Barry Brill on caron emissions

Former Energy Minister Barry Brill makes the case that the emissions reduction target of 10% to 20% is far far too ambitious:

The National Party campaigned on a promise to reduce our greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2050 – a cut of 46Mt (million tones of CO2-equivalent) from 2008 levels over a period of 40 years. But Mr Key now says his Government will aim to reach more than half the 2050 goal in just 10 years.

Because technologies to reduce agricultural emissions have not yet been developed, the most expensive and painful time to reduce gases will be in the early part of the 40-year period.

Brill is right. Technology will make it easier to reduce emissions later rather than sooner.

While we have undertaken a 10-20 per cent decrease from 1990 levels, the largest emitter, the United States, is aiming for a zero decrease – if their Senate approves legislation. Canada is targeting a 3 per cent decrease and Japan 8 per cent. Australia’s plans seem likely to be voted down by their Senate.

The 27 EU countries picked up a huge advantage from the choice of 1990 as the base year, but their combined goals looking forward are reductions of 15 per cent (mid-point). Russia is aiming at increases of 24 per cent. New Zealand outpoints them all by targeting forward reductions of 32-42 per cent.

This is quite key. When the Greens and Labour say NZ is a laggard by aiming for 10% to 20% under 1990 only, they are ignoring the fact that Helen Clark’s Government left us with emissions so high that the reduction from today to the 2020 target is one of the highest in the world. The 40% target the Greens promote is quite literally impossible to achieve. Even the Greens admit this – their plan involves us failing to meet the target and purchasing credits from overseas.

It gets worse – 20 per cent below 2008 levels equates to a 64 per cent per capita reduction in emissions from 2008 to 2020.

So, our country is a clear contender for the Gold Medal in the Copenhagen stakes. How embarrassing for all the industrialised countries that an agricultural country should lead the way.

If Labour and the Greens claim NZ is not doing enough, ask them why a 64% reduction per capita is not enough.

But the Prime Minister has assured us that the best available guess is that we’ll all be out-of-pocket by $27 per week per head by the end of the decade. This cost will start building up from now, and will continue forever.

This cost is appalling. Why aren’t we rioting in the streets? Even now, we can’t afford decent healthcare, education, prisons, so where will we find another $6 billion per year? How can a family of four find an extra $112 per week after tax?

The bill of $6 billion per year is more than 5 per cent of the country’s GNP. We are told we need to incur this cost because it will be good for trade in an indirect sort of way.

But the cure is worse than the disease when the cost is greater than all our earnings from meat and wool exports, or equal to 60 per cent of our annual dairy exports.

To be fair to the Government, the 10% to 20% target is not a unilateral commitment as I understand it, but dependent on an agreement with all major developed and/or emitting countries. And that is far from certain.

New Zealand’s promises in Copenhagen won’t have any material impact on efforts to change the world’s future climate. However, there will be endless meetings, where every country will pressure every other country to accept a bigger share of the burden.

Going into this sort of negotiation, most countries start with a low bid. Our Government’s tactics of tabling a massive opening bid – one we can’t afford – will have competitors scratching their heads. I predict it will become a case study in business schools and negotiating classes around the world.

I’ve made this point myself – our target is our opening bid. It is foolish to set it too high.

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