Chauvel’s caution had already been sounded

From the Labour side of the political divide comes a media statement headed “Latest NZ carbon position no cause for complacency”.

The statement was issued by Labour’s Climate Change Issues Spokesperson Charles Chauvel, who said there were four reasons why the Government’s announcement of a better-than-expected carbon emissions position should be treated with caution.

Alf was pleasantly surprised by Chauvel’s numerical skills. Obviously he misunderstood when – in a chat with mates in Bellamy’s about Labour leadership prospects – someone said Chauvel didn’t count.

The Labour statement was prompted by Nick’s release of the 2009 Net Position Report for the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2008-2012).

Chauvel’s four points (some simply reiterating points made a bit earlier by Environment Minister Nick Smith) in essence are:

* The figures show New Zealand’s gross greenhouse gas emissions are still 23% above 1990 levels. Getting real emissions down is a big challenge.

* The figures estimate New Zealand’s net position, not the Government’s (or taxpayers’) position – there’s likely to be a bill to be paid for carbon credits this year.

* The figures show a very low uptake of forestry credits by foresters, the only sector currently bound by the emissions trading scheme and the only ones who can obtain domestic carbon credits to sell to emitters. New Zealand urgently needs to get its domestic carbon credits market up and running so foresters can feel confident in taking up their entitlements, and so emitters feel confident in buying those credits.

* The figures contain only one year of actual data (for the 2008 year) and four years of projections. In the past, estimates of our Kyoto liabilities have varied widely. Those projections (echoing the same thing Nick had said) need to be independently audited before we can be confident they are accurate.

Hence there is no room for complacency – “anyone suggesting otherwise has their head firmly in the sand,” Chauvel said.

So who – exactly – does he think might be complacent?

Environment Minister Nick Smith’s media statement earlier in the day clearly was headed “Government cautious over NZ’s Kyoto surplus”.

And so it bloody well should be cautious, given the way these numbers swing wildly from surpluses to deficits. Does Environment hire the same buggers from Treasury who prepare the Budget spending and revenue projections?

Anyway, Nick said New Zealand is now expected to exceed its Kyoto target by 9.6 million tonnes – a surplus worth an estimated $241 million.

The results for 2009 are in contrast to 2008 which projected a deficit of 21.7 million tonnes (an estimated cost of $546 million).

The main reasons for the change are the drop in agriculture emissions caused by the drought in 2007/08 and improved information on carbon storage in forests.

Then Nick declared:

“It is good news that we may exceed our Kyoto target but we need to be cautious of these projections given their volatility.

“It is difficult for the Government to make sound climate change policy when projections have ranged from a 55 million tonne surplus in 2002 to a 64 million tonne deficit in 2006 and when the figures over the past year have varied by 31 million tonnes equivalent to $787 million.

“The 2009 projections will be independently reviewed and audited over the next few months to check they are as accurate as possible.”

Nick highlighted two important factors in the latest projections.

• The figures do not signal any progress in abating New Zealand’s gross greenhouse gas emissions which are 23 percent above 1990 levels. (yep, he pointed this out before Chauvel did).

• The projections are for New Zealand Incorporated and not the Government and it is highly unlikely the Crown will end up with any surplus. “This is because post-1989 forest owners may choose to claim millions of tonnes of credits that their forests absorb between 2008 and 2012.”

These positive figures were to be welcomed, Nick said –

“but New Zealand still has a major challenge to reduce its gross greenhouse gas emissions. The Government will be continuing to advance pragmatic policies to ensure New Zealand contributes constructively to global efforts to address climate change.”

In effect, Chauvel’s media statement was a rewrite of Nick’s statement.

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