Dare we hope?

29/10/2012

The Sunday Star times reports that New Zealand has been tipped to quit the Kyoto Protocol.

Kiwiblog points out that isn’t the case. We’ve committed to the five-year period which ends in 10 weeks.

There is no international agreement for any commitment after that.

There is growing speculation the Government’s silence is because it could save face internationally by waiting for big players like China and the US to refuse to sign up to the second Kyoto round, before following suit.

Of course, as it would be economic and environmental madness to have an agreement without them (or India).

But not unilaterally agreeing to a future binding commitment, is vastly different to walking away from a current commitment. If reporters can not understand this, then here’s an analogy.

If I lend you $1,000 and you agree to pay me back $200 a year, and then after five years you have paid me back, are you walking away from your commitment if you don’t keep giving me money in the future?

But OM Financial carbon broker Nigel Brunnel thinks New Zealand will sign up to new commitments in Doha, but then delay ratifying them. That could buy time to pursue aligning with a group of Asia-Pacific partners, and adopting voluntary emissions targets outside of Kyoto.

That fits into two of the Government’s climate-change themes, New Zealand doing its share, and not damaging competitiveness by enforcing heavy carbon payments on businesses when trading partners like the US and China do not.

Because of that, about 85 per cent of world carbon emissions are not covered by international reduction agreements, and it is said in government circles that China’s emissions increase daily by New Zealand’s entire annual carbon output.

It is simple. Any agreement which doesn’t include binding targets by China is worthless in an environmental sense.

The Kyoto Protocol was the triumph of politics and bureaucracy over science and common sense.

It was riddled with inconsistencies for example the liability for some products fell on producers, for others on consumers.

It also used a blanket approach which took no account of individual countries’ differences. The clause which required trees to be replanted where previous ones had been cut down might have made sense if the aim was to preserve native forests. But it made no sense in New Zealand where it might be better to use flat land where pine trees had been felled for pasture and plant trees on steeper land where they would prevent erosion.

It also took a local approach to a global problem which could have perverse consequences. New Zealand has a very high proportion of carbon emissions from animals but we’re also leaders in efficient production of food. Nothing would be achieved for the environment if costs here led to lower production here and higher production from less efficient farmers elsewhere.

So the SST is wrong. We’re not quitting Kyoto but dare we hope New Zealand won’t make any commitment for a second phase and instead put scientific efforts and money into initiatives that really will help the environment without wrecking the economy?


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