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“Beyond the Barricade” – The backstory from a musical tribute to emissions trading

In September 2018, the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS) marked its first decade of operation. I was part of the core group of government officials who designed the system back in 2007 and 2008. Since then, I have continued to work both inside and outside of government to advance its progress. Having decided that the dramatic story of heartbreak and hope deserved nothing less than a little musical theatre, I filmed a short musical tribute on my iPhone. It made its debut at a birthday party for the NZ ETS at the Ministry for the Environment, and was posted online for fun together with a media release from Motu Economic and Public Policy Research.

The idea came to me when I was washing the dinner dishes and puzzling over how to help people understand the story of what happened. Say the words “emissions trading” and many people glaze over and tune out. Most of the rest of them say something about “dodgy carbon credits,” recalling how our emission price dropped very close to zero because of unlimited overseas units. The system has had no significant impact so far on domestic greenhouse gas emissions by the government’s own admission. It has taken most of a decade for the emission price to recover to the point where we started.

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Testing climate change convictions

No One Can Convince Me v3Last week, I was deeply moved by Piers Sellers’ article “Cancer and Climate Change” in the New York Times.  At age 60, Sellers, a former astronaut, was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.  Faced with decisions about how to spend his precious remaining time, he chose to return to his job doing climate research at NASA.  He writes,

“As an astronaut I spacewalked 220 miles above the Earth. Floating alongside the International Space Station, I watched hurricanes cartwheel across oceans, the Amazon snake its way to the sea through a brilliant green carpet of forest, and gigantic nighttime thunderstorms flash and flare for hundreds of miles along the Equator. From this God’s-eye-view, I saw how fragile and infinitely precious the Earth is. I’m hopeful for its future.

And so, I’m going to work tomorrow.”

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Celebrating the Paris Agreement on climate change

Bravo la France!On 18 December 2016, a small group of people added a postscript to the Wellington Climate March by gathering in front of the French Embassy to hold a “celebratory demonstration” in honour of the positive outcome from the Paris climate change conference.  Our efforts were graciously received by the French Ambassador.  Below are the comments I prepared for the occasion.

Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, has described climate change mitigation as the Everest of our generation. With the Paris Agreement, we just reached base camp. The Paris Agreement pulls 195 countries into a common legal framework for reducing emissions, and puts in place a clear, methodical long-term process for reviewing progress and increasing ambition over time. It strengthens channels for financial support, capacity building and technology transfer to help developing countries move more quickly toward low-emission development. It also opens the door to harnessing private-sector action through carbon markets.

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How much effort should New Zealand make on climate change?

Wellington Climate March 2015

From 30 November to 11 December 2015, governments will meet in Paris to resolve the framework for a new international climate change agreement to take effect from 2020.  New Zealand is bringing to the table an emission reduction pledge – or Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) – of 11% below 1990 emissions, or 30% below 2005 emissions, by 2030, conditional on rules for forestry accounting and use of carbon markets. 

How much effort should New Zealand make on climate change?  In September 2015, the Green Party organised a Parliamentary conference entitled “Feasible Ambition: Climate Goals for New Zealand in 2030.”  Below is an adaptation of some comments I provided as an independent panelist responding to a research paper presented by Dr Kennedy Graham, MP.

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Reframing the costs of smart climate action

NZ ParliamentAccording to a recent survey, 87% of New Zealanders have at least some level of concern about the impacts of climate change on society.  The government is currently consulting on how we want to translate climate concern into a target for reducing New Zealand’s emissions after 2020.

Rather than offering mitigation proposals, the government’s discussion document addresses the national context for setting a target and has a strong focus on the costs that accompany ambition.  But looking at the underlying modelling by Infometrics  and Landcare Research reveals more about the cost story in the discussion document than first meets the eye.  It also highlights the importance of discussing pathways alongside targets. (more…)



The trillion-tonne challenge: Think cumulatively, act immediately on infrastructure

In the international climate change negotiations, countries agreed to the global goal of limiting warming above pre-industrial levels to not more than 2 degrees C. According to the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, to maintain a 66% chance of achieving that goal, cumulative anthropogenic CO2 emissions starting from the period 1861-1880 must remain below about 1 trillion tonnes of carbon (3.67 trillion tonnes of CO2). That drops to an even more restrictive budget when non-CO2 greenhouse gases are taken into account.

How are we tracking so far? By 2011, we had already spent half of the trillion tonne budget.

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