30 September 2011

NZ ETS agricultural special pleading

An agricultural commenter has hit back at the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme Review 2011 and the New Zealand Herald editorial Farmers must share burden on emissions' for saying that there should be no further delay of the 2015 date when agricultural emissions will enter the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS).

The Herald editorial had the temerity to comment on the government's "extraordinary generosity to farmers" in changing the "modest impositions" of the NZ ETS on agriculture so that it "will become truly timorous".

David Anderson, who is described as a former editor of Rural News and a communications consultant in "teh" (sic) agribusiness sector, has just had an opinion piece in the NZ Herald (27 September) arguing for a further delay in agriculture's entry into the NZ ETS.

Just as a brief re-cap, in the Clark-Cullen Labour Government's original version of the
NZ ETS, agriculture was 'last in', with unit surrender obligations starting on 1 January 2013; i.e. after the end of the 2008-2012 Kyoto Protocol first commitment period. In November 2009, Nick Smith and National changed the start or entry date to 1 January 2015 and confirmed that it would be processors and not individual farmers who would have the obligation to report emissions and surrender units. That was done in the Climate Change Response (Moderated Emissions Trading) Amendment Act 2009

As we know, Federated Farmers can be a bit emotive about the NZ ETS, with past President (and now ACT Candidate) Don Nicholson) describing the NZ ETS in 2009 as the road to hell paved with good intentions.

So lets have a look at David Anderson's arguments. The first argument is;

Why would we want to unfairly penalise New Zealand's agriculture sector - and one of the few sectors with the ability to help the country out of the current economic hole - by imposing taxes when our international competitors are not doing the same?

Because agricultural GHG emissions are the New Zealand's largest source of emissions! It's not that hard to understand.

In 2009, agricultural GHG emissions were 32.8 million tonnes (mt) of CO2-e out of a total of 70.6 million tonnes or 46.5 per cent of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The energy sector emitted 31.4 mt (44.4%). Industrial processes emitted 4.3 mt (6.2%). Waste emitted 2.0 mt (2.9%). Solvents and other products emitted 0.03 mt (0.04%) according to the Ministry for the Environment Greenhouse Gas Inventory 2011.

Other developed countries who have signed up for the Kyoto Protocol obligations just don't have agriculture dominating their GHG emissions like New Zealand. For example, here's a chart comparing New Zealand and Australian agricultural GHG emissions.

Lawyer Toni Moyes points out in a 2008 paper in the Ecology Law Quarterly, 35:4, pp. 911–966; Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading in New Zealand: Trailblazing Comprehensive Cap and Trade that New Zealand is "fundamentally different" from European countries where carbon dioxide from the energy sector emits 80% of GHG emissions. Moyes concludes "Thus, if non-CO2 gases were excluded, the NZ ETS would ignore over half of the problem. Likewise, sectors typically excluded from ETS must be included in the NZ ETS in order to address the majority of emissions. The NZ ETS would be far less effective if agriculture, the single biggest emitter, was ignored." I could not put that better. It is not "unfair" to include agriculture in the NZ ETS, it is essential.

Also, I have to point out that Anderson completely omits to mention the fact that agriculture, once it does enter the NZ ETS, will have (arguably) the most generous free allocation of emissions units of any sector of the economy. Under an ETS, emissions units must somehow get into a trading market. They may be either auctioned to emitters (obviously most wealth-enhancing for the tax payer) or "grandfathered", allocated for free to existing emitters. New Zealand has chosen to 'gift', or allocate for free, all domestic NZ units.

According the Ministry for the Environment, free allocation of units to agriculture will be 90 per cent of the emissions baseline and will phase out at 1.3 per cent per annum from 2016. The baseline will be the industry average emissions per unit of output. The allocation will be uncapped, meaning that there is no set limit on the number of units that may be allocated. Further, there are NO eligibility tests or thresholds for agricultural allocation, meaning that all agriculture participants will be eligible for an allocation.

So the entry of agriculture to the NZ ETS in 2015 will be cushioned by 90%. Or the GHG price signal will be reduced by 90% (compared to other sectors) down to 10% via free allocation. The free allocation percent will be based on "average output", which will be gazetted in regulations. Any processor who does 'better than average' will be in for a windfall gain. Again this is hardly the imposition of an unfair tax.

Number two argument is:
I don't see how handicapping our main economic driver will reduce international greenhouse gases. Surely all that will do is shift the production of these agricultural greenhouse gases from New Zealand to another country?

This is the carbon leakage argument. That businesses and their emissions will relocate to other jurisdictions to escape a carbon price.

