Did Rod Carr mislead the Environment Committee?

Yesterday, Rod Carr appeared before Parliament’s Environment Committee as Chair of the Climate Change Commission. Carr made the following statement (at 5:10):

I think the first thing to do is recognise not only as Chair but the Commission itself accepts that markets and prices will provide significant signals to producers, consumers and investors, that will play an important part in putting New Zealand on a pathway, which it is not currently on, to achieve the statutory targets for domestic emissions.

So, Carr told the Select Committee that New Zealand is not on track to deliver its “statutory targets for domestic emissions.”

There are two problems with his statement.

The first is that back in May the Climate Change Commission told the government that existing policies and an ETS price of $50 will deliver net zero emissions in about 2050.

Today, the ETS is at $68. At that higher price, the Commission’s models must show New Zealand getting to net zero emissions well before 2050.

I would say that puts New Zealand firmly on track to deliver statutory targets.

The second problem with Carr’s statement is his mention of “statutory targets for domestic emissions.”

What statutory domestic target?

The Climate Change Response Act defines net emissions as gross emissions minus domestic removals (for example, by forestry) minus offshore mitigation. The Act says emissions budgets must be met “as far as possible” by domestic reductions and domestic removals. But there is no “statutory targets for domestic emissions.”

I am perfectly willing to believe Carr misspoke, and that he meant “statutory targets.” But New Zealand is firmly on track to achieve its legislated targets.

So did Rod Carr mislead the Environment Committee by telling it New Zealand is “currently not on” track to deliver the targets Parliament has set?

Or did Rod Carr tell the Environment Committee New Zealand is not on track to achieve statutory targets which he invented?

My guess is that the unelected Carr is making an unstated political judgment about the acceptable level of tree planting. With its current settings, a $68 ETS is going to plant a lot of trees, probably more than Carr and the Climate Change Commission would like. Perfectly reasonable position for them to take.

But if that is Carr’s objection, he should be clear about it.

There is a world of difference between “more trees than we would like” and “currently not on [track].”

New Zealand is firmly on track, in the important sense that, according to the Commission’s modelling, it will achieve net zero emissions well before 2050 at an ETS price of $68.

Here is why Carr’s misleading statement matters.

If New Zealand is already on track to statutory targets, that is going to be relevant context for deciding whether the cost and pain of the upcoming Emissions Reduction Plan is really necessary.

Pretending New Zealand is off track is the foundation officials and ministers need to claim their draconian Emissions Reduction Plan is necessary.

It is not.

It is a choice. The trade-off is between a) willingness to pay more for a higher share of gross reductions in emissions, versus b) paying less and relying more on trees.

This is a legitimate political choice. That choice is pre-empted when unelected officials say New Zealand is ‘off track’ in order to maintain that their sweeping plans for how each of us lives is needed, as if we have no choice.

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