Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Dear Mr Grocer get a fair deal for embodied carbon in Paris or don't agree to anything.

New Zealand's climate change Minister Tim Grocer is currently collecting input from New Zealanders on what he should take to the Paris climate change talks in December.
One thing we should appreciate is that at least the New Zealand government is not as appallingly cynical as many. There is not a New Zealand representative competing for space in the private jet park at the climate change talks unlike 140 other attendees. Like a good boy scout Mr Grocer will be catching a regular commercial flight.
But the fact is the circus at climate change talks has become frankly disgusting. Most of the attendees demonstrate more interest in politics and making money than they do in the global environment. Some are career hypocrites with business interests in promoting climate change policies, others are politicians who simply anticipate some very good French catering. Climate change politics has become a farce.
In Copenhagen the Zimbabwean contingent were basically there to go shopping and made little secret of the fact. Once again the Chinese (the world's second largest economy) and so-called "developing nations" like Singapore (which has the best Net International Investment Position in the world) treated the occassion as an opportunity to laugh at our boy scout earnestness while offering to do practically nothing. It is no wonder that the United States has scoffed at the whole thing. True green environmentalists decry the United States but fail to see that the real politik is not about saving the world but using this issue as a means for national advancement.
And Europe's holier than thou impression in the climate change stakes is pretty questionable too. It's much vaunted carbon market is based on "UN" offsets derived from paying Indians and Indonesians to say they have swapped some coal boiler for a natural gas one - even though nobody ever checks that savings were actually made. That's why the European market became increasingly questionable because the projects it was based on were corrupt.
As for the Kyoto Protocol scam it didn't take the US five minutes to see that the Protocol with its 1990 base year was essentially a giant European rort designed to see America spending real money on Russian "hot air" because the economies and emissions of the constituents of the former Soviet Union had dropped 50% when it dissolved in 1991. Why 1990 was chosen as opposed to 1992 when the Russian Federation was established? This was a political decision with no bearing on the climate at all.
Then there is the hystrionics of the climate negotiations themselves. Representatives from around the world get packed into a hall to negotiate deals in boiler room conditions. There's tears, there's sentimental speechifying and finally cheers when the exhausted representitives finally agree a text they can take back to their governments to be ... well usually ignored. It would be dramatic if it happened once, but it happens every COP and the results are simply terrible policy.
Consider the Kyoto Protocol. Under the Protocol if you are Saudi Arabia and you pump 9.9 million of barrels of oil per year from under the ground which will emit 4.2 million new tonnes of CO2 when burned (typically within that year) you are actually only responsible for only 0.46 million tonnes of CO2 produced by pumping, venting and flaring. But if you are New Zealand and you ship 30,000 tonnes of forest products (our third largest export) which have been recycled from the atmosphere over the past thirty years you are responsible for emitting the entire 15,000 tonnes of embodied carbon which is deemed released to the atmosphere even though much of it ends up as building products or paper. It isn't even remotely fair.
Why does that happen? Well it happens because embodied carbon is too hard to think about when you've been sleep deprived in a marathon negotiation session and hardly anyone worries about sustainable forestry nations like New Zealand (NZ forest products are from replanted plantations forest). So we get a shit deal because everyone else is too busy trying to suck up to Russia or Saudi Arabia or some other vast emitting nation. If you were completely logical about it Saudi Arabia would be obliged to pay for the sequestration of all it produced. The rest of the world would pay Saudi Arabia through oil prices and Saudi Arabia could buy the cheapest sequestration it could find. But it doesn't work that way because of politics.
And when it comes to politics we get screwed. Our climate change Ministers come home looking like they fought hard being all rueful and  hairy chested but actually in reality they just took most of the world up the arse. They then have the temerity to tell taxpayers that because they failed and the "international community" has set the rules against us we taxpayers have to suck it up and play by the rules. It must make the Singaporese who don't admit or concede anything wet themselves laughing for months. Our problem is our suck up representatives don't play hard ball like Singapore and demand a reasonable deal. They want to be the good little country willing to take their medicine for the good of the whole world. Like we're rich or something.
