Monday, January 22, 2024

Barry Brill: The NZ Climate Change Commission is broken

Why do we need a Ministry for the Environment, a Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and a Climate Change Commission, all three of which hire people to review one another’s work[1]?

The short answer is lack of trust.

Environment Ministries are rightly seen as being packed with de-growth zealots, who have a revolving door with scores of well-funded environmental campaigners. Their government careers depend upon maximising environmental alarms and devising expensive programmes to fix them. Their subsequent NGO careers depend on impressing the activist groups.

Already suspicious of Ministry for the Environment group-think way back in 1986, the NZ Parliament established its own Commissioner to provide a second opinion on important issues. A striking example of the doctrine of separation of powers. But the executive branch controls the budget and the PCE’s resources are a small fraction of those available to the Ministry.

To improve public confidence, the UK appointed an independent Climate Committee to publicly consult, monitor and report on climate-policy-related matters. As a quango (quasi-autonomous national government organisation) it took much of the heat off the politicians, particularly in the numerous areas where even basic datasets were hotly disputed.

In 2019, the Ardern/Peters administration determined to follow the UK precedent. They enlisted Shaw of the Green Party, who enlisted Muller of the National Party, and the detailed concept was enacted with 5-Party support in the ‘Zero Carbon Act’ of 2020; which provided in s 5B :
The purposes of the Commission are—

(a) to provide independent, expert advice to the Government on mitigating the effects of climate change (including through reducing emissions of greenhouse gases) and adapting to the effects of climate change; and
(b) to monitor and review the Government’s progress towards its emissions reduction and adaptation goals.
Advising the Government on climate mitigation and adaptation, and monitoring progress, had long been the responsibility of the Ministry for the Environment. The key changes here are the adjectives “independent” and “expert”.


Independence is the absolutely key quality that a Commission can offer. If it is perceived to be a quasi-judicial fact-finder which is entirely free of ideological influences, it could narrow many issues, dissipate much of the tribal heat, develop a consensus in many areas and make life much easier for politicians seeking non-partisan ways forward.

Tragically, the New Zealand Commission does not even remotely resemble that model. In 2019, Minister Shaw fatally undermined its status and credibility by appointing four full-time climate change careerists/campaigners as its initial members. One was trained by Al Gore, two others are the Ministry’s appointees to the IPCC, while a fourth is the Government’s adviser on agricultural methane. All are from the public sector. All have been closely associated with the MfE for many years, if not decades. None of them could ever be seen to be open-minded or objective about any of the unresolved issues. As I said in 2019:
“The rationale for having a Commission is that it could do what the Government’s existing resources cannot. It could make authoritative and acceptable decisions in difficult politicised areas. It could give fair hearings to competing experts and display the wisdom of Solomon. It could provide leadership when hard choices are made involving economic upheaval and financial distress.

“This Commission can deliver none of those benefits. It will be seen for what it is – the same old Ministry in a mask. Or the Green Party with an extended term.”
New broom

The first and most important duty of the newly appointed Climate Minister, Hon Simon Watts, is to clean the Augean stable. He must ask the existing members for their immediate resignations and appoint 5 people that he trusts to a new nominating committee under s 5F of the Act.

The timing Is right. The 5-year terms of most of the initial Commissioners are set to expire in the midst of five major reports which will dominate the year’s work. Better to start those programmes with the new team in place.

The Minister needs to make it abundantly clear to the nominating committee that he is seeking a fresh and credible Commission free of preconceived ideas or closed minds or conflicts of interest or apparent bias. The Commission must cease looking like Greenpeace in drag. No public sector scientist, or any other person whose whole career depends upon her/his climate change attitudes, should be remotely considered.

As even the MfE expressly notes: “Cabinet has agreed that, as a general rule, public servants should not be appointed to statutory boards”. There are good reasons for that.

The new Chair should preferably be a serving or retired Judge. All interested New Zealanders should come to understand that the Commission’s role is to impartially and transparently weigh the evidence on either side of the many current issues – holding public enquiries and issuing draft reports in a process similar to the Commerce Commission. I offered my dream team in a submission to the select committee on the 2019 Bill.

The suggestion by NZ Herald editor Fran O’Sullivan that ex-Minister Shaw might chair the Commission would be the final nail in the coffin of a non-politicised, independent fact-finder. It would verify the suspicions of about 85% of the New Zealand public that the Commission is a Green Wellington echo-chamber which is institutionally incapable of making objective judgments.

