17 August 2011

Charting unexplained territory in the NZ ETS Report

So far, I have posted on the comprehensiveness of the NZ ETS vs the Australian Clean Energy Future ETS, the Kyoto chart junk in the Report on the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme, and the over-supply of the New Zealand Units in 2010.

This post mixes two of these ideas; searching out bad charts and looking again at the supply side of the NZ ETS market, how many New Zealand Units were allocated for free to emitters and businesses.

The Report on the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme provides in Figure 5 a pie chart of the number of New Zealand Units (NZUs) surrendered by emitters.

Although the pie chart is Kaiser Fung's least favourite type of chart, this pie chart isn't too bad. There are a manageable number of categories; only five; and no 3-D effects. The key point is clear from the pie chart, that about two-thirds of NZUs surrendered were purchased from foresters. Also the chart follows the Ministry for the Environment usual practice of providing the original data underneath so you can make your own chart.

I did a bar chart of the data, re-labelling the "Other" NZUs as "Free NZUs".

The free allocations of NZUs are shown in another pie chart, Figure 8.

The allocations to industry activities (the pie slices) are charted not as as numbers of NZUs as in Figure 5, but as proportions. The proportions are noted as percentages on each pie slice. There is no table of data accompanying the chart. This is clearly inconsistent with Figure 5. Why doesn't the pie chart show either the actual total number of NZUs allocated, or the number allocated by activity? The total number of NZUs allocated for free in 2010 is not disclosed anywhere else in the Report on the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme. There is another chart, Figure 11, that appears to show free NZU allocations to each industry sector.

Maybe these add up to the total "pie" in Figure 8. I added them up. 1.76 million NZUs given to industry, plus 6.9 million NZUs given to pre-1990 forest owners plus 0.69 million NZUs given to fishing quota holders, equals a total of 9.35 million NZUs.

However, the total number of NZUs allocated by free gifting between 1 July 2010 to 31 December 2011 is 12,776,026, according to the Ministry of Economic Development Chief Executives report. So there appears to be a gap of 3.4 million gifted NZUs, not disclosed in The Report on the NZ ETS.

Is this a big deal? I think it is. Dr Jan Wright, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, describes free allocation for what it is; a subsidy to industry

In her submission on the 2009 amendments to the NZ ETS, Jan Wright said;
Allocation is costly. Each credit that is given away rather than kept or sold is a real dollar loss to the taxpayer. And there is another cost: it lessens the incentive to invest in low-carbon technology and emissions reductions. Generous and unlimited allocation that is promised to last a long time –whether or not it actually does - removes the push to transform to a low carbon-intensive economy.

To me presentation is an unsatisfactory level of disclosure of information. I am struggling to find an explanation for this other than to obscure the amount of subsidies funded via NZUs to emitters such as Comalco. I leave the last word to Jan Wright.
The principle of Parliamentary scrutiny in the Public Finance Act should also apply to allocation. Given the large taxpayer expense, the reason for allocating to a particular sector should be transparent.

The NZ ETS Report disclosure does not meet this standard of transparency.

13 August 2011

Geoff Bertram puts the Cap back in Cap and Trade

Speaking of the economist Geoff Bertram, as I was in the previous post, here he is on 10 June 2011 writing a letter to the Editor reminding the Wellington Fairfax-owned newspaper The Dominion Post that the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS) does not have a cap so it's not a Cap and Trade emissions trading scheme.
OPINION: I was sorry to see that The Dominion Post failed to do the most basic homework on how New Zealand's emissions trading scheme works.

In the box on A4 on Tuesday, the paper reported that "the Government sets a cap on how much carbon can be emitted for different sectors". Alas, our Government does no such thing.

The ETS is not a cap-and-trade scheme because it puts no cap on greenhouse gas emissions at either sectoral or national level. Because no cap exists, the scheme is basically a money-go-round, with emission units traded in a policy vacuum.

Roll on a proper carbon tax, with the money recycled to protecting household budgets and promoting renewables.

Supporters of serious climate- change policy just have to hope that the Australian Government will manage to push through its carbon tax without too many of the special-interest subsidies and exemptions that make New Zealand's ETS so wasteful and ineffective.


Climate Change Research Institute, Victoria University

Geoff Bertram is completely correct. Here is the chapter and verse on the absence of a cap in the NZ ETS.

Ministry for the Environment Fact Sheet 16 (2008) stated There is no cap on the emissions that occur within New Zealand. That was referring to Labour's Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading) Amendment Act 2008.

