21 October 2015

Environment Aotearoa 2015 omits NZ's greenhouse gas growth trend

The Ministry for the Environment and the Statistics Department jointly released the new state of the environment report Environment Aotearoa 2015 today.

The press release for the co-produced report, promises quite a lot.

Government Statistician Liz MacPherson said the report gives a clear and independent overview, based on the best-quality information available.
Ms MacPherson said the report uses robust data from hundreds of sources, and follows international best practice for environmental reporting. “We would like to improve the data for future reports, and we are working on this,”
"The report is supported by interactive web pages containing trend and regional data. I would encourage people to take a look at the areas they are interested in.”

Wow! Interactive web pages containing trend and regional data! How could I resist the temptation to look for some interactive graphs of greenhouse gas emissions! And to compare their graphs with my graphs.

I browsed on through the 'Atmosphere and Climate' domain to the page for Global greenhouse gas emissions and found only...information on global greenhouse gas emissions. And a factoid that could have culled from any speech by Tim Groser or Nick Smith.

Between 1990 and 2011, New Zealand emitted an average of 0.1 percent of global net GHG emissions.

I tried again at the page Greenhouse gas concentrations. This page reported concentrations of greenhouse gas emissions recorded at Baring Head. Interesting but still no national emissions data.

However, i did find a widget enabling the embedding of a graph the Baring Head atmospheric carbon dioxide data record.

Nowhere from anywhere within the Te Taiao Aotearoa environmental indicator web pages could I find any mention of New Zealand's gross and net greenhouse gas emissions.

I resorted to doing a search of the Statistics website for greenhouse gases. That did turn up a web page showing New Zealand's greenhouse gases. That page clearly reported the trend with a prominent red cross.

Negative change. New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions have increased 42 percent since 1990. New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions increased 42 percent between 1990 and 2013. Total emissions increased 21 percent.

Another widget for embedding. A very plain graph. It uses a different greenhouse gas inventory report published earlier this year from my graphs for 1900 to 2012. The data for 1990 to 2013 uses a different way of calculating the carbon dioxide equivalent values for methane. This increases the year by year values by several million tonnes per year.

Still it just seems so bizarre to have statutory environmental indicators and to not include our national production of greenhouse gases. Especially since Statistics already had the data on it's web page. They need only to have put the link in. Is this cognitive dissonance, self-censorship or climate silence?

17 October 2015

New Zealand Gross & Net Greenhouse Gas Emissions 1990 to 2012

I have just prepared and revised a graph of New Zealand's gross and net greenhouse gas emissions for the years 1990 to 2012. I have recycled the style of the graph of gross emissions from 1861 to 2012.


I have used html code from the scalable vector graphic I uploaded to Wikipedia Commons and not the Blogger template. I think it gives a better quality graphic.

The data is from Ministry for the Environment publication New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990 – 2012, Report ME 1148, ISBN 978-0-478-41242-0, April 2014.

The data and R programming language script are available at Wikimedia Commons.

12 October 2015

How I made the graph of NZ gross greenhouse gas emissions

Yes another post about my new line chart of gross greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand. I have just uploaded a SVG version to Wikimedia Commons. On that page there is a link to the data source on Robbie Andrew's website and the background to the data and it's use in a publication.

The scaled vector graphic looks like this when the suggested template from Wikimedia is used.NZ Gross GhG Emissions 1861 to 2012

And I have uploaded the R script I wrote to Google Drive


11 October 2015

Graph of New Zealands gross greenhouse gas emissions 1861 to 2012

Robbie Andrew has compiled a data set of gross greenhouse gas emissions for New Zealand starting in 1861. So obviously that prompted me to make a line chart.

This image is set at actual size of 535 pixels.

This is an extra large sized image that is displayed too large for the width of the column.

This is a large sized image.

This is a medium sized image.

One point to note is that the line looks very smooth from the 1860s to the 1920s. That's because the data interval is one record per decade up until 1931. The data becomes an annual time series from 1933.

The other point is that the emissions data shows the same pattern of exponential growth highlighted in the global carbon dioxide graph featured by Duncan Clark and Mike Berners-Lee in The Burning Question.

28 September 2015

The Burning Question - highly recommended

The Burning Question by Duncan Clark and Mike Berners-Lee is a book I recommend highly. So I am very pleased to find this talk by Duncan Clark given at University College London on 2 July 2013.