A better suggestion is that the future Commission should be based in Auckland, where its members can be exposed to the real world and its real issues.


While the Commission will obviously be a conduit for expert advice to flow to the Government, those opinions must first be fully qualified and tested in a manner similar to that prescribed by the High Court Rules. Every day our Courts hear experts testifying on either side of technical questions. Disagreements are the norm, and opposing opinions are often passionately held. The untested view of any carefully-chosen single expert is useless, and allowing that sole expert to also act as the judge would be insane.

S 5H of the Act requires the appointing Minister to “have regard to the need for the Commission to have members who, collectively, have” a long list of skills, knowledge, and experience in a wide range of sectors, including “expertise in … the effects of climate change and climate policy interventions; and the Treaty of Waitangi and te ao Māori…; and a range of sectors and industries, at regional and national levels”.

A well-advised Minister would no doubt “have regard to” all those matters, whilst also having even more regard to the need for Commission members to provide him with objective and authoritative findings of fact as well as wise counsel. It seems clear from s 5J, and from the list of functions, that Commissioners will need to be generalists who have a wide range of experience and knowledge. Economic literacy would obviously be an advantage.

The public had a taste of indirect “government by experts” during the Covid pandemic, and that period is well described in Tom Harrington’s book, The Treason of the Experts. Few people want to see a repeat of “the Great Reset”.

A major problem with a Commission of like-minded experts from the MfE group-think blob is that their reports can tell us nothing new. No climate change careerist can veer even a millimetre from the approved narrative. As I commented on its first report:
“This first report is dominated by subjective value judgments, biased assumptions and activist-speak. It is cliched, jargon-ridden and has no novel ideas. It produces no new insights or data and offers no quantified cost-benefit analysis for any one of its many pain-inducing recommendations.

It is little more than a well-polished propaganda vehicle. With its woke-word-smithed style, it could just as easily have been published by Greenpeace or one of the numerous New York foundations that drive most of the world’s climate agitprop.”

Climate policy is a mix of physical science and political science. There is much to be said for attempting to divorce the former from politics, to the limited extent that may be institutionally possible.

Although the big global scientific issues are generally addressed in the many thousands of pages of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Reports, there is bounteous disagreement as to how these scriptural documents are to be interpreted, prioritised and applied in practice.

Even more complex is the myriad of local sub-issues which require factual answers. Many of these have been controversial for many years:

Is our national GHG Inventory auditable? Does it even balance with actual observed scientific data? What rules should we apply in measuring our sources and sinks? What changes to trees/scrubland should we count? How should we quantify pine trees; and apple orchards; and averted deforestation?

What commitments are being made by our trading partners? How do we compare with them? Does the Paris Agreement require us to buy international offsets? What is the national economic benefit (NEB) of reducing CO2-e by 1Mt?

Are we on course for carbon neutrality by 2035? Can the enteric methane/kg of milk be sensibly reduced? Are our farmers already world leaders? How should we measure the CO2-e of short-term gases? What is the latest available science on the warming effects of methane?

What are the short and long term effects of ever-increasing energy taxes (especially ETS) – by economic sector and by socio-economic grouping? How should we measure the effectiveness/efficiency of countless (and uncoordinated) emission policies? Are ‘waterbed effects’ real? How much electrification can we afford? What is the outlook for EV supply? What are the short-term options for a “just transition?

Is NZ’s exposure to DAGW systemically lessened by the Pacific Ocean? Have NZ temperature trends increased in recent decades? What about weather extremes such as droughts, floods, cyclones, hail, tornadoes, etc? Have our glaciers advanced? Has sea-level-rise accelerated on any of our coasts? Is food production at risk? Will any of these NZ trends change in future? Will there be regional variations?

Which IPCC scenario should we use? How do we assess the “likelihood” of damage? How can we quantify the perceived risks? How should we balance public spend as between mitigation and adaptation?

And on, and on …. and on.

Accurate and robust answers to these questions are essential to determining the levels of “ambition” or “economic pain” that we should “donate” to the international project to reduce global GHG emissions. The answers can also make a huge difference to many groups and sub-sectors of New Zealanders and will determine whether they can even retain their jobs or businesses or homes. These are real ‘bread and butter’ issues.

