With its Emissions Reduction Plan released last week, the government is promising unprecedented control over every aspect of your life.
How you move. What you eat. Where you live. How you heat your home.
It is little short of a revolution. Between its emissions plan and next year’s Budget, which will also be about climate change, future governments of this country will have more to say about everything.
The problem is that existing policies already have this country firmly on track to deliver emissions targets.
In both its draft and final reports, the Climate Change Commission said current policies and a $50 carbon price will be enough to deliver net zero emissions in 2050. Its analysis did not show undue reliance on removals by exotic trees, although Ministers and officials have repeatedly made misleading statements about the Commission’s findings.
Today’s carbon price is $65. So we are ahead of schedule.
Which makes the government’s Emissions Reduction Plan redundant. We get to our targets without the Plan. Emissions will come down about as quickly with the plan as without.
New Zealand should get more credit for its progress on emissions. On a per-capita basis, greenhouse gases have been falling since 2006. They are down 22% overall, and down 34% if agriculture is excluded.
Net emissions of long-lived greenhouse gases – relevant for the net zero target – are down 25% per person.
And it is not pine trees that are doing all the work. More than 100% of the fall in net emissions is due to lower gross emissions.
So current policies are already doing the business demanded by environmentalists. There is no need to add thousands of dollars to the cost of vehicle imports, or any of the many other impositions being looked at, since we are already on track to deliver the stated goal.
There should be no question existing policies will deliver all of our emissions targets if they are given the chance. That is because, apart from methane, New Zealand has set net emissions targets. Both domestic law and international agreements recognise three pathways to lower net emissions: lower gross emissions; removals by trees and other carbon capture technologies; and offshore mitigation.
Removals and offshore mitigation are each affordable and scalable enough on their own to deliver net zero emissions in 2050.
But voters prefer reductions. Fine.
So the task for emissions policies is to assemble a mix of reductions, removals and offshore mitigation which
- delivers emissions targets; and
- reflects the premium voters are willing to pay for more reductions, less removals and less offshore mitigation.
The government is not thinking about climate change this way. In fact, it does not seem to be thinking about emissions at all. It has published an Emissions Reduction Plan which will bring down emissions by about the same amount as existing policies to achieve the same emissions targets.
What, then, is the point of an Emissions Reduction Plan if it does not reduce emissions?
Judging from its effects, the point is control. The plan will have two clear effects. Ministers will decide how and where emissions come down, not you. Second, you will pay more – ten times more, on the government’s own analysis – for the benefit of their judgment.
What a terrible deal. For the environment. And for your back pocket.
And all based on the twin lies that reducing emissions requires central control, and that the government’s Emissions Reduction Plan reduces emissions.