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18th of July 2018

Politics



Government getting a free pass on Carbon Bill

Wednesday, 4 July 2018, 1:59 pmOpinion: Cranston Consulting

The Carbon Zero Bill has got be one of the most woefully mis-understood policies ever conceived in this country. The Government’s lack of understanding is on show each time they make another announcement. They can at least be thankful that farming leaders and National are equally confused by it. Does National still have a spokesman for climate change? Todd Muller has been completely ineffective and has not even asked the most basic questions to help provide clarity to the New Zealand public.

Last Sunday saw the big joint announcement by the Farming Leaders Group and Jacinda Ardern that agriculture would strive towards net zero emissions by 2050. By the government’s own admission however, net zero emissions can mean anything from agriculture continuing as they are now with no emission reductions, all the way to a massive reduction and stock numbers and land use change. This announcement has a variance of a full 80% of agriculture’s total emissions so is effectively meaningless without further clarification.

What was significant about the announcement is that it shows the Government, and surprisingly even farming leaders, have completely written off option 1 before the submission process has even closed. Admittedly option 1 was probably not likely to succeed, but should we not at least follow the process?

Even more inexplicable is the governments continued insistence that agriculture will get a 95% rebate on their emissions. This would only be required under option 3 so is the government already suggesting this will be the outcome? The climate commission has not even been set up yet, let alone decided what level methane should be stabilised at or reduced to. Option 2 may not even require a rebate or may only require a moderate one. This somehow managed to sail past all the people supposedly there to hold the government to account.

Strangely, the most important question to this whole discussion has not even been asked yet. Will pre-1990 forests be included in the ETS? Most people have incorrectly made the assumption that New Zealand can not include them. This was true for the earlier Kyoto Protocol but the Paris Agreement leaves this for each country to decide themselves. This new freedom has in fact seen a global shift towards giving existing forests more recognition under policy for the Carbon they sequester.

Why is this so important? If pre-1990 forests are included then New Zealand emission targets become infinity easier. For agriculture, it would mean that they are already achieving the option 2 target of stabilised methane and offsetting nitrous oxide. Only the most stringent option 2 targets such as stabilising methane back at 1970 or 1950 levels would require significant reductions.

The government has likely not yet formally decided if pre-1990 forests will be included. The question is why are they continuing to insist agriculture will face a 30-year transition? This major transition is only required if the pre-1990 forests are excluded. Again, a free pass.

The reality is if all farm trees are included agriculture can comfortably offset all their emissions which contribute to global warming. As we now know, agriculture might contribute 50% of New Zealand total emissions but the vast majority (the methane) degrades as fast as it is being emitted so does not contribute to further warming.

The fact option 3 will result in a cooling affect has also slipped the attention of most policy makers. That’s fine if the New Zealand public shares the governments bold ambition to greatly exceed all other countries pledges and lead the world on emission reductions. I just thought we should be told what we are signing up for is all. Option 2 is actually the warming neutral option but that point never made it into the flashy fact sheets.

Yes climate change is a highly political and contentious subject, but that does not mean we can’t ask fair and reasonable questions, there is certainly no shortage of them to ask.

Steven Cranston is an agricultural and environmental consultant for Cranston Consulting based in the Waikato.

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