Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Robin Grieve: Government Climate policies are falling apart

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. 

The law introduced requirements for the Government to reduce emissions and established the Climate Commission as an independent advisory body. 

The main goal of the legislation was to legally bind both the Climate Commission and the Government to ensure that New Zealand achieves net-zero emissions by 2050. Making emission reduction a legal obligation of the Government was the key to its success they said because it would bypass the political obstacles of the day. However, the Minister of Climate Change James Shaw is discovering that it is not as straightforward as he thought it would be.

The Government’s main tool for reducing emissions is the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS). The ETS is a poorly designed scheme in the first place.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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 question.

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 more forestry. 

With his 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. 

Jacinda 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.

Robin Grieve, a tutor, orchardist and retired farmer, is Chairman of Pastural Farming Climate Research HERE.


Anna Mouse said...

This government and their Green compadres are a walking talking degenerate fustercluck.

Anonymous said...

Zero carbon = anti life. Not a good strategy to be pursuing don't you think?
Life requires and thrives on more carbon, not less.

Rob Beechey said...

This is a well written summary identifying the madness that our country in infected with. This essay would never be tolerated by our corrupt MSM who’s specialty is pure propaganda.
Ask any politician to provide empirical evidence that co2 causes dangerous climate change and you would be met with a blank stare yet they all agree that Emperor is wearing the finest threads in all the kingdom. These very same cretins are prepared to stand idly by watching our food and energy costs escalate to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. When will we all call them out?

DeeM said...

I'm now fairly convinced that the guy who hit James Shaw was trying to do him a favour by knocking some sense into him.
He just didn't hit him hard enough.

James is still a grade-A dickhead who understands little, if anything, about the complexity of the climate and the large body of evidence showing that the tiny amount of CO2 in our atmosphere has negligible effect on our temperature.

He's in excellent company as a member of the Greens and a coalition partner with Labour.

Basil Walker said...

The Paris Accord said food producing land has to be protected . James Shaw should be bought before the Parliamentary Privileges Committee for being a : STRAIGHT OUT LIAR AND MISREPRESENTING NZ AND THE LAW ( my deliberate emphasis).