24 September 2015

What is a Intended Nationally Determined Contribution?

Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) are outlines of the actions that countries intend to take to address climate change, submitted ahead of the December 2015 Paris UNFCCC negotiations (Source: The Road Through Paris).

This is explained in this short video.

The video is the creation of Climate Countdown,

who examine different facets of this complex issue and break it down into bite-sized bits

19 April 2015

Is it ‘doing our fair share’ to use creative accounting to meet New Zealand’s 2020 climate change target?

I look at how the National Government intends to use creative carbon accounting to ensure that New Zealand meets it’s 2020 climate change target (a five percent reduction) in spite of a projected trend of increasing emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) to 2020.

On 10 April 2015, when he was releasing the latest inventory of greenhouse gases, the Minister for Climate Change Issues Tim Groser made this very confident statement; “We’re well on track to meet our 2020 target"

That target is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to five per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

When this was announced in 2013 the ambition (-5%) of the target was criticised as useless, pathetic and inadequate.

The five percent reduction stands in stark contrast to the Ministry for the Environments projections of increasing emissions out to 2020. The Ministry estimates that the increase in gross (total) emissions in 2020 will be 29% above the 1990 baseline (from 60 to 77 million tonnes) and the increase in net emissions (gross less any increase in the stock of carbon stored in forests) to 2020 will be 130% (from 33 to 75 million tonnes). So why is Tim Groser so confident that the target will be achieved?

Simon Terry of the Sustainability Council has commented on the ‘kicking the can down the road’ features of the Government’s climate change policies: the mismatch between the emissions target and the predicted emissions, the absence of a credible plan or carbon budget approach and the deferring of liabilities into the future.

Taking Simon Terry’s work as a starting point, I am going to look at how the Government intends to apply the accounting rules for carbon credits to achieve the 2020 target in spite of the likely predicted increase in gross and net greenhouse gas emissions.

So how is NZ going to reduce emissions by five percent by 2020?

In December 2014, at the Lima, Peru, climate change conference, NZ climate ambassador Jo Tyndall was asked that specific question. Her answer was that NZ had four ways of achieving the 2020 target;

  1. through a combination of domestic emissions reductions,
  2. removal of carbon dioxide by forests,
  3. participation in international carbon markets and,
  4. recognising surplus achieved during the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

Domestic emissions reductions are unlikely. In 2013, Tim Groser told the Herald that his "strong advice" from officials was that the 2020 target could be met without any changes to settings of the NZ emissions trading scheme (ETS). The relevant Cabinet Paper for the 2020 target also states that the 2020 target can be met without changing policies or ETS costs. In other words, the NZ ETS will remain in its current induced coma, and stay ineffective in reducing domestic emissions.

NZ can’t meet the target by buying carbon credits from international carbon markets as access was blocked at the Doha meeting because we didn’t sign up to a formal Kyoto Protocol second commitment period target.

That leaves two ways of meeting the 2020 target; removal of carbon dioxide by forests, and recognising surplus units from the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. I will look at the removal of carbon dioxide by forests next.

Forest carbon and Kyoto gross-net carbon accounting

By saying “removal of carbon dioxide by forests”, politicians and officials actually mean that carbon credits will be accounted for using the Kyoto Protocol’s gross-net forest carbon accounting rule. This sounds innocuous, if a bit sleep-inducing. It is in fact a method of creative accounting that NZ has already relied on to meet the 2008-2012 Kyoto first commitment period target.

The 'baseline’, 1990 emissions, is “gross” - the sum of all emissions without subtracting any “credit” for carbon absorbed into sinks such as growing forests and land use changes. The target (2008 to 2012) emissions are “net", as credits for carbon absorbed in growing forests are recognised and are subtracted from the gross emissions. This is called gross-net accounting. This makes the comparison between baseline and target inconsistent - it is not an “apples with apples” comparison.

I have blogged on this before but Professor Martin Manning, an IPCC author and formerly of the Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University of Wellington, explained it better in 2012.

..achieving the Kyoto Protocol target can be quite misleading because it compares net emissions over the first commitment period, 2008 – 2012, with the gross emissions in 1990. If one compares the net emissions in 2012 with those for 1990, then the increase in NZ has actually been more than 100%.