For unspoken reasons, none of these important questions are the subject of daily debate or discussion in our daily media. There is a furtive veil over all of the data and reasoning related to climate policy which somehow prevents the corporate media from participating in any way – other than the daily repetition of a few decades-old mantras that we almost know by heart and that nobody reads/listens any more. In the absence of public debate, some other public mechanism to hear and settle these disagreements has become essential.

A wide consensus

The extremes of political rhetoric can imply that there is a massive partisan rift over climate policy. In reality, there is a vast area of consensus. All political parties and MPs seem to agree that all countries should contribute to progressively reducing global GHG emissions “as soon as possible”; and also that increasing resilience to weather extremes ought to be built up in a timely manner.

These trite goals have been political common ground for the past quarter-century and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. No political division is likely to arise and no advice is required in respect of them. Other important aspects are also common ground:
(i) the Paris Agreement seeks to “achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century”[2] so as to prevent long-term average temperatures rising by more than 2°C (or 1.5°C if possible).

(ii) the sole purpose of New Zealand climate policy is to contribute to this global effort. (Our local emissions, at 0.1% of the global total, can have no detectable effect on the future world climate).

(iii) reducing New Zealand’s net emissions unavoidably calls for economic and other sacrifices. Modelling shows that the extent of that ‘economic pain’[3] is directly proportional to the speed or rate of the changes[4].

(iv) the wicked problem of climate change policy is its relentless regressivity. Every proposal that will reduce global emissions will also increase child poverty and economic inequality. Fuel taxes and other ‘carbon prices’ produce measurable results only when some people can no longer afford to buy energy. And the first group of such people are the lowest-income quartile.

(v) New Zealand’s optimal future rate-of-change cannot be entirely determined by quantified NEB analyses or other technocratic means, because the nature and scope of putative ‘benefits’ are endlessly debatable and difficult to objectively quantify (i.e., benefit evaluations are unavoidably subjective).

(vi) The rate-of-change in any period must be compatible with the current Government’s other economic, environmental and social objectives[5] for that period.

(vii) Because carbon neutrality is a long-term project, extending over multiple Parliamentary terms, a high degree of multi-partisanship is essential. This entails inter-party negotiations. However, the priorities and values of the mandated majority will, quite properly, be dominant, and this will inevitably vary over time.
As none of the above matters are in contention, or likely to be disputed in the future, they obviously do not require advice from a Climate Commission. What will always be up for debate is the appropriate rate-of-change from time to time.

Appetites for economic pain[6] vary widely, and for a wide variety of reasons. Because the “right” level is a mishmash of quantitative and qualitative factors and is ultimately a matter of opinion, it has to be determined politically. In a democracy, of course, that means it must be decided by a majority of the voters, either directly or through their elected representatives.

How can an unelected Commission help with such a political process? Its opinions or biases on such issues can be accorded no more weight than any other group of voters.

But the Commission could certainly play a key role by operating as the objective (i.e., non- political, open-minded) fact-finder and issue-analyst in respect of the core elements that will or should matter to the political decision-makers. When there is confidence in all the quantitative elements, the majority of politicians can be expected to “follow the evidence”.

None of these benefits can be optimally delivered by politicised Commission members who are not representative of the general public.


[1] A question recently raised by commentator Matthew Hooton. He omitted the Just Transition Hub, the ETS Advisory Committee and many others. Wellington is seething with climate policy advisers.

[2] Article 4.1.

[3] The term “economic pain” is used in the widest sense to include all welfare losses that result from coerced increases in energy prices or losses of foreign earnings.

[4] The term ‘rate-of-change’ refers to the speed of induced reductions in NZ net emissions from their reported 2005 levels, e.g., 25% by 2030 (NDC), 80% by 2050 (UK), 100% by 2100, etc.

[5] A fiscal budget needs to orchestrated, e.g., rapidly rising diesel prices could potentially torpedo an Administration’s whole programme for, say, stimulating employment or reducing inflation.

[6] I will refer to this political issue as “Appetite for Pain”. Activists refer to it as “Ambition Level”.

Barry Brill OBE JP LL.M(Hons) M.ComLaw is a former MP and Minister of Energy, Petrocorp director, and chair of the Gas Council, Power NZ, ESANZ, and EMCO. He is presently the Chairman of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition.


