Labour’s disgraceful greenhouse gas polluter backdown

I’ve been fuming for the last couple of days about National yet again watering down the Emissions Trading Scheme.

But today, I’m even angrier. But with Labour, not with National. Today, Labour’s Climate Change spokesperson, David Parker, released this media statement. The headline looked good, most of the rhetoric castigated National’s position, but buried in the middle of the release was this statement:

Although Labour believes National’s approach to industrial emissions is imperfect, we are willing to go along with it due to the desirability of settling across both main parties.

When Labour were in government, they were not prepared to give any concession to the Greens to strengthen their weak Emissions Trading Scheme.  But now, in opposition, Labour are prepared to cozy up to yet another National Party proposal to further subsidise greenhouse gas polluters, purportedly in the interest of “unity and certainty”.

Meanwhile, it is you and me as taxpayers who pay for this, rather than the polluters.

If there is ever a reason to vote Green rather than Labour or National on November 26, this has to be it.

Goff – Down with Don in the sewer

Don Brash, 27 January 2004:

Is it to be a modern democratic society, embodying the essential notion of one rule for all in a single nation state?

Or is it the racially divided nation, with two sets of laws, and two standards of citizenship, that the present Labour Government is moving us steadily towards?

Phil Goff, 26 November 2009:

We can choose our future based on principle and with the interests of all New Zealanders at heart.

Or we can have a country where one New Zealander is turned against another, Maori against Pakeha, in a way that Labour strongly rejects.

And both speeches were entitled “Nationhood”.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m as angry as anyone about the Maori Party’s sellout in supporting watering down the ETS to something that will be completely ineffective.

Goff was right to attack them on that (even though Labour’s ETS would itself have been been only minimally effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions).

But he didn’t stop there – he’s crawled down into the sewer with Brash by dog-whistling the racist underbelly of society. Disgusting!

Hypocrisy and duplicity – The tale of the two Māori Parties

I’ve always (until now) been a defender of the Māori Party, which is understandable because they have more often than any other political party voted the same way as the Greens in Parliament.

But no more! The position they have taken on National’s Emissions Trading Scheme proposal is nothing short of rank hypocrisy and duplicity. Just compare what they said in their Minority Report [PDF, pages 113, 114] in the Emissions Trading Scheme Review Select Committee report with what they have actually signed up to.

What they said:

At a fundamental level, there was opposition to an ETS which allows sectors to pollute and trade up to the Kyoto target, but which does not include incremental emission reduction targets in its design. With the emphasis on trading—establishing and maintaining the conditions for it— the overarching problem of unsustainable economic growth remains unaddressed. More specifically, we opposed the bill because of its relative ineffectiveness and inequalities, including the subsidisation of the nation’s largest polluters at the cost of households and small-medium businesses.

What they did:

Agreed to subsidisation of the nation’s largest polluters to the extent of $1200m annually until 2015, and $800m annually to agriculture thereafter.

What they said:

The Māori Party continues to oppose the introduction of an ETS on these grounds, and would do so more strongly if a replacement scheme were to be less effective and more inequitable.

What they did:

Agreed to an Emissions Trading scheme that is less effective and more inequitable.

What they said:

We also remain deeply concerned about protections in the form of intensity-based allocations and subsidies, which again distort the market model by allowing protected businesses to increase their emissions without penalty, and to be rewarded for it.

What they did:

Agreed to precisely that which they were “deeply concerned” about.

What they said:

For this reason the Māori Party continues to support the introduction of a carbon tax regime as the best mechanism to introduce a price on carbon. A carbon tax is a simpler regime, which provides certainty on price, and as the report notes, it is more stringent than an ETS when set at a sufficiently high rate, and applied to all sectors—incentivising polluters to change without the option of trading their way out and continuing with business-as-usual.

What they did:

Agreed to a weak and ineffective ETS.

What they said:

The Māori Party strongly believes that more needs to be done. Instead of relying on carbon sinks from forestry or buying credits on the international market to achieve our targets, we need to be focused on decreasing domestic emissions. A commitment to prioritise emission reduction will best serve the climate system and protect New Zealand businesses and taxpayers from market uncertainties.

What they did:

Agreed to an ETS that does precisely that, and is unlikely to reduce emissions at all, let alone to even National’s timid 20% or less target.

It’s about how fast you get there, not how big your truck will be

Word on the news is that John Key is floating embarrassing us even further and gutting our tourism marketing by setting back our already third-rate Emissions Trading Scheme another year by backloading it. (ie. increasing the eventual target when we’re beyond the point of our emissions reductions making a meaningful long-term difference) Why? To line up with Australia.

I have news for the evidently climate-illiterate types running government: Your target doesn’t have to be big if you act fast. Up-front emissions reduction is the best way to fight climate change as it stops emissions from generating positive feedback that makes the problem worse. Backloading is a terrible idea because it turns emissions trading schemes into your worst fear- it’s sort of like dipping your toe into a cold lake when you could just jump in and get over with the shock three times as fast.

Not only that, but with people already cutting back during the economic crunch, it’s it’s hardly likely to be a very large burden at all if we go ahead as planned or even accelerate the scheme, and most of it will encourage industry to adopt better practices that will actually save them money in the long run regardless of the incentives from the trading scheme. Fast action on the climate is a win/win/win in the long term in exchange for a short-term tradeoff of industry dollars for tourism and premium export dollars.

For a minister of Tourism, John Key needs to think a bit more about how’s he’s turning our clean green image into a dirty brown one.

