Friday, July 31, 2009

IPCCC doesn't stand for Ignoring the People at the Climate Change Consultations

Governments are not very good at asking the people what they want. Understandable I guess – they don't do it often (triennially) and they don't really think that they should have to.

By people I don't mean corporate lobbyists, of course. I've never been sold on the idea that a company is a legal person. If they were people, even the Australian banks in this country would be paying tax. Anyway the corporations that fill the political parties' election coffers always get their say, regardless of which way the election swings.

No, by people I mean the ones the whole political and economic system is supposedly for. Politicians have this strange notion that because they can cobble together a majority of MPs in Parliament they have a democratic mandate to enact all their policies, even the obscure ones. Actually most voters probably have only a vague knowledge (at best) of party policy, beyond the headline issues. For people who only see a choice between Coke or Pepsi (as Russel Norman famously called Labour and National), why bother to compare all the food additives?

Now I'm not suggesting that we should all be consulted to death on every policy. In fact the select committee process is pretty good for getting people's views on most issues before Parliament (or would be if our schools taught civics education so that people knew what a select committee actually is). But I do think the public should get a say on the big questions. By which I don't just mean sex, drugs and smacking children.

What I mean is things like New Zealand's 2020 greenhouse gas emissions target. 2020 is only a decade away, but the implications of that target are going to be significant for the next hundred years. Climate change is a watershed issue with a dividing line, in my view, is between those that cannot imagine anything much different from the status quo, and those who recognise that the status quo is a dead end, down which we are rapidly accelerating.

So I congratulate the Government on holding public meetings to talk about climate change. At the Hamilton one I saw a clear majority for a strong, I would say responsible, target. It could also be described as the most scientifically defensible target. Unfortunately the Minister for Climate Change Issues, Nick Smith, has already misread the economics and stated that reducing our emissions by 40% , as is being called for at public meetings, would cost NZ about $15 billion a year, or around $3000 per person. This is simply not true.

The NZIER report he is quoting does not actually say that. In fact it contains so many arbitrary assumptions that it does not say much of anything that is informative. First of all, it assumes that whatever international commitment we adopt, the Government won't change any policies to help us meet them and that our actual greenhouse gas emissions will reduce by the same rate regardless. This means that the estimated cost differences between weak and responsible commitments are based on the price of simply buying emission permits on the world market.

Secondly it assumes that regardless of the cost of buying carbon permits, no new technologies will develop and no more forests will be planted. This is an unbelievable assumption for an economic analysis to make and deeply flawed. Thirdly, it uses a 'worst case scenario' of $200 per tonne of carbon to work out the costs at a 40% commitment, but uses $100 per tonne to work out the costs for smaller commitments. When these three factors are combined, the report looks intellectually dishonest but very useful for propaganda purposes.

It is worth examining what it would cost to reduce our emission by 40% from 1990 levels, and how it could be most cost effectively achieved. But lets not fall for the old lie that There Is No Alternative (to mugging our grandchildren).

(from my Waikato Times column 31 jULY 2009)

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

If we have to have a scheme that will supposedly reduce CO2 emissions(harmless actually and there is plenty of science that proves that)by making such emissions more expensive then it makes more sense to keep the money in NZ as a tax of some sort and use that money to fund emission free tech development and implementation rather than give it away to some other country or business. If you care about NZ you would see that we need all the money ourselves to reduce emissions. Otherwise we are penalized for emissions and handicap our ability to reduce them.

Nandor Tanczos said...

Well Anonymous, like water, CO2 is harmless in some contexts, beneficial in others and harmful in excess. Are you argueing that there is no connection between climate and CO2 (and other gases of course eg methane, nitrous oxide etc)?

Personally I'm reasonably convinced by the evidence about anthropogenic climate change, and also find the near consensus on it persuasive - not because I think scientific findings should evaluated on the basis of majority rules, but because its not really in anyone's interest to make it up, but there are massive commercial reasons for vested interests to do everything they can to deny it. Seems to me that the fact that there is overwhelming support for the hypothesis, in the face of such adverse circumstances, makes it more likely to be correct. I just don't buy the fantasy about a conspiracy of environmentalists.

As for keeping the money in NZ to be used for R&D etc here, well sure. The point is, though, that swapping emission rights around won't do much to address the problem IMO. The object is to reduce emissions so we don't have to pay anyone for our excess. And the point of my post was that if the price of carbon goes up enough, then alternatives will emerge.

Anonymous said...

Where will these alternatives just 'emerge' from?
Harry Potters wand?
What are they and how are they to be used?
I would like to see a practical plan based in reality rather than just reducing wealth and standard of living for all (the poor will be hardest hit)
There is no need for emission rights if a government simply begins to use money to build less "polluting" energy generators. Emission rights are a waste of good money that is better spent actually making something real. If it's money fron NZ tax payers it should be spent in NZ.
Nowhere did I say or imply any conspiracy ,that is your own fantasy.
A hypothesis will stand or fall by provable facts and even one provable fact against it is sufficient to refute it.
There are plenty of people in whose interest it is to make things up or believe untruths or half truths, just look at history and the everyday world around you.
Plenty of scientists will tell you that the warming effect of CO2 is inversely exponential. The openness of the question of actual climate sensitivity is another point of doubt for me.
Thanks for the reply.
Jon.

nommo said...

to be fair to the NZIER, it does specifically say on the first page that it is not meant to be used in the way that Nick Smith is using it. The man is supposedly some kind of doctor yet he is either incompetent to read such reports or deliberately misleading this country.

nommo said...

