Dealing with criminals in climate fraud

Geoff SimmonsEnvironment

The Government’s plan for meeting our Kyoto Protocol commitment and 2020 emissions reduction target was released this month.

It reveals a shocking truth: New Zealand has been a willing participant in a wholesale climate fraud.

We’ve been dealing with criminals and fraudsters in order to meet our international obligations. If our reputation wasn’t shot to pieces after Paris – where we revealed our weak kneed 2030 target – it will be now.

Carbon trading is a fine idea, but it only works if the credits we buy actually represent a true emissions reduction somewhere else.

The sad truth is that the foreign credits New Zealand has gorged on up until now have produced little to no climate benefit.

New Zealand’s main vice has been a particular type of carbon credit called the Emissions Reduction Unit (ERU).

These are issued for emissions-reducing projects in countries participating in the Kyoto Protocol. The idea is that the revenue from selling ERUs would make projects viable that wouldn’t be otherwise.

Over 90 per cent of ERUs have come out of Russia and Ukraine, and under Kyoto they were allowed to authorise their own projects.

No surprise that when they were externally audited this year, 85 per cent of the units didn’t stand up to scrutiny. They are essentially worthless bits of paper.

The EU got wind of the games being played years back and started to clamp down on the use of these credits.

In response, Russian and Ukrainian companies doubled down, churning out as many fraudulent credits as they could before the EU shut them out.

They took credit for projects that would have happened anyway (or had already happened several years before being registered for ERUs), overestimated emissions reductions, and deliberately increased streams of waste gases from industrial plants so they could then claim credits for destroying them.

One UN official went as far as to call it organised crime.

In 2012 the market got flooded with ERUs. The EU retaliated, restricting the use of these ‘offsets’ in their Emissions Trading Scheme.

The price went through the floor – from over $20 per tonne in early 2011 to around 10c per tonne in 2013.

There was one place the crooks could still ditch their fraudulent credits though: clean, green, ethical New Zealand.

Our government kept allowing their unlimited use in our ETS right up until we got chucked out of the international trading system in 2015 for not signing up to Kyoto II.

They even voted down an amendment that would have limited their use to 50 per cent of a company’s emissions. Disgusting complicity.

Out of a total of 870 million ERUs, New Zealand alone purchased 97 million – 11 pr cent of the total when we were only 0.6 per cent of emissions covered by Kyoto.

Crap ERUs have made up over half (55 per cent) of the units used in our ETS since it started – compared with less than 5 per cent in the EU. Ninety-nine per cent of our ERUs came from Ukraine and Russia, so you can be fairly certain they are worthless – a load of hot air, the proceeds of crime.

We have been the biggest abuser of fraudulent carbon credits. Someone should be answerable as an accessory to the fraud.

We have spent more than $100m willingly buying these cheating credits that have no benefit for the climate.

I think most New Zealanders would be horrified to find that we have sent $100m to corrupt foreigners, with the only benefit being that we could avoid our emissions reductions obligations.

The politicians have known damn well what they’ve been doing.

Polluters in New Zealand benefited hugely, while the forestry industry got shafted. The unlimited dirt-cheap credits allowed polluters to increase emissions, cost free. For example, it allowed forests in the middle of the North Island to be bought, cut down cheaply, and converted to dairy farms.

Now the Government are using all those fraudulent foreign credits to cover our increased emissions all the way to 2020 and beyond – without needing to lift a finger or do anything real.

Instead of using credits that are the proceeds of crime to make our lives easy out to 2020, we should ditch them. We should put our hands up and plead guilty as an accomplice.

Over in Paris our Government called for unrestricted access to global carbon markets to help meet our 2030 target.

Why should anyone trust us when this is our track record, knowingly using fraudulent credits? If the Government wants to restore any shred of credibility then it should cancel the ERUs.

There is a precedent for this; this month five European nations cancelled their Kyoto surplus of more than 600 million units (the result of overachieving their targets).

We are an innovative nation.

Imagine what we could achieve if we channelled that innovation into reducing emissions, rather than focusing our energies on finding ways of evading our obligations.

We might even not need to purchase overseas credits at all, let alone be an accessory to crime.

Dealing with criminals in climate fraud was last modified: January 5th, 2016 by Geoff Simmons
About the Author

Geoff Simmons

Facebook Twitter

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.