Fallow on 2020 target

Brian Fallow writes:

The sort of number the Government has been directing our attention towards, in a non-committal way, is a 15 per cent cut from 1990 levels. That would also be 15 per cent below the current commitment under the Kyoto Protocol.

But as New Zealand’s gross emissions are 24 per cent above 1990 levels, such a target would be a cut of nearly a third from where we are now.

Yes. This is talking gross emissions and a cut of a third in ten years is not some wimpy cop out but bloody ambitious. Some say it is not so hard as what counts is net emissions. Not quite that simple though. Apart from the fact by 2020 gross and net emissions may be similiar, as I understand it our target is always in gross emissions, but the amount we will have to pay will be based on net emissions. In other words the rest of the world expects us to actually cut emissions, not just plant trees.

It would be the equivalent of eliminating, within 10 years, all emissions from transport and electricity generation, and then some. Transport accounts for 20 per cent of national emissions, the electricity sector 9 per cent.

That is for a target of 15% below 1990. Remember that when the Greens claim anything less than 40% is a cop out.

“The nightmare for the Government is that even what looks like a very modest target is incredibly challenging, because we are starting 24 per cent behind the eight ball,” says Minister Nick Smith.

Thanks Helen. Despite her carbon neutral rhetoric, emissions grew faster in NZ under Clark than in the US under Bush, compared to 1990 levels.

There are three ways New Zealand can meet its target: physically reducing emissions within the country, expanding the forest area or buying carbon credits on the international market – which represent emissions reductions which have occurred somewhere else in the world.

All three methods cost money. How much is educated guesswork: all the economic modelling tells us is that the more ambitious the target and the higher the international carbon price, the greater the cost will be.

Yep. The greater all the targets are for reduction, the higher the price per unit and hence the price consumers and businesses will pay in NZ.

Satellite and aerial mapping has confirmed an increase of 566,000ha in the area of plantation forest, which the Government expects will just about cover the increase in gross emissions over the same period.

But most of those trees were already in the ground when the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in 1997.

Net afforestation has collapsed since then, and the trees planted in the 1990s will be ready for harvest in the 2020s, turning the forestry sector from a net sink for carbon into a net source.

This is why reliance on our net emissions being at 1990 levels is little comfort for the 2020 target.

Unless, that is, the rules for counting forest emissions are changed. At the moment the carbon sequestered in trees is deemed to be all released to the atmosphere when the tree is felled, which is nonsense if it is used for building timber.

New Zealand is seeking a number of changes to the rules relating to LULUCF (land use, land use change and forestry). Groser said that within the range of environmentally credible or defensible rules the difference between the best and worst case outcomes on the rules from a New Zealand perspective could swing the country’s emissions by as much as 70 per cent. The rules will not be finally decided at Copenhagen.

Those potential rule changes are of huge significance.

Labour’s climate change spokesman says it is better to be bold than timid.

“We will be a target-taker, let’s face it, when we get to the negotiations. The benefit about being bold in setting a target now is that it will obviously be provisional given that we are going into negotiations and we will effectively be given a target by bigger players.

With all respects to Charles this is a pretty stupid strategy. As he points out there will be international negotiations and in those negotiations big players will try and push up what our target should be. Now knowing this is likely to happen, why would you go in with a target already at the top end of what is possible, as this then removes any flexibility from the negotiations. Sure our initial negotiating target has to be credible, but this talk of boldness (and note Labour refuse to say what target they support) is silly fluff. Ask any negotiator if your starting bid should ever be your final position.

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