Monday, 13 July 2009

Strong climate change target too expensive says Smith

National looks set to follow Australia’s “weak” greenhouse gas emission targets, as part of an emissions trading scheme that will let polluters to pass the costs on to consumers. Arguing against the strong “40% by 2020” target advocated by scientists and environmental groups, Environment Minister Nick Smith demand that groups like Greenpeace be “honest” about how much a 40% reduction with cost. “How much more are New Zealanders prepared to pay for petrol, electricity and other services?” he asked. The minister’s words echo those of the Greenhouse Policy Coalition, a lobby group for the big polluting and power using corporation, which has campaigned since 1996 to prevent action on climate change. Perhaps he read their latest press release, which also attacked the 40% reduction goal saying, “Advocates for high emission reduction targets in a short period of time should be clear about how much this will cost New Zealanders.” One member of the Greenhouse Policy Coalition, Fonterra, hasn’t been worried about the price rises that have put its milk and cheese out of reach of many New Zealanders, so why the sudden concern about how much we pay for power and petrol? Harmonising with Australia’s weak target? Smith didn’t say what the Government’s preferred target was, but he did give a clue, repeatedly stressing that New Zealand’s target shouldn’t be stronger than other countries. “The costs to the economy are biggest if we are out of step,” he argued. If emissions are reduced our emissions “too much” NZ will “export jobs”. National has already made an agreement with the Australian government to “explore harmonising the design of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme.” So it’s likely that National will be looking to match Australia’s targets, which climate scientists describe as “weak”. While scientists say that a 40% reduction on 1990 levels by 2020 is the minimum needed to have any hope of escaping the catastrophic climate change associated with global temperatures rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius, Australia’s has set a maximum target of 14%, but only if an international agreement is reached. Without an agreement their target will be just 4%. Polluters profit from “cap & trade” Even worse, like other carbon trading schemes, Australia’s CPRS will start by handing out billions of dollars in free permits to the worst polluters. This is just one of the many problems with the “cap and trade” pollution market model that is being adopted around the world. As Australian socialist magazine Solidarity argues:
The CPRS also negates any emissions reductions made outside the scheme. In setting a cap it also sets a floor. Individual actions, like putting solar panels on your house, will actually free up permits, enabling business to emit more. For example, if an individual installs a solar hot water system to reduce their climate impact, the use of electricity will fall as a result and the electricity company will have fewer emissions and need less permits. They will sell on their leftover permits, allowing other companies to buy them and emit more pollution.
[Note that the Australian government, and media talks about 15% or 25% reductions on 2000 levels. The figure of 4% and 14% reduction on 1990 levels is provided by the NZ Government’s leaflet handed out at the “consultation” meeting.] US leftist Steve Lendman argues that Obama’s American Clean Energy and Security Act will “let corporate polluters reap huge windfall profits by charging consumers more for energy and fuel as well as create a new bubble through carbon trading derivatives speculation. It does nothing to address environmental issues”. Emissions trading has been a controversal issue within the claimate movement in Aotearoa. After much internal debate the Green Party helped Labour pass the first Emissions Trading Act a year ago (National is now tinkering with this). Now, like the Greens, most environmental organisations seem to accept that, like it or not, emissions trading is the only option. As the articles above show, there is a growing international opposition to idea that these pollution markets will do anything to reduce pollution. Winning over the liberal voter Smith’s presentation, and the entire “consultation” road show is part of a wider effort by National to build a base among liberal minded voters, who would traditionally look to Labour. On the surface it went well for the Government. Most of the audience members would have been surprised and impressed by Smith’s apparent concern about climate change and his commitment to reducing emissions. The simple fact that he was there in person giving his presentation, letting people throughout the country have their say, addressing their questions and even hanging around afterwards for one on one conversation made a positive impression. The first part of Smith’s presentation too was surprisingly good. He started by pointing out that “Industrial societies were born out of burning fossil fuel.” He admitted that “negligible progress” had been made in reducing emissions, and “the problem has gotten worse” since the Kyoto Agreement in 1997. Addressing the question of why a small country like New Zealand should take action to reduce emissions, Smith made two points. Firstly, New Zealand’s per capita emissions “quite high”. Secondly, everyone has to play their part. Here Smith drew on one of the favorite comparisons used by the climate movement, that of World War Two. New Zealand’s involvement in the war may not have made much difference in the fight against Nazism, but he argued, then as now “we have a duty”. [The comparison made with WW2 is usually made with the way the economies of combatant countries were rapidly transformed to meet war time needs. For example car factories in the US closed then reopened a few months later producing tanks. Nevertheless, it’s interesting that Smith has picked up on this.] Smith borrowed all the right phrases from the climate movement. Even talking about “technology transfer” to help poor nations develop without using fossil fuels. Rallying point Engaging with the climate movement is a risky strategy for the Government. The public meetings have provided a rallying point for those demanding strong action on climate change. Most of the hundreds of people who have attended throughout the country were there to demand 40% by 2020. In Christchurch a young climate activist called for a standing vote on what target the crowd supported. Three out of four (at least) of the roughly 200 people were still sanding at 40% and remained standing when, in answer to Smith, they were asked if they were prepared to pay the price. In Dunedin members of the 350 Aotearoa were “stoked” with the big turn out of 250 concerned citizens, but “not so stoked”:
- with the fact that Nick Smith’s presentation (and thus Government climate change policy) is being based on fossil science (IPCC AR4), and a bit of probing after the event revealed that Minister Smith believes most reports since then to be ‘on the radical side of the spectrum’. Hmmm. - that Minister Smith believes a 40% by 2020 target is not a “scientific target” but a “political” one - that both Ministers seemed to be on autopilot, and Minister Smith’s concluding remarks were disconnected to the point that we wondered if he’d been listening! - that Minister Smith placed the onus on the public to identify the sectors from which emissions should be reduced … in a tone that suggested the task was impossible...
No matter how impressed people might have been by Smith’s speech, all the good will in the world can’t hide the fact that the Government wants a a weak emissions target that will protect the profits of the big polluters.

No comments: