11 February 2011

Kyoto Protocol decoded

The Kyoto Protocol has been mentioned in the NZ blogosphere over the last day or so. No Right Turn describes New Zealand's actions to comply with our obligations under the treaty as Scam Writ Large. He is largely commenting on a Green Party press release from Russell Norman, where Russell critiques Nick Smith's 50% reduction in GHGs by 2050 target.

Russell Norman's point is that the Government target for 2050 is an "accounting trick", as the 1990 baseline is total or gross GHG emissions from industrial and domestic energy use and pastoral farming excluding carbon sequestration from the forestry sector (carbon sinks). The 2050 target will be net, after deducting carbon sink removals. Therefore the "trick" is comparing a net target with a gross baseline. That allows gross emissions to have grown by any amount up to the additional 'credit' from the carbon removals from growing forestry.

No Right Turn agrees and adds that the same Gross-base-net-target fudge also fully applies to the Kyoto Protocol commitment period of 2008 to 2012.

This gross-net distinction is a bit hard to understand. So I have done some charts that will hopefully explain this in the context of the Kyoto 2008 to 2012 period. The first is just total emissions of greenhouse gases in NZ for 1990 to 2008.


Remember, NZ's Kyoto obligation is "no increase on 1990 levels of GHGs" so there is a horizontal line at 61 million tonnes (61 megatonnes), the annual GHG emissions calculated for 1990. Well, its obvious the trend line is not returning to the 1990 level. Okay, lets add the net GHG emissions, the gross GHGs less the forestry carbon sink removals.
Heck, those net emissions have grown faster up to 2008 even more than the gross emissions! So, how on earth is New Zealand going to get the GHG emissions back to 1990 levels to comply with the Kyoto Protocol? Nick Smith has told us that NZ will not just meet the Kyoto target but will be in a surplus.
The red line in this third chart shows the "Kyoto accounting" of NZ emissions. The forestry sink carbon removals, from 1990 to 2007, are ignored and have no status; the base in 1990 is gross GHGs only. Then, magically, from 2008 to 2012, the forestry sink carbon removals suddenly are counted and may be awarded as carbon credits to "post 1990" forest owners. Thus every carbon credit issued to a forester balances out the increase in gross emissions of GHGs above the 1990 base.

Hence, from these charts, I agree with both No Right Turn and the Greens that the Kyoto Protocol is very flawed from the point of view of driving reductions in GHG emissions.

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