Shocking Tactics of a Climate Change Cheat

Gareth MorganEnvironment

On paper, our government’s 2030 emissions reduction pledge of 11% below 1990 levels looks weak compared to other countries – particularly the EU’s -40%. But they tell us it’s not that simple, that it’s more expensive for New Zealand to reduce our emissions than it is for most other countries. A “fairer share” should be based, not on the size of the reduction but the cost incurred. Hence the -11%. They’ve even claimed that on this basis our target is more ambitious than those of the EU or the US.

Sound reasonable? Like the deliberate ramping up of the costs of reductions that we exposed as hyperbole yesterday, our government’s attempts to show its being heroic with such a puny emissions reduction target, is equally scurrilous.

How does their comparison work?

After an initial vacuum of information, the government eventually released the working to show how they got to their view on comparative burden.

  • For each country or region, a “business as usual” run of the economic model is produced. It assumes no pricing of carbon in future and no emissions targets.
  • Model runs are done with carbon pricing to see how much each country would reduce its domestic emissions at a given carbon price.
  • If a country can’t find all the emission reductions it needs domestically at that given carbon price, they buy the rest from overseas. This gives the total cost.

All the flawed modelling assumptions we discussed in yesterday’s post apply here – particularly the exclusion of forestry and technology improvements, which by themselves are enough to render any results dubious.

The treadmill of inaction – rewarding us for doing nothing

Since 1990, New Zealand’s emissions (including land use change) have grown by 42% and governments have done next to nothing to slow that growth.

Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 6.17.57 PM


Except New Zealand figures from 2013.


So part of the reason for targets being more expensive for New Zealand is obvious – it’s because we‘ve fluffed around and done nothing so far! Sure, New Zealand has had faster population growth than many comparator countries, but that only means our per capita emissions have stalled, while per capita emissions in the EU and US have fallen. This exposes a fundamental flaw with the comparative method the government has invoked – it doesn’t account for past effort. We could continue to do nothing and complain again the next time around about it being even more expensive. That’s the kind of stunt cheats pull.

The problem actually runs deeper than that. We explained above how the cost is assessed based on reductions off a business-as-usual baseline. Countries that have done the right thing and implemented policies to reduce emissions will have a baseline of lower emissions as a result. Countries like New Zealand, with no policies to measurably reduce our emissions, will have a baseline of higher emissions. The documentation on the comparison method (obtained through the OIA) confirms this, saying: “For example, a country that has implemented numerous policies to reduce domestic emissions in the past will have a lower baseline emissions trajectory, but will not receive any credit for this action towards its next target.”

What does this mean? The countries that have put in place carbon prices and other policies get no credit, while the laggards can keep on arguing it’s too costly to catch up. Not only is the Government ignoring the fact we have gone backwards on emissions because of its seven years of inaction, it is actually trying to use that fact to its advantage. Again that’s what you’d expect of a cheat.

How countries meet their target matters

The method our government is promoting assumes that other countries are happy to gorge endlessly on foreign carbon credits (which as we will see in future blogs are dodgy) to meet their targets like our current government is. The reality though is that others are not – they want to focus on transforming their own economies and reducing emissions at home. Both the EU and the US have explicitly stated in their ‘INDCs’ (the plans they’ve taken to Paris) that they intend to meet their targets without buying from foreign carbon markets.

The comparison our government is pushing completely misrepresents what the EU and the US have actually committed to. It assumes that everyone will only do the low-cost stuff, up to whatever the global carbon price encourages, and then will just buy the rest of the way to the target. New Zealand might plan to operate that way, but other nations aren’t intending to.

The Government wants to have its cake and eat it too, by arguing for both a low target as well as unlimited access to carbon markets. Ironically, planning to just buy our way out with foreign carbon credits means the cost of domestic reductions is basically irrelevant anyway. It’s certainly not an excuse for the weaker target the government has signalled.

Laughed out of Paris

Our case in Paris relies on the fact that our target is just as costly as that faced by other countries. As we saw yesterday the modelling behind our domestic costs is dodgy. In this blog we have seen that, furthermore, the Government’s case relies on the fact that New Zealand has done nothing to mitigate climate change thus far, and assumes other countries will do things they have openly declared no-one will do.

We are dangerously close to being laughed out of Paris. All other countries have to do is scratch beneath the surface of our ‘clean green’ image.

Shocking Tactics of a Climate Change Cheat was last modified: June 21st, 2016 by Gareth Morgan
About the Author

Gareth Morgan

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Gareth Morgan is a New Zealand economist and commentator on public policy who in previous lives has been in business as an economic consultant, funds manager, and professional company director. He is also a motorcycle adventurer and philanthropist. Gareth and his wife Joanne have a charitable foundation, the Morgan Foundation, which has three main stands of philanthropic endeavour – public interest research, conservation and social investment.