Key handed poisoned chalice

With the agricultural sector being so important to our economy, the Kyoto agreement needs serious sorting out, which is why deferment of the current Emissions Trading Scheme is essential, writes John de Bueger.

As if if he needed one during a world economic meltdown, John Key has been handed the hospital pass of all hospital passes - Helen Clark's ill-conceived ETS.

Inwardly knowing that she would be in the happy position of not having to implement it, and with her eyes firmly set on overseas employment prospects, Miss Clark lumbered us with the world's most restrictive carbon-reduction scheme.

A scheme, which if viewed dispassionately, is seriously flawed.

There isn't much low-hanging fruit left to pick when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint.

We already have a high percentage of hydro renewables, and because our animals are free-range and grass fed (not corn fed in feed lots), our agriculture is close to world-best practice.

We can certainly improve in transport, but this will cost.

With no other country even thinking about carbon footprints during the current financial crisis, why are we so hellbent on cutting our throats? This country was very badly served by our Kyoto negotiators.

Take two simple examples - exporting logs and mowing the lawn.

If two ships, one with imported oil and the other with export logs, pass each other outside the Port of Tauranga, under current Kyoto rules we get dinged for both - because we are going to burn the oil, and we have cut down the trees.

Compare this with an oil tanker passing a coal exporter outside Sydney harbour.

Under current Kyoto rules, Australia doesn't get dinged for exporting coal - which is the main global warming culprit.

Meanwhile New Zealand cops it for exporting plantation forestry trees, which are good news for the planet.

To show how truly stupid the Kyoto Protocol is for food-exporting countries like New Zealand, agricultural consultant Robin Grieve has calculated that mowing a lawn with a motor mower is six times better for the environment than letting sheep graze it. (The environmental impact of sheep, as defined by Kyoto, is 19.65kg carbon-equivalent compared with a lawn mower's 3.107kg of carbon - i.e., a sheep is 6.3 times worse for the environment than a lawn mower.)

It gets worse. The methane emissions of livestock have been seriously misrepresented because, over time, pasture grass is carbon neutral - whether it is eaten or not.

Grass grows in the spring and summer, and dies back in the autumn after flowering.

If it isn't eaten, then depending on the decay process, it releases the CO2 it absorbed during its growth back into the atmosphere.

If cattle eat the grass, and live for several years before being slaughtered, they are acting like trees in the sense of temporarily storing carbon that would have been emitted by decay if they hadn't eaten the grass.

During digestion, a cow discharges methane equivalent to one-third of the carbon consumed, while the other two-thirds is stored in their body until they end up on a hook at the works.

Cows are thus temporary carbon sinks - a simple truth that one might have thought was self-evident to the Kyoto negotiators.

Carbon credits should accrue to grass-fed meat producers, not penalties.

But no, we are dinged for the methane cattle emit because our negotiators misunderstood something as simple as the carbon life cycle of grass.

Under current rules we will be penalised for our agriculture - as well as achieving an own goal by exporting our energy-efficient production to Asia, where the predominant source of energy is coal.

If other countries are not prepared to sacrifice their livelihoods, why should we? In Canada, Stephen Harper has just been re-elected after reneging on Canada's Kyoto Protocol commitment over synthetic crude oil.

Extracting the dirty oil from Alberta's tar sands leaves a footprint three times greater than normal crude.

Similarly, in the wake of the global credit crunch, any resolve in Europe to make meaningful emission reductions is crumbling by the day.

Although the European Union ETS only covers about 40% of European emissions, they are fearful that the cost of emission reductions will force energy-intensive industry to exit Europe and set up in parts of the world where there will be no carbon charge.

Never mind about China - they will cheat anyway.

The rules affecting agriculture under the Kyoto Protocol are wrong.

With the agricultural sector being so important to our economy, it is clear that Kyoto 2 seriously needs sorting out.

That's why deferment of the current ETS is essential.

Act New Zealand's insistence on setting up a special select committee to investigate the mess is correct.

We can't afford to get it wrong.

As a small player in this fraught business, it is ridiculous for New Zealand to be a leader - rather than a follower.

It would be lunacy for John Key to adopt a scheme that is so obviously flawed, and shoots us in the foot for no environmental benefit whatsoever.

Rodney Hide may be the palace clown, but he is right about this.

The Greens are well wrong.

John de Bueger is a New Plymouth writer and engineer.

 

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