Rob Beechey said...

What a brilliant analysis of this highly emotive subject. Barry points out the ridiculousness of appointing scientists and govt employees that are paid to promote their own ideology. The MSM’s propaganda machine continues to shape the public’s opinion blocking all forms of public debate.
Politicians demonstrate how gutless they are by creating quango departments stacked with climate alarmists, boasting their independence thus shielding themselves from scrutiny.
When Maureen Pugh had the courage to question the authenticity of the Emperor’s new clothes, the entire country ground to a 48 hour halt. Sirens wailed, committed Greenies threatened to throw themselves off tall ladders, James Shaw looked suicidal and Christopher Luxon was ambushed by the Media and publicly attacked by a 17 year old cub reporter and recent graduate of the labour Govt’s high school climate indoctrination syllabus.
If NZ’s total emissions are .1% of the worlds emissions why are we willing to shoot ourselves in both feet?
How refreshing it would be to allow expert advice from world leading independent Atomic Physicists and Climatologists to counter the fanaticism generated by the politically and financially driven assortment of quangos. All MSM communiques must be vetted by this group before release to a gullible public.

Max Ritchie said...

NZ does not need any of these commissioners. Governments are elected to govern. They can hire all the expert advice they need or want. Then exercise judgement and get on with it. It’s called democracy. I very much doubt that Tuheita or any other tribal leader has a pakeha on staff to give him advice from a pakeha perspective. From the HRC down they’re all a waste of money.

Chuck Bird said...

I have emailed the National Party Climate Change Minister and Act and NZF spokespersons on agriculture and asked for their views on Barry's excellent article. They can either comment here or email me in which case I will comment here.

ihcpcoro said...

So Wrong Car is moving on. Road User Charges may have some impact.

Hoads in Taupo said...

My submission for the review of the NZETS in August 2023 included the following;

Why do CCC say they have to ‘’reduce emissions in each sector of the economy’’ when there is no evidence that shows there is a need in the first place?

Also, why does the CCC say there needs to be a ‘transition to a low emissions economy’, and not one with no emissions? Are they that unsure after all the hours and costs spent by the CCC?

As for the costs. According to the annual CCC report for the period ending 30 June 2022 (nothing yet for 2023?) there were costs paid to 28 employees and 8 Board members.
Actual payment to employees was $6,681,000, with a further $166,000 for some personnel costs and $3,535,000 fore expenses and Board fees.
That is a total of some $10,382,000 for a total of 36 persons employed by the CCC.
That is an average of some $288,389 per person employed at the CCC, to achieve one single objective of advising the Government and some checks and reporting.

I say that is not value for our tax money and tells me the CCC is either over staffed, incompetent or has totally lost its focus since it was first started some five years ago.

The CCC is no longer worth while to the Government and should be disbanded.

Andrew J said...

Hi Barry,
I am a simple Civil Engineer. My Engineering experience has been to ensure equations are balanced.
So with respect to NZ's GHG submissions we have on one side all the omitters of CO2 and CH4 i.e. Livestock, transportation, industry, human activity etc - no problem with adding all that up.
On the side of CO2 sequesters I understand we have Pine Forests planted after 1990. Where does planted forests prior to 1990, South Island Beech Forests, Native Forests, Urban greenery, horticulture. viticulture, paddocks of grass feature.
It seems to me that if the basic equation was honest on the inputs on each side then NZ would be Carbon negative - sequestering more GHG than emitting.

Basil Walker said...

With respect to NZ vs The World climate alarmism or denier narrative we are minimal to non existent and should just cease all central and Local Governmet expenditure on Climate advice from and for New Zealand .
It would be better value for New Zealand to just sit on the fence along with China , India , USA and watch the climate nutters modelling and attending future COP functions from afar.

Real informative articles and essays on Methane and Sea Level rise have been forwarded to this excellent NZCPR and are availble for climate thinkers to understand reality.

We need to weed out issues that are achievable and focus on them. Climate alarmism is NOT a real issue .

Vic Alborn said...

I am with Basil Walker.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article by Barry.
Appreciate the comment by Chuck Bird - would be great if you get a reply. Please let us know if you do.
Also great summing up by Hoads of Taupo he is right on target.
Dick R