The National Government intends to repeat this gross net accounting for the 2013 to 2020 target. As long as forest growth exceeds deforestation, this will allow both net and gross emissions to increase up to the quantity of carbon absorbed in forests that was ignored in the 1990 baseline.

The Climate Action Tracker website thinks the credit for carbon absorbed in forests could be up to 25 million tonnes CO2e a year and the ‘recognition’ (under Kyoto rules) of all the units would allow NZ gross emissions to increase up to 35% above the 1990 baseline.

Surplus Kyoto units from first Commitment Period 2008 - 2012

Jo Tyndall’s final method of achieving the 2020 target is to recognise surplus units from the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. According to the latest Ministry for the Environment’s net position statement for the Kyoto Protocol, NZ will finish the first commitment period (2008-2012) with a surplus of 90.8 million units.

Even though NZ has no formal 2013-2020 Kyoto ‘commitment’, NZ intends to ‘carry over’ millions of these surplus Kyoto units to the 2013-2020 period in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol rules.

The carry-over rules are of course complicated, but I calculate that NZ will be able to ‘carry over’ almost all of them - 86 million units of the various types of units (see final paragraph - Appendix ‘Carry-over’ of Kyoto first period units).

What’s wrong with having a surplus of units? An effective emissions trading scheme with a real cap would never have surplus units. Units would be scarce and realistically priced. A surplus of units is of itself evidence of a failed implementation of cap and trade frameworks such as Kyoto and the EU ETS.

A surplus of units is one consequence of emissions trading with no cap, unlimited access to international carbon markets and over-allocation of units to industry and a rock-bottom unit price. Which is exactly what we have had with the NZ ETS.

We need to remind ourselves why NZ has a surplus of units for the Kyoto Protocol first period. Although net and gross emissions increased, NZ gained surplus units by using the gross-net forest carbon accounting rule and allowing the nearly unlimited import of low-priced international units with dubious integrity which were surrendered by ETS participants to match their emissions.

According to Climate Analytics, internationally, the Kyoto first commitment period ended with 14 billion surplus units; enough to allow all the signatory countries to “comply” with their 2020 targets without restricting business as usual emissions growth.

And this is exactly what the Government intends to do.

Each Kyoto unit carried forward will be counted towards NZ’s 2020 target and will allow an additional tonne of domestic GHG emissions above the 1990 baseline.

Similarly, each carbon credit recognised for carbon absorbed in forests between 2013 and 20120 will be counted towards NZ’s 2020 target and will allow an additional tonne of domestic GHG emissions above the 1990 baseline.

Our politicians and bureaucrats could have focused on policies to reduce domestic emissions to meet the 2020 target. Achieving the 2020 target won’t be an outcome of policies to reduce emissions. Like fixing the emissions trading system. It will be an outcome of the accounting rules chosen for the carbon credits the Government can hold. That’s called creative accounting.

Appendix “Carry-over” of Kyoto first period units

The Kyoto Protocol has “carry-over” rules for unused units at the end of the 2008 - 2012 first commitment period. Some surplus units may be 'carried over’ to the second commitment period and then be used to comply with a country’s official commitment. Although NZ has not taken up a Kyoto second period commitment, NZ none the less intends to mimic the application of Kyoto rules designed to carry over surplus units from CP1 to CP2.

NZ will have a surplus of 91million units after transferring 378 million units to a cancellation account for the 378 million tonnes of emissions between 2008 and 2012.

There are limits on which and how many units can be “carried over”. All assigned amount units (AAUs) can be carried over; forest removal units (RMUs) cannot be carried over, carry-over of Certified Emission Reduction units(CERS) and Emission Reduction Units(ERUs) are limited to 2.5% of NZ’s initial assigned amount or 7.7 million each. See the UNFCCC Reference Manual

The Government will probably prefer to retire units that cannot be carried over in order to maximise the number it may carry forward.

On that basis, all 72 million RMUs will be cancelled, 37.3 millions CERs and 37.3 million ERUs will be cancelled, leaving 7.7 million each of CERs and ERUs carried forward. Then 231.4 AAUs need to be cancelled to make up to 378 million units.

The total carried over will be 86 million units composed of 7.7 million CERs, 7.7 million ERUs and 70.6 AAUs.