What should be NZ’s 2020 emissions target

The Government is consulting on what should be New Zealand’s 2020 target for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

I know some think there should not be any reduction, as the science is doubted. But the reality is there will be a target, unless we want to risk losing trade access. And in case you think this is unlikely, I quote Colin James today:

Mr Key demurred. He asked the Feds if keeping agriculture out of the ETS would actually serve farmers’ interests. What if New Zealand got a poor reputation abroad on and consumers, retail chains and governments put up barriers to New Zealand products?

(He had a point. The ETS bill which passed the United States House of Representatives on June 26 included provision for tariffs on imports from countries deemed backsliders on climate change.)

This is pretty significant. The US legislation includes such protectionist measures, and I have little doubt Europe will. NZ is far too small to survive if our trade access is blocked.

So what is a reasonable target for 2020? 1990 is the base year everyone measures against. Our target was to keep emissions at 1990 level. They actually grew 22% to 2007, but were mainly offset by increased forestry plantings. And out 2050 target is a 50% reduction by 2050.

On a purely linear calculation, based on an ETS taking effect from 2010, the annual reduction needed is from 122% – 50%/40 years = 72%/40 years = 1.8% a year. Hence emissions in 2020 on a linear basis would be 18% less than the 122% we are at, or 104%. In other words if we manage to reduce emissions to 1990 labels by 2020, we would be on track (on a linear basis) to have a 50% reduction by 2050.

Aiming to return to 1990 levels is what Obama is aiming for by 2020. Canada is aiming for 3% below 1990 and Australia 4% below 1990 (unless there is a major international agreement in which case more). The EU is going for a 20% reduction.

The Greens are calling for a reduction of at least 30% by 2020. This is sheer madness. With agriculture making up half our emissions – the only way we’d reduce by that amount in just over a decade is by a huge reduction in agricultural output. You think the current recession is bad – just wait until the Green recession. They are basically saying we go from 122% to 70% or less in just ten years.

Personally I think we should go close to Australia. Say a unilateral reduction of 5%, but greater reductions if there is an international agreement and even greater if China, India and Brazil agree to limit emissions. Those three countries are now responsible for close to 30% of global emissions (the EU is only 13% and US 18%) and since 1990 have had emissions growth respectively of 121%, 80% and 55%.

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