It’s the last day of the 3rd Bonn round of UN climate negotiations today, and I thought I’d give you a bit of an assessment of where New Zealand is at in the negotiations. Hence this blog is longer than normal, but there’s a lot to cover: New Zealand’s target announcement, New Zealand’s hollow threat, New Zealand’s plan to reward failure and a question about New Zealand’s future emissions.

NZ target announcement

The big thing of the week for New Zealand in the negotiations was the New Zealand target and the conditions attached to it. At the negotiations, these targets are called ‘pledges.’

It’d be fair to say that a number of countries were expecting New Zealand’s target to be worse than it was. One developed country delegate privately remarked to me that our campaign was clearly having an effect – so that’s something all those involved in Sign On can feel proud of. But New Zealand’s target is still nowhere near the level needed to be a fair contribution to avoiding dangerous levels of climate change – lets face it, it qualified for a special Fossil of the Day.

In that, New Zealand’s definitely not alone; adding up all the pledges from developed countries to date we’re not going to avoid dangerous levels of climate change unless there’s a big jump in ambition. That’s what we’ll all need to push for between now and Copenhagen, whether in New Zealand, Australia, Europe or the US.

New Zealand’s hollow threat

One question put to New Zealand this week by other delegates which I didn’t report on at the time, (but on reflection was very important), was a question from Sweden (on behalf of the European Union). Sweden noted the EU had an unconditional target of 20% (the action they’ll take even if we and the rest of the world refuses) and a conditional target of 30% and asked if New Zealand’s lower target of 10% was unconditional. The New Zealand delegate made it clear that New Zealand’s entire 10-20% range is conditional, but was very vague about what New Zealand would do if John Key doesn’t get what he is demanding from the rest of the world. On reflection, this is because New Zealand actually has no choice. John Key cannot walk away from tackling climate change because the damage to New Zealand’s reputation would be too great.

New Zealand’s plan to reward failure

A big debate this week as been about what the joint level of effort of developed countries will be and how that is shared between countries (called comparability). Now that New Zealand and Russia have finally proposed targets the inevitable skirmishing over who does what has begun. Some of it’s been quite entertaining to watch as delegates attempt to bait each other in language of (usually) extreme politeness. Yeah I know, it’s a serious issue, but you’d go mad in here if you didn’t see the funny side sometimes.

New Zealand did a presentation yesterday on its idea about sharing the load. It was all about the starting point for sharing the effort. The type of starting point is very important because of the different situations of different countries. You can divide developed countries into three groups: leaders, laggards and hot air profiteers. The leaders are those who have taken real action to reduce emissions. The laggards are countries (primarily the US, New Zealand, Australia and Canada) that have failed to take action to reduce their emissions, while the hot air profiteers are those like Russia, whose economies collapsed in 1991 because of free market economic reforms and whose emissions are fortuitously a lot lower than 1990 levels already.

New Zealand contrasted a hypothetical country that looked remarkably like New Zealand with another hypothetical country that looked remarkably like Russia. This contrasted both extremes to show New Zealand’s preferred model, which would prevent Russia from rorting the system while giving NZ an easier ride. It was such a cheeky assault on Russia’s national interest that the person next to me asked me if NZ had nuclear weapons.

The New Zealand model was based on changing the starting point for commitments from 1990 levels to current levels of emissions. This approach rewards failure. By shifting the goal post from 1990 to current emissions, it wipes the slate clean for laggards like New Zealand who have failed to take action to reduce their emissions and ignores the efforts of countries that have reduced their emissions.

The Chinese delegate spotted this point and was quite scathing.

New Zealand of course tried to explain that it wasn’t trying to game the system, but it relied too heavily on the point that individuals and firms, not countries, generate emissions while totally ignoring the fact that government policy strongly influences whether emissions go up (like New Zealand) or down (like the EU).

I’ll give the Government credit for the poke at Russia’s efforts to twist the system in its favour, but sorry, I wasn’t convinced by New Zealand’s explanation of why it wasn’t gaming the system too.

Micronesia, on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, responded to New Zealand’s suggestion of changing the starting point for commitments from 1990 by saying, "We all have birthdays, some people fudge their age, over time some people look older than they claim."

NZ’s emissions to keep growing?

The model used by New Zealand in the presentation on comparability shows the hypothetical "New Zealand" emissions continuing to rise to 2020.  Micronesia spotted this and asked if New Zealand’s examples had a peak year (a year after which emissions drop) and whether the dotted line showing emissions was ‘business as usual.’ The New Zealand delegate didn’t answer the first question, but did answer the second. Apparently emissions rose in this hypothetical New Zealand even after climate change measures were put in place!

This is a bit speculative, but after following New Zealand's moves this week I reckon I’m getting a handle on the Government’s climate change strategy. I hope I’m wrong, but if I’m not, then we’ve got a lot of work to do.

   New Zealand wants lots of offsets it can buy on the international market, rather than actually making emission reductions in NZ.

   New Zealand wants to change the rules on forestry so that dairy conversions won't face such a big penalty

   New Zealand’s ETS will be quite weak

What this suggests to me is that the Government has no intention of reducing domestic emissions – despite the Green Party report that shows New Zealand has lots of potential to reduce emissions [link: http://www.greens.org.nz/node/21593]. Instead New Zealand intends to buy its way out of its international commitments. With a weak ETS, that would mean that our taxes, rather than the profits of polluters, will bear the cost of meeting New Zealand’s international climate change commitments. And that’s very very wrong.