Ministry for the Environment Emissions trading Bulletin No 12, INFO 441 (September 2009) states "The Bill (the Climate Change Response (Moderated Emissions Trading) Amendment Act 2009) changes the allocation provisions of the existing (Climate Change Response Act 2002) from allocating a fixed pool of emissions to an uncapped approach to allocation. There is no longer an explicit limit on the number of New Zealand units (NZUs) that can be allocated to the industrial sector"

10 August 2011

Report on the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme

Finally I have got past the chartjunk and I have read the Report on the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme that Minister for Climate Change Issues Nick Smith released on 1 August 2011.

Perhaps the first point to make is that the NZ ETS has now been though a complete compliance period, the six months from 1 July 2010 (when energy and industry entered) to 31 December 2010, where both buyers (emitters) and sellers (foresters) of emissions units were in the NZ ETS market. So we should be able to make some type assessment about how it is working.

The same underlying data, emissions units issued and surrendered in the 2010 compliance year, has already been available from the "central bank" for emissions units - the NZ Emissions Unit Register, run by the Ministry of Economic Development. The Climate Change Response Act requires certain information on emissions trading to be disclosed annually. The Ministry for the Environment's Report on the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme is really this same trading information with some, ugh, "100% Pure" photo shoot pictures, quite a few junk charts and several text-boxes.

The MfE report and Dr Smith's press release received varied media coverage. The best reporting, with no junk charts, is Brian Fallow in the Herald.

Dr Smith's narrative is that the NZ ETS is going well and Fairfax/Stuff repeated this angle, as did the National Business Review and even Reuters said the NZ ETS was working as intended. The Sydney Morning Herald said "performed to expectations."

In terms of raw numbers, there 96 mandatory "participants" (emitters) in the NZ ETS at 31 December 2010, of which 76 are in the energy sector. There were 1,216 voluntary participants, of which 1,206 were in the forestry sector; forestry having entered the NZ ETS from 1 January 2008 mainly in terms of sequestering carbon in forest carbon sinks. In the six months from 1 July to 31 December 2010, 12.8 million NZUs were gifted to participants by "free allocation"; 9.4 million NZUs were transferred to mostly to foresters for forest carbon sequestration and 8.3 million units were surrendered to the Government (Surrender means to obtain units equivalent to a participant's GHG emissions and to transfer them to the Government's account at the NZ Emission Units Register).

We may then ask "So what?" in response to these raw facts. Well, lets think how the NZ ETS performed according to the expectations of someone who has written a book on the NZ ETS - The Carbon Challenge: the economist Geoff Bertram. In the book, Bertram analysed the NZ ETS as a market for emission units/carbon credits and as a market it can be understood in terms of supply, demand and price.

The supply of NZUs into the market for the six months from 1 July to 31 December 2010 was 22.2 million NZUs, made up of NZUs gifted to companies by "free allocation"; 12.8 million NZUs, and NZUs transferred for forest carbon removals; 9.4 million NZUs.

The demand from the market participants (the emitters) is the 8.3 million units surrendered in 2010. The NZ Emissions Unit Register report tells us that the 2010 year GHG emissions were 33.4 million tonnes and the NZ ETS-liable emissions from 1 July 2010 were roughly half that at 16.3 million tonnes. Remember Nick Smith's 1-for-2 deal to surrender 1 unit for 2 tonnes of GHGs? That explains why only 8.3 million units were surrendered, when 16 million tonnes of GHGs were reported.

For me the critical issue here is that supply (22.2 million units) exceeded demand (8.3 million) by 13.9 million units (or by 267%). There were 13.9 million units left over after emitters satisfied their 2010 NZ ETS surrender obligations.

As we know from basic economics, when supply exceeds demand, the price drops. The MfE report and Dr Smith's press release make no mention of the NZ ETS carbon price. However, the reliable Westpac carbon update provided this chart which shows the declining price of NZUs in 2010-2011.

The excess 2010 units have no expiry date and will carry forward to 2011. In 2011 and 2012, as well as starting with excess units, the 2010 template will be repeated for 12 months not six. More units will be allocated for free to industrial emitters and more units will be given to pre-1990 foresters as compensation, and to post-1989 foresters for carbon sequestration. The 1-for-2 deal carries on as well to 2013. These features are embedded into the structure of the NZ ETS and will ensure that for the rest of the Kyoto Protocol commitment period to 2012 that the NZ ETS market will be over-allocated with NZUs which will trade at a discount to other internationally marketable Kyoto emissions units.

