2015 Hottest Year on Record: Time to do something about it

2015 Hottest Year on Record: Time to do something about it

Geoff SimmonsEnvironment

NASA has confirmed what we all knew was coming: 2015 was the hottest year on record. And climate scientists are picking 2016 to break that record.

The evidence for climate change continues to mount leaving skeptics looking increasingly silly and out of touch. The future is clear – we have to immediately start reducing net emissions of carbon dioxide and get them to zero by the end of the century – if not sooner depending on what you think is a fair contribution for New Zealand to make. It is time to take strong action, yet New Zealand continues to drag its feet.

A catalogue of failure so far

Instead of action, coming out of Paris we have an emissions reduction target that is weak compared to the rest of the developed world. The Government justified this weak target by firstly exaggerating the costs, then claiming that the costs we face were on a par with the costs faced by other countries. If New Zealand faces higher costs that is only because we have done so little to reduce emissions thus far. In fact the costs of taking action are far less than they are for other challenges such as superannuation – costs that the Government claims are affordable.

Our weak target wouldn’t be so bad if we actually intended to meet that target by reducing emissions; instead our emissions continue to rise. Rather than reducing emissions, so far our strategy has been to rely on forestry and particularly buying overseas credits – and as we have seen these overseas credits are worthless when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Future action is snail paced

Coming back from Paris with their newly minted agreement, the Government has already downplayed the need to act urgently on climate change. And no wonder, their trade in shonky credits looks to have bought them plenty of time – it looks like New Zealand will easily meet its 2020 target too.

Now the Government is reviewing the Emissions Trading Scheme. The first phase on this is consulting on the ‘transitional’ arrangements – namely the two for one offer on redeeming carbon credits. This measure was introduced without consultation and was supposed to have been ‘transitional’ – i.e. phased out long ago, yet the Government is now consulting on their removal. The truth is that the measure was brought in to blunt the effectiveness of the Emissions Trading Scheme; no wonder the Government was quick to implement it and slow to take it away.

The two for one measure is a farce and needs to be removed immediately – it is plainly obvious and we shouldn’t even be talking about it. What other market gets meddled with by the Government in such ways? In any other market they would gasp in disbelief at this kind of interference – witness their reaction to the Labour and Green NZ Power plan at the last election. Their actions have been even more damaging to the fledgling Emissions Trading Scheme than NZ Power would have been in the electricity industry.

Under this review agriculture is also still exempt from the Emissions Trading Scheme. There may be valid reasons to leave methane out of the scheme – there are few mitigation options and it is a different gas and so may need to be treated differently. However, there are other gases associated with agriculture that should be included – nitrous oxide makes up roughly 16% of our total emissions. This is a big part of our emissions picture, and agriculture should face the same incentives to reduce these emissions as the rest of us.

To this Government ‘doing our bit’ on climate change clearly means doing as little as possible.

2015 Hottest Year on Record: Time to do something about it was last modified: January 20th, 2016 by Geoff Simmons
About the Author

Geoff Simmons

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Geoff Simmons is an economist working for the Morgan Foundation. Geoff has an Honours degree from Auckland University and over ten years experience working for NZ Treasury and as a manager in the UK civil service. Geoff has co-authored three books alongside Gareth.