I am enjoying the series of party leaders being interviewed by Gordon Campbell for Scoop. Last week it was Russel Norman. Campbell used to work for the Greens in Parliament, but he was very fair in my opinion:
Campbell: So what do the Greens think is a realistic price per ton for carbon?
Norman: I think $30 per ton is realistic for the moment. But its highly likely it will go up. Its an international market, and there are no guarantees around it.
$30 a tonne is higher (off memory – Treasury website is down) that what the NZ Govt is using. I suspect it will go much much higher.
Campbell: At the moment the cost of the first part of Kyoto 1 is either half a billion or double that. By paying whichever it is, by how much will we reduce global warming?
Norman: Our emissions are obviously a small part of the emissions, so we’re a small player. The true role for New Zsdaland is in contributing to a global system. And even the entire Kyoto system if everyone meets their targets, it won’t make a massive contribution at all. It’s the first step. What makes Kyoto important is establishing a system. And that’s the danger. If Kyoto goes down, we can’t make it better.
In fact even if every single country makes it Kyoto targets, the impact on world temperatures by 2050 will be just 0.07 of a degree.
Campbell: Given the contribution New Zealand taxpayers will in all likelihood be making, you’re saying it won’t affect the rate of global warming…would it say, make a 1 per cent difference ?
Norman: No, it won’t make anything like 1 per cent. We’re only O.2 percent of all emissions globally. The two things that are difficult about this is one, the time lags involved and two, that it requires global co-operation – and the Kyoto system is the first step towards global co-operation.
That means that us making our Kyoto target will by 2050 lead to the average world temperature being 0.00014 of a degree lower than otherwise would be the case. So if the average temperature was going to be 19C, it would instead by 18.99986C. The good people of Naaru will thank us.
This is not a reason to do nothing, but a useful reminder that a scheme without China and India in it will have limited effect.
Campbell: Politically, do you see the difficulty in asking New Zealand families and households to pay half a billion at best into this, or three or four times that figure at worst? For something that will make precious little difference if any to the fate of the planet and whose main effect will be to foster global co-operation?
Norman: Well, I don’t accept your premises. I don’t think New Zealand households should pay. I think the polluters should pay. And the prime polluter that is getting off is the agriculture sector. Dairy should pay its share.
Is there not just a small possibility that those costs might end up being passed on to households? You know with higher petrol prices etc? It is a nice slogan, but not the reality. In some areas like dairy extra costs may not affect prices as there is a global market at play, but in many it will be passed onto households.
Campbell: So from what you’re saying, if the Greens are in government after the next election, it will be asking farmers to pay the full costs of its emissions much sooner ?
Norman: : Yeah…and its actually in a good position to reduce its emissions. The technology already exists. Its just nuts. They’re half of our emissions, and we’re saying the sector doesn’t have to do anything.
Campbell: Excuse me, but the technology to reduce methane emissions doesn’t exist at the moment.
Norman: The technology to reduce nitrous oxide emissions exists at the moment, with nitrification inhibitors.
Campbell: But they don’t work so well on hill country terrain. You can’t extrapolate from the success of nitrification inhibitors in low country farming and say the technology to reduce agricultural emnissions currently exists. It doesn’t deal at all with the methane.
Norman: Yeah. That’s right. What we’re trying to do here is reduce emissions back to 1990 levels. We’re not trying to reduce them to zero. Different components when put together, produce a reduction in greenhouse emissions. Organic farming for instance, produces a lot less greenhouse emissions. A price signal to agriculture will help people to adopt them.
One advantage of being a former Green staffer is Campbell clearly knows his facts in this area, and was able to challenge Russel’s assertions on technology. All too rare in the media.
Campbell: What do you think the main priority for centre left voters will be – to get Labour back, or to ensure the Greens are there to keep them honest?
Norman: I think there’s 10% per cent of the population who are very sympathetic to the Greens, and want to make sure the Greens are there. There’s a significant proportion who will make sure the Greens get back. I think we’ll do better, actually.
This is what amazed me – they are so unambitious in terms of the vote. They have actually been up to 10% in some opinion polls, so should be setting a far bigger target. If they don’t want to be a perpetual doormat for Labour they should be aiming to gain enough votes so that it is impossible to form a centre-left Government without them.
But they seem not to want this. They just want their 6% – 10%, which will mean they can be marginalised again.