New Zealand appears to have dug itself in to a hole over how
to help slow the effects of human-induced climate change.
This view was accentuated by the Government's recent decision
not sign the second stage of the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement
which commits nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Critics have claimed we are abandoning ship when the going
gets tough, but, in reality, the agreement is largely
symbolic and ineffective. The planet's big emitters - United
States, China and India and other non-signatories which are
cumulatively responsible for 85% of the world's emissions -
are not in the protocol. Without those countries actively
countering greenhouse gas emissions there is little hope of
curbing climate change.
This week, representatives from 200 countries are meeting in
the Qatar capital, Doha, to renew the Kyoto Protocol which
expires this year. New Zealand has decided to join the
alternative United Nations Framework Convention on Climate
Change, along with the world's big emitters.
Of some concern to the Key Government is Australia and Europe
have stayed with the protocol, but this will place an even
greater emphasis on the details of the Government's plan next
year to set and achieve binding greenhouse gas emission
Mr Key has reportedly said he wanted a change to rules that
govern the protocol, especially around land use, and he has
reiterated New Zealand would not be a world leader on this
New Zealand contributes about 0.2% of global greenhouse gas
emissions, but it could be argued that the protocol makes
little sense for New Zealand as there is virtually no way to
curb the source of half our emissions, methane from
livestock, other than to not farm animals which would be
So, it is no great surprise we are exceeding our emissions
target by 18%.
But that does not mean we should shirk our international
responsibilities to slow climate change. The key will be how
our new United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
partners reduce greenhouse gas production and whether those
targets are binding and achievable.
The Government cannot afford to hamstring an already
stuttering economy as addressing our environmental issues
requires money-hungry research and technology. It is hard to
be green when financially you are in the red.
On this measure the Government could encourage the economy to
grow, risk increasing greenhouse gas production but generate
income for investment in research and technology or, as some
advocate, tax carbon emissions and risk restricting the
productive sector's ability to generate income.
The emissions trading scheme (ETS) has been central to New
Zealand climate change policy since its launch in 2008, and
appears it will remain so. This puts a price on carbon to
encourage emitters to reduce emissions.
Those who exceed limits can offset some of that liability by
buying equivalent units from those who have units to sell or
offset by buying units from owners of carbon absorbing
In a quirk peculiar to the ETS, despite not meeting our
emissions target, offsetting means we have a net global asset
worth $199 million, but this belies a niggling issue.
Forest owners thought they were on to a financial winner with
the ETS by selling carbon absorbing rights of their trees,
but not only has the international price of carbon plummeted
from $20 a tonne last year to around $5 today, greenhouse gas
emitters have been able to buy cheaper units from overseas
forest owners, bypassing local foresters.
While an international agreement to address greenhouse gas
emissions is desirable, the reality is that achieving an
agreed global plan of action is difficult. Supporters - New
Zealand included - of the United Nations Framework Convention
on Climate Change, now have to show they have a credible
alternative to the Kyoto Protocol, that will not only match
its emission reduction targets, but address other issues
around binding compliance.