NZ poorly served by Kyoto negotiators

The Emissions Trading Scheme is seriously flawed  and must be deferred engineer John de Beuger says.

There isn’t much low-hanging fruit left to pick when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint.

We already have a high percentage of hydro renewables, and because our animals are free-range and grass fed (not corn fed in feed lots), our agriculture is close to world-best practice.

We can certainly improve in transport, but this will cost.

With no other country even thinking about carbon footprints during the current financial crisis, why are we so hellbent on cutting our throats? This country was very badly served by our Kyoto negotiators.

Take two simple examples – exporting logs and mowing the lawn.

If two ships, one with imported oil and the other with export logs, pass each other outside the Port of Tauranga, under current Kyoto rules we get dinged for both – because we are going to burn the oil, and we have cut down the trees.

Compare this with an oil tanker passing a coal exporter outside Sydney harbour.

Under current Kyoto rules, Australia doesn’t get dinged for exporting coal – which is the main global warming culprit.

Meanwhile New Zealand cops it for exporting plantation forestry trees, which are good news for the planet.

To show how truly stupid the Kyoto Protocol is for food-exporting countries like New Zealand, agricultural consultant Robin Grieve has calculated that mowing a lawn with a motor mower is six times better for the environment than letting sheep graze it. (The environmental impact of sheep, as defined by Kyoto, is 19.65kg carbon-equivalent compared with a lawn mower’s 3.107kg of carbon – i.e., a sheep is 6.3 times worse for the environment than a lawn mower.)

It gets worse. The methane emissions of livestock have been seriously misrepresented because, over time, pasture grass is carbon neutral – whether it is eaten or not.

Grass grows in the spring and summer, and dies back in the autumn after flowering.

If it isn’t eaten, then depending on the decay process, it releases the CO2 it absorbed during its growth back into the atmosphere.

If cattle eat the grass, and live for several years before being slaughtered, they are acting like trees in the sense of temporarily storing carbon that would have been emitted by decay if they hadn’t eaten the grass.

During digestion, a cow discharges methane equivalent to one-third of the carbon consumed, while the other two-thirds is stored in their body until they end up on a hook at the works.

Cows are thus temporary carbon sinks – a simple truth that one might have thought was self-evident to the Kyoto negotiators.

Carbon credits should accrue to grass-fed meat producers, not penalties.

But no, we are dinged for the methane cattle emit because our negotiators misunderstood something as simple as the carbon life cycle of grass.

Under current rules we will be penalised for our agriculture – as well as achieving an own goal by exporting our energy-efficient production to Asia, where the predominant source of energy is coal.

If other countries are not prepared to sacrifice their livelihoods, why should we? In Canada, Stephen Harper has just been re-elected after reneging on Canada’s Kyoto Protocol commitment over synthetic crude oil.

Extracting the dirty oil from Alberta’s tar sands leaves a footprint three times greater than normal crude.

Similarly, in the wake of the global credit crunch, any resolve in Europe to make meaningful emission reductions is crumbling by the day.

Although the European Union ETS only covers about 40% of European emissions, they are fearful that the cost of emission reductions will force energy-intensive industry to exit Europe and set up in parts of the world where there will be no carbon charge.

Never mind about China – they will cheat anyway.

The rules affecting agriculture under the Kyoto Protocol are wrong.

With the agricultural sector being so important to our economy, it is clear that Kyoto 2 seriously needs sorting out.

That’s why deferment of the current ETS is essential.

Act New Zealand’s insistence on setting up a special select committee to investigate the mess is correct.

We can’t afford to get it wrong.

As a small player in this fraught business, it is ridiculous for New Zealand to be a leader – rather than a follower.

It would be lunacy for John Key to adopt a scheme that is so obviously flawed, and shoots us in the foot for no environmental benefit whatsoever.

Agriculture is one of the most important sectors in our economy yet we’re the only country to include it in our Kyoto commitment. The looming economic crisis may well help us because because if other countries put their economies before their Kyoto commitments, many of which will do little or nothing to improve the environment, we will be able to renegotiate our commitments too without being penalised.

We’ve been very poorly served by past negotiations but we can take some comfort from the knowledge that the new Minister for Climate Change negotiations, Tim Groser, has both the will and skills to ensure we’re better served in negotiations from now.

4 Responses to NZ poorly served by Kyoto negotiators

  1. Matt Nolan says:

    That is a good point – the initial negotiations were actually quite bad.

    But now that we are stuck with this bad hand we have to figure out how to pay for it – that is what the ETS does. If we negotiate a better hand the ETS will adjust as well, so it is still a good idea

  2. adamsmith1922 says:

    Were the Kyoto negotiators in charges of any other flawed treaties eg the Thailand FTA

  3. frog says:

    John’s article is flawed on so many levels it is difficult to know where to start. First of all, let’s start with NZ being a leader. It is a false statement. We are right in line with our OECD trading partners, with the US promising to catch up. To state that no one else is worrying about this because of the financial crisis is ludicrous. Obama has promised to fast track the US ETS and only keep allies who are doing their part. Want your market? Pay the price for your emissions. As for the complete hogwash regarding the carbon cycle on the farm, all I can say is get a science degree! We don’ ask scientists to design bridges, let’s not relyon engineers to make our climate policies!

  4. Mr Dennis says:

    “must be deferred”? No, it must be scrapped. It is a complete load of hogwash from the start, you can tweak it to make it slightly less ridiculous, or you can scrap it and consider the issue from the ground up.

    It is very good to see that Act have managed to get this small concession from National over this issue. But it is crazy that National, who used to support farmers, need to be pushed into this very sensible position by a minor party.

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