Because we aren't rich. We are a second world economy. Most of our international income comes from selling milk products, hospitality (tourism) and forestry. Our PPP adjusted GDP per capita is in the $32,000 range which is better than most but is definitely not in the $42,000+ territory of most first world nations, including Australia (who don't play climate change ball either). It is certainly well short of "developing" Singapore's $82,000 per person per year.
So my question is why don't we stick up for ourselves for a change, because worst case, if climate change comes along in a hundred years it won't be New Zealand that suffers one helluva lot. Because climate change is not the end of the world. The highest concentration of CO2 in the last 800,000 years is still within the history of human beings. Life on earth has coped with way way worse. Even 12,000 years ago we had some pretty exciting experiences with ice ages which shook things up in a way the modern world would find pretty hard to cope with.
As for warming usually the Earth copes by producing more clouds and growing more biomass while most species cope by migrating. The problem is we have this weird idea called land parcels which we "own" and we've based the whole monetary system on it. Economically what climate change is about is the loss of land values from coastal real estate. Cities like Singapore, Amsterdam, etc who will cease to exist if sea levels rise. New Zealand (like Russia) could even benefit from climate change in a way that Australia (fires), and a number of other nations really would not.
So if all the clever clogs in Australia and Singapore really can't be bothered doing anything to reduce their energy intensity why should our people show "moral leadership" other than to strut a bit at climate change talks? Kiwi can't eat moral superiority.
Of course for some people New Zealand should be the green angel of the world. It should be 100% sustainable with the lowest energy intensity etc. Most such people are vast hypocrites who rely on other people emitting so they can enjoy their chardonnay. They're Al Gore or Prince Charles types who say do as I say not as I do. Well, really that isn't possible.
New Zealand can't participate in the global economy and be the most remote nation on earth without needing a fairly high energy intensity. Sure, you can hide behind rules excluding international shipping and air travel but fundamentally that's dishonest. The fact is the dairy industry, tourism and forestry are all energy demanding industries. Ideally our forestry carbon sink would balance our agricultural methane emissions but realistically that depends on commodity prices and that depends on a whole bunch of things which have nothing to do with carbon.
And this is the problem with carbon in the real world. Because it is effectively a tax imposed by government, and because tax consistency around the world is impossible (because nations cheat), you can't expect the carbon market to ever be any more perfect than say the highly compromised global trade in agriculture which is full of rich nation farmers like the French and Americans shitting on poor farmers in other parts of the world.
So Mr Grocer when you come back from Paris looking all rueful and hairy chested after the histrionics of the climate change negotiations I suggest you don't try and tell us any bullshit about New Zealand leading the world, or being tough but reaching final agreement, or any of the usual blather. Tell us how we were screwed over again and what the Government is going to do to try and minimise the effect of the stupid compromise it agreed to on behalf of our population.
New Zealanders do care about climate change and the environment. We are proud our electricity is 80% renewable, our forests are a potential sink for Saudi's oil carbon and a potential source of biofuel as well. But none of it works if we are subsidising politicking backsliders who are bigger and richer than we are. We can't carry China. We can't carry Australia. We can't even carry Singapore.
If you can't bring back a fair deal don't bring back anything at all.
And a fair deal means a fair deal for embodied carbon. One that treats it exactly the same way as oil. New Zealand like Brazil, like Indonesia, like Malaysia can grow trees for the world and should be paid to grow trees for the world. Ultimately only sequestering CO2 in biomass can compensate for digging the stuff out of the ground and burning it in the first place. The price of carbon added to energy should be the marginal global cost of sequestering it. Growing states should be paid and extracting states should pay them. Swapping coal for gas should simply change how much you pay, not provide an offset. If we can't get a system which recognises this simple reality we are just boy scouts in a room full of shysters.

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