliver enough of it is the
Another major issue with the ETS is that its primary purpose
and focus was to convert agricultural land to exotic forestry. This approach
relies on trees absorbing CO2 and temporarily storing it in their wood, which
is not a sustainable long-term solution. It merely postpones the problem, as
the trees will eventually need to be harvested. While offsetting emissions
through tree planting was acceptable when the ETS was introduced in 2008, it is
now recognized as a flawed strategy. In fact the idea of using ‘offsetting’ as
a climate policy is fast becoming a joke. There is also a growing realization that the original vision of the politicians
who supported the ETS, which was to transform green pastures of rich food
producing, export earning farmland into a monocultural wasteland of exotic pine
trees for no enduring environmental benefit, was stupid.
To make matters worse it has become evident through
lifecycle analyses that forestry production emits twice as much carbon as it
sequesters. It contributes to global warming instead of mitigating it. Added to this the hungry people
taking land out of food production will cause and then the financial hardship
we will face from lost export earnings, and the ETS is a disaster.
The Government is attempting to make the ETS less of a
disaster by reducing reliance on forestry and focusing on genuine emission
reductions rather than offsetting through tree planting. However, this shift
poses challenges as the ETS was designed for offsetting, not emission
reduction. Additionally, these proposed changes have angered certain Māori
groups which are heavily invested in forestry. They have taken their concerns
to the United Nations to oppose the ETS modifications, claiming that denying
them the ability to grow trees and earn carbon credits ‘will condemn Maori to a life of poverty’. No doubt
this could even turn in to a Treaty claim.
Other carbon foresters are also in a lather about the future
of their industry and the carbon market is in turmoil because the hapless
minister is messing with things and does not appear to know what he is doing. On
an interview on TVNZ Breakfast, he got caught out by saying that we need to
reduce the reliance on forestry and a minute later saying we are going to need
admission that he broke his own law, and his confusion about the role of
forestry in climate policy and having Maori going to the UN claiming he is
condemning them to a life of poverty, James Shaw’s climate policy programme and
shiny new law is looking more than a bit shabby, as is his management of his
portfolio. The carbon zero law was always going to be a disaster. The merits of
similar legislation in the UK are now being questioned with things becoming so
bad that The Telegraph newspaper is even calling for a referendum on it.
Ardern called climate change her generation’s nuclear free moment and declared
a climate emergency, but the actions of the Government she once led have been pretty
inadequate. It is just as well this climate change stuff is not that important.
If Ardern had overseen us becoming nuclear free and appointed James Shaw to
make it happen, we would have had nuclear armed and nuclear-powered submarines
and warships permanently docked in Wellington harbour. This Government has been
plagued with incompetent ministers and James Shaw, who gets an easy ride from
opposition spokespeople and the media for some reason, is no exception.
Grieve, a tutor, orchardist and retired farmer, is Chairman of Pastural
Farming Climate Research HERE.