Geoff Bertram and Simon Terry made a number of predictions in The Carbon Challenge. Here's one.
"In the New Zealand scheme, arbitrage between the NZU and the Kyoto currencies sets a ceiling on the carbon price, with no quantity limit. Local emissions volumes will change only insofar as the price of the Kyoto currencies constitutes an incentive to change behaviour; and NZUs will be used to cover liable emissions only insofar as they are a cheaper alternative to Kyoto currency units" (p 58).

My conclusion is that, contrary to Dr Smith's narrative, the MfE report on the NZ ETS is completely consistent with Geoff Bertram's prediction that the NZUs would be over-allocated, would be priced at a discount to international units and as a consequence the NZ ETS will not provide a sufficient price incentive to reduce GHG emissions.

09 August 2011

How to chart the NZ Kyoto Protocol commitment

The post about Dr Nick Smith's junk chart has been on Hot Topic NZ, the Oil Drum Oz and NZ and hat-tipped on No Right Turn

Okay, so what would a good chart of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions and New Zealand's compliance with the Kyoto Protocol look like?

We mulled over that issue last year when we wrote a how to book on carbon forests.

I came up with this chart as a first draft.

Clunky and black and white. Add colour.

Paul Kennett said "hmmmm" and asked me for the data and he came up with this.

Not surprisingly, Paul's version appeared in the published version of The Carbon Forest (available now at the Kennett Bros!)

02 August 2011

The NZ ETS Review 2011 and the Minister's Chartjunk

This evening I was intending to carefully read the Report on the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme that Minister for Climate Change Issues Nick Smith released today and write a considered review.

However, I only got as far as Nick Smith's forward on the the third page when I got stopped in my tracks by Figure 3, a misleading piece of chartjunk if I ever saw one, about New Zealand being on target to meet its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. Here it is.
The chart legend says it shows "Kyoto net emissions (actual emissions)". This parameter trends upward to 2007 and then in 2008 and 2009 it suddenly drops below the blue line of NZ 1990 emissions. Thus showing we are meeting our emissions reduction commitment that we signed up in the Kyoto Protocol. Its enough to make you proud to be a Blue-Green.

This chart is junk because it misrepresents the underlying data on greenhouse gas emissions. Back to the legend: "Kyoto net emissions (actual emissions)". Why does it say "actual emissions" in brackets? Because Smith would like you to think that. Lets look at a real chart of real New Zealand greenhouse gas emissions.

This shows total real emissions up to 2007 and predicted emissions 2008 to 2012 - the green line. It looks nothing like Fig 3. The actual and predicted trend does not show a return to 1990 volumes of emissions. However, that legend also said net emissions, that is total or gross emissions in any year less carbon absorbed by forests. Maybe Fig 3 is based on net emissions.

The trend in net emissions (total less forest sink removals) or the blue line shows an even steeper rate of increase than the total emissions. So how can Fig 3 show that New Zealand reduced emissions to 1990 volumes? Two more clues are in Figure 3. The title is "Kyoto net" and there is a note under the data source says "Kyoto net 2000-2007 values are backcasted". So the Fig 3 data is not just "net", it is also "Kyoto net" and "backcasted". What does ''backcasted" mean? Another chart shows how Smith gets to Fig 3 from the real total and net emissions data.

Greenhouse gas emissions, as defined for compliance with the Kyoto Protocol, are gross from 1990 to 2007, and once the Kyoto commitment period starts in 2008, an Annex B country like New Zealand can meet its target by deducting removal units issued for carbon sinks - so Kyoto-defined emissions go net from 2008. Hence the red line. The removal units issued for afforestation (the increase in carbon stock in a forest planted since 1990) appear as if from nowhere in 2008 and disguise the growth in both the gross and net emissions.

This isn't new information. In 1997, Simon Upton, the Minister for Climate change in Jim Bolger's 1990's National Government spoke of New Zealand's position at the UNFCCC talks; "if sequestration is treated in the way New Zealand has long been advocating, then the major contribution we expect to make to removing carbon from the atmosphere..will earn us 'credits' ".

Interestingly, Upton had this cautionary note: "It might be suggested that New Zealand's interest in sinks stems purely from a desire to secure for itself a large buffer that would allow for significant growth in greenhouse gas emissions". Upton believed that would not be a credible policy.

However, since Upton's day, the chartjunk that is Figure 3 indicates that New Zealand's climate change policies have consistently been all about providing exactly that buffer to allow for significant growth in greenhouse gas emissions while claiming to have mitigation policies such as the NZ ETS that match our much-abused clean green overseas image.