@Jon

Without some economic mechanism to make alternative technologies and emission reduction economically desirable no real money will be spent. This is the point that both you and Nick Smith are missing.
If there is a price on carbon people will use their cars less, plant more trees and switch to low-emission energy.
Tradable rights is a seriously flawed model and a carbon tax is much more sensible but I'm not holding my breath for anything sensible from this government.
The point is if the money is spent wisely on real emission reduction strategies we won't be liable for those high costs the minister is bandying about.

Where will these technologies emerge from? Well actually there are tons of things emerging it is just a matter of adopting some of the better ones and investing in them. All we'd have to do globally is to cut the amount spent on weapons by half and these problems could be well on the way to solved by the time we reach 2020...

Nandor Tanczos said...

Thanks Nommo. Why do you think a tax is better than an emission trading scheme? My understanding was that a tax is useful for providing price certainty (preferable for business), but is uncertain as to how much it will actually reduce emissions. Tradeable permits are uncertain as to price but certain about how big the emission cuts will be.

So as long as a responsible number of permits are actually created, preferably with a sinking cap, we should get the right emission reductions from a cap and trade. In theory. The hard political question is in setting the level of permits, but no harder surely than setting a tax at a level that will actually produce action??

Anonymous said...

@nommo
Since there are tons of emerging technologies you should have no trouble naming a few and showing how they will work in NZ.
The international weapons spending is something that NZ has little influence over.
Whatever the cost of carbon people cannot reduce their car use below what is essential to live and all the people I know use their cars as sparingly as possible already.

Nandor Tanczos said...

Really Jon? You must mix with unusual people. I think a lot of people did reduce car use when petrol prices were peaking, but I'm not sure that behaviour has been maintained by very many.

As for alternatives, well one very simple example is that growing forests becomes more profitable as a land use as the costs for carbon intensive competitors rise when they have to internalise carbon costs eg steel and cement for building framing. In addition if forestors get paid for sequestering carbon then we may see a reversal of the recent trend of clearing forests for conversion to intensive (and methane emitting) dairy farming.

Or more investment into alternative transport modes (rail, passenger rail, buses, airships, etc) takes place as costs of burning fossil fuels rises.

or the cost per unit of generating power by windmill, solar, tidal or becomes competitive with burning coal, so we build more of them. In addition the business case for R&D into these becomes better. As volume and technology increases, the cost of distributed generation (households generating their own power) gets more affordable, so we also get better security of supply.

or we compost greenwaste instead of putting it into landfills where it degrades anaerobically and emits methane.

As Nommo says, most of the answers are already here in part.

Anonymous said...

I do not think the people I know are unusual at all. The are all ordinary working folk.
None of them want to waste money with needless travel, the price of petrol in NZ is still too expensive.
So you don't want to do anything more productive with land than grow trees to help pay for the
carbon taxes/debits. A cost which you know well will not make a scrap of difference to the climate.
Public transport is not efficient except maybe at peak hours and in bigger towns. As for airships
(you're kidding eh) they require engines just like normal aircraft and hugely increase travel time.
All of the alternative energy soures you suggest just make
energy more expensive and unreliable.
Go check them out on the web. The ex-google guy has a good looking solar system but he isn't giving
the cost and would it be efficient here anyway?
Good luck building a tidal damn anywhere in NZ, you guys don't even want normal ones, imagine the
millions to be wasted before it even got started.
It costs maybe $60K at least to get your house on your own power. How many people can do that.
$15B for 250K houses. Ludicrous.
Honestly you seem to think we are going to make our lives and the world better by making ourselves
poorer. There has never been an example of that working in the entire history of the world.
I won't change your mind about a single thing by talking to you so I will not reply again.
Thanks for conversing and all the best to you and yours.
Jon

Nandor Tanczos said...

well I know you don't intend to reply, but even so your post begs a few comments. For example:

You say public transport is inefficient. I assume you mean economically, rather than resource efficient. If fossil fuel use includes the full costs, that may no longer be true.

You don't need 60k to be self sufficient in energy, if you have an energy efficient house. Passive solar heating and cooling, good insulation, low energy appliances all reduce this cost considerably. Doing what most people do now on solar panels - yes that would be expensive.

You don't seem to get the point that energy alternatives are more expensive partly because the R&D investment until v recently has been into conventional systems. The costs will certainly come down once we stop subsidising coal, gas etc

Actually airships use a fraction of the fuel of an aeroplane because the engine is only needed to move it around, not keep it in the air. I've seen them in Europe and they work well. We'd be stupid to dismiss them.

Lastly, I suggest you have another look at history. The one thing it does tell us is that civilisations that squander their natural resources crash and burn. Poorer? Climate change will certainly do that to us all. My preference is to recognise we (in the west at least) don't need more stuff. We truly have enough.

Thank you also for your contributions. I suspect both our views progress with these discussions, albeit slowly.