Greener pastures

by Listener Archive / 10 July, 2010
Farmers threatening a "winter of discontent" are simply stuck in the mud.

For most people, the Emissions Trading Scheme remains a confused concept that means nothing more than higher petrol and power prices.

The average household is expected to pay $165 more this year as a result of the ETS, rising to $330 by 2012. Not so large a sum as to prompt the well-heeled to switch off their heated towel rails or take the bus to work, but large enough to put unwanted stress on low-income families who probably scrimp on power and petrol already.

Ironically, the only people marching in the streets about the scheme's impost have been farmers, the group most heavily inoculated against its effects. Although they, like householders, will face higher prices as electricity and oil companies pass on the cost of the emissions caused by their products, farmers won't have to pay until at least 2015 for the greenhouse gases produced by their animals. Yet the agriculture sector produces roughly half of New Zealand's climate-damaging emissions.

New Zealanders might not understand the technicalities of the scheme particularly well, but they probably have the judgment to sense that this is neither fair nor efficacious.

Environment Minister Nick Smith says although he doesn't expect New Zealanders to love the ETS, he thinks they will learn to respect it. But neither love nor respect will be given easily to this bastard child of last year's liaison of convenience between the National and Maori parties.

The deal was hatched after a shambolic select committee hearing on the defeated Labour Government's scheme, and resulted in a greatly watered-down ETS that gives hefty protections to polluting industries. Petrol and power companies will simply whack the cost of their ETS obligations onto their customers' bills, while industries that face international competition are entitled to a government handout of carbon credits to cover the bulk of their emissions. These subsidies will be phased out very slowly over coming decades.

Despite being treated with kid gloves, business wanted still more concessions, and agriculture wanted still greater delay. Federated Farmers president Don Nicholson has threatened the Government with a "winter of discontent".

Farmers and others with vested interests bleat on about the hazards of putting a price on carbon while the rest of the world drags its feet. The collapse of the Copenhagen climate talks feeds their argument that there is no rush to address our rising emissions profile.

They should lift their sights beyond the farm gate and look at what's happening around the world. The idea that New Zealand's ETS puts us into uncharted water or that we are reckless pioneers in a nascent carbon economy is plain wrong. The European Union has had an ETS since 2005, and although it doesn't cover the whole economy, its development is a substantive attempt to bring about the behavioural changes that are needed to reduce society's reliance on fossil fuels.

Japan has had a voluntary ETS since 2005, Switzerland since 2008, and Norway introduced a cap-and-trade scheme between 2005 and 2007. Even China, demonised for its role at the Copenhagen talks and for its coal-hungry economy, is targeting a 40-45% reduction in carbon intensity as a proportion of GDP by 2020, and is pouring massive investment into clean energy. Ex-Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd postponed that country's planned ETS, and look where that got him. His replacement, Julia Gillard, has promised to put carbon pricing back on Labor's agenda.

Smart companies like Marlborough wine-maker Grove Mill, certified as carbon neutral since 2007, know there are big marketing advantages in reducing their emissions. If farmers aren't smart enough to recognise the long-term gains to be had by adopting emission-reduction technologies like nitrification inhibitors and biodigesters, then there should be no further delay in giving them a pricing clue that helps them to figure it out.

No one ever suggested that de-carbonising the economy would be easy. But the problems of ozone-depleting chloro­fluorocarbons and acid rain-causing sulphur-dioxide emissions once seemed insurmountable, too, and they were dealt with using political leadership, pricing signals and commercial nous. The same is possible with carbon.

Sadly, New Zealand's ETS is not the product of broad political commitment, nor does it deliver rational pricing signals. The best that can be hoped is it will become a starting point for much-needed cross-party co-operation, and that it evolves into a scheme that works for the environment and for the economy.

MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


Artist Judy Millar creates a show-stopper at Auckland Art Gallery
77134 2017-07-28 08:53:07Z Arts

Artist Judy Millar creates a show-stopper at Auckl…

by India Hendrikse

A brand-new, puzzle-like artwork by Judy Millar at Auckland Art Gallery exuberantly fills a tough space.

Read more
Cat control and 'barking consultants': Is the council coming after your pet?
76916 2017-07-28 00:00:00Z Politics

Cat control and 'barking consultants': Is the coun…

by Bill Ralston

Councils must be barking mad to be considering spending millions more controlling cats and silencing dogs.

Read more
Filmmaker Raoul Peck: Karl Marx, James Baldwin and me
76930 2017-07-28 00:00:00Z Movies

Filmmaker Raoul Peck: Karl Marx, James Baldwin and…

by Helen Barlow

A film-maker focuses on two thinkers who questioned the social order of their day.

Read more
PayWave's great, but we're light years behind China's payment methods
76945 2017-07-28 00:00:00Z Technology

PayWave's great, but we're light years behind Chin…

by Sophie Boot

New Zealand is in the dark ages compared with China’s electronic payment methods and we need to upgrade if we want more of that country’s business.

Read more
Ain’t No Taco: Symonds Street gets a new taqueria with a twist
77130 2017-07-27 14:58:01Z Auckland Eats

Ain’t No Taco: Symonds Street gets a new taqueria …

by Kate Richards

Peter Barton, co-owner of Burger Geek, opens a taqueria a few doors down the road

Read more
Synthetic cannabis: The killer high
77113 2017-07-27 11:56:15Z Social issues

Synthetic cannabis: The killer high

by Susan Strongman

There have been eight deaths related to synthetic cannabis in just over a month. People know it's killing them. So why are they smoking it?

Read more
Winston Peters criticises use of te reo in Parliament
77102 2017-07-27 10:34:33Z Politics

Winston Peters criticises use of te reo in Parliam…

by RNZ

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has criticised Te Ururoa Flavell for using te reo Māori in Parliament during question time.

Read more
NZ has done 'horrific job' protecting most vulnerable - commissioner
77095 2017-07-27 10:06:22Z Social issues

NZ has done 'horrific job' protecting most vulnera…

by Emile Donovan

Abuse of intellectually disabled people in state care over five decades has been brought to light in a new report by the Human Rights Commission.

Read more