Warmth for everybody

It appears I’m the newest addition to Green Voices. I had meant to write myself a proper introduction, and explain why I joined the Greens back in ’02 and why I remain a member, but that might wait til the next post.

The insulation debate is raging however (at The Standard and elsewhere), and it’s a topic close to my heart. I’ve already written at length about why I care about this policy, and why it is such a good idea to do something about it.

National are planning on scrapping the insulation fund won from Labour by the Greens, and are likely to be successful. There are a number of reasons why, and a number of things that should be done.

Labour promised $1 billion over 15 years for insulation of houses. This was a relatively small annual amount (especially when compared to the many billions spent on new roads). It was introduced at such a late stage that few people have yet been affected, and have much emotional stake in keeping it. Furthermore, it was not widely targeted, meaning that most voters even if they were aware, were going to think of it as ‘something somebody else will get the benefit from’, especially as it was something that would not affect most renters due to uptake for landlords being voluntary. A textbook example of a good idea legislated badly.

The Greens had been trying to convince the Govt to introduce real support for insulation since 1999, and were consistently brushed off. The fund was a hard fought concession during ETS negotiations, and something that the Government had little desire to implement, and it shows in the design of the policy. A wasted opportunity.

The policy won from Labour only affected ‘low income’ NZers, and left much of the rest of the population out in the cold, literally. They saw little or no benefit, and this may have contributed to the perception that the last Labour Government was one that was interested in ‘other people’ and not in their interest. Research has shown that even moderate and high income earners live in cold houses and defer investment in insulation over other spending.

The election demonstrated that the Greens are currently failing in their targeting of a large number of electorates. A universal scheme is needed, and Green insulation policy could be used to create purchase with these communities. If the policy is to be as successful as it needs to be, and a potential election issue, it must be visible to the wider population, especially ‘non-core’ potential Green voters.

So what to do? To some extent these suggestions are already being followed, so it’s really a question of emphasis. Talk about having every home in NZ warm, dry, and insulated. Every one. That people should not have to go overseas to be comfortable. Talk about saving hundreds of dollars from winter power bills. Talk about having healthy children. Talk about having some of the coldest houses in the OECD, and that how people in Norway, Sweden, Germany and Canada live with much colder winters but enjoy warm and dry houses. Lowering emissions is important of course, but people living in cold houses need to have a message that emphasises their own experiences first and foremost. It would be a popular policy. The Greens need to win at least 10% in the next election, and policies like this one will help get those 300,000+ voters.

There are a number of implementation mechanisms, but far as I’ve been able to tell, the most successful practice internationally has been low or zero interest loans for homeowners living in their own homes (Worldchanging has an article well worth reading). These allow people to purchase immediately, enjoy the benefits while they pay it off, and the Government wears only the cost of foregone interest. The loans can also be tied to the property, so that the next owner takes over the loan. This allows the Government to offer it to everybody, as the cost is much lower than full or partial subsidies, and the resulting gain in political capital is large. A scheme that benefits the great majority of the population is much harder to scrap. The amount paid back can even be linked to the amount saved in power/gas bills, allowing it to be marketed as zero cost. The Labour-negotiated policy mandated full subsidies for low income earners, and limited interest rebates for middle income earners. The orientation of the scheme should be changed and limits scrapped or taken much higher.

The same loans should be offered to rental owners, but these should be accompanied with a phased in requirement to insulate, as uptake is likely to be too slow or patchy otherwise. Many will insulate and make houses efficient, but some will see no commercial advantage in doing so and will need encouragement. These might form a vocal minority, but this is a policy worth fighting for. (And backing down only encourages opponents, rather than dampening their resolve)

A higher standard for new housing would also help, but only around 1% of housing annually is new, so this takes a long time to see any real impact and should be considered as separate to this policy. Improving the existing housing stock must be the priority.

I’d also like to see the idea of low/zero interest loans extended to other bright ideas, but that can wait for another post!

Why I’m glad I’m not a Green MP

I have had a bit of a break from the greens this weekend – only one meeting and didn’t check my email till this evening. Bliss… While I indulged in a breath of Dunedin summer I would pause every now and then. Pause and think about our dilemma. Then I would offer thanks that I’m not going to be in caucus on Tuesday morning. Sitting around a table making a very pivotal decision. I have not decided. I trust you guys to make a good decision. I just hope that there is a right decision to make, but know that there isn’t. Know that whatever choice you make we will back you up – If you can justify it – and work even harder to get more Green MPs so next time the compromise can be pulled further away from growth/pollution in the direction of a sustainable future.

As I heard Metiria say recently – In there [parliament] numbers is the only thing that matters. While in true kiwi fashion we have achieved so much with so little this time we didn’t have enough. So if you are reading this blog, pondering as I still am what path should be taken please help us get more MPs so next term when this happens the Green tinge is a bit stronger.

To those that think this is a stunt laid against a decision already made I would like to say you are wrong. While this might be a politically expedient thing to do it would have been just as expedient to drop the whole Section 59 issue when it blew up, filing it under to hard and moving on. It is not as though there was not a billion other things to fix. I joined the greens because they stuck to their principles, our principles. While we have matured and learned from our mistakes the day the party deserts Green Principles is the day I will resign my membership.

ETS all the time

Well I was going to write my next post about why grannies are going to go green this election cycle, but seeing that it’s ETS all the time round here this weekend, I’ll chip in on that, instead.

As I implied in my first post, I’m more with stevedore’s reluctant support than Toad’s principled opposition . My email said among other things Continue reading