Dr Jan Wright, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, pretty much shot to pieces the agricultural carbon leakage argument in her submission on the 2009 amendments to the NZ ETS.

Dr Wright noted that National was proposing to base allocation of units to agriculture on the industrial allocation model in the Australian Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (which was in 2009 only a proposal and which was withdrawn in 2010).

"There is no justification for treating allocation to the agricultural sector the same as industrial processes, either here or in Australia. The impact of the ETS on agriculture is very different to that of industrial process sectors. Productive agricultural land can not be shipped offshore...Carbon credits should not be allocated to prevent an unlikely event."

The nail in the coffin is from Suzi Kerr, an economist who has specialised in permit trading. She had this to say in her submission to the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme Review 2011:
."A small, but crucial, point on agricultural emissions is that all available empirical evidence suggests that leakage of land and production out of the agricultural sector in response to greenhouse gas costs would be small. This evidence is summarised in Kerr and Zhang (2009).

Number three argument is;
It has always argued that it's crazy for New Zealand farmers to be hit with the costs of an ETS when they had no way of mitigating these

This is the 'Agriculture can't mitigate' argument. As blogger Idiot/Savant said in his blog No Right Turn, this is simply untrue. The Sustainability Council wrote a report A Convenient Untruth in 2007 that argues that there are significant mitigation options for agriculture.

Anyway, Anderson almost immediately contradicts this statement in the next paragraph when he states

"There is already evidence - which is also noted by Caygill's Review Panel - that the agriculture sector is reducing its greenhouse gases (my emphasis). Emissions per unit of product from agriculture have fallen by about 1.3 per cent a year over the past 20 years - due to improved management, animal genetics, pasture and crop genetics and technological changes. Opportunities for further reductions included the use of forestry on marginal or erosion-prone land, nitrification inhibitors, and "good practice" management techniques that increase productivity."

Its great that agriculture is reducing emissions! Those responsible deserve all credit for it. However, the advocates of agriculture such as Anderson need to be reminded that reducing emissions is the same as mitigating them!

Anderson's fourth argument is that "critics and environmental doomsayers" are "making claims about farmers being subsidised". And that it is unfair and selective to say farmers are getting a free ride.

Look, as far as I'm concerned, we all have an obligation to do something about climate change. New Zealand's climate change policy reflects that. NZ has emissions reduction targets and climate change policies and commitments under the Kyoto Protocol and the UNFCCC. All of us share the responsibility of making NZ's emissions reductions policies work. If we leave out agriculture, the sector of the economy that is the biggest emitter of GHGs, then that is unfair to everyone else.

16 September 2011

The NZ ETS Review 2011: Clear signals for business as usual

Minister for Climate Change Issues Nick Smith has finally released the delayed report of the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme Review 2011. The 98-page report is titled Doing New Zealand’s Fair Share, The Emissions Trading Scheme Review 2011.

The review panel chaired by former Rogernome David Caygill gave their report to Smith on 30 June 2011. Two and half months later and one week into the Rugby World Cup, Smith has let the report out into the world.

From the title of his press release, Slowing of ETS recommended by Review Panel, I think Smith is pretty happy with the report. It also uses some of Smith's favourite phrases; such as "Doing our fair share" and balancing the environment and the economy.

"The Panel acknowledges there needs to be an appropriate balance between managing these short-term costs and providing a clear long-term direction. Given the current international uncertainty and the challenging state of the economy, this means there should be measures in place which ensure the increase in the costs of the ETS occurs at an appropriate pace."

If you don't want to scroll through another 98 pages of blue-green flannel just like that, the best short sweet on-line summary to read is this Reuters factbox.

For me, these recommendations are the guts of the ETS Review report (as numbered in that report).

Agriculture's planned 2015 entry to the NZ ETS should not be delayed (4.1). At least they didn't cave in to Federated Farmers. But there is a big but to this.

The important issue of the lack of a real cap on emissions is just kicked for touch and left for future reviews (3.15)

The issue of high volumes of subsidised allocation of free emissions units to industry is just kicked for touch (3.9).

Remember that the NZ ETS includes a $25 fixed price option for buying emissions units until 2012? This is limited to energy, transport and industry. This option would have acted as a maximum limit on unit prices, except for the fact that NZU prices were never more than $25 in 2010.

The report recommends keeping the fixed price option/price limit out to 2017 and increasing it by $5 each year (2013; $30, 2014; $35, 2015; $40, 2016; $45, 2017; $50).

I am very skeptical that actual NZ units prices will reach these levels. The Euro-zone debt crisis has just contributed to the recent collapse of the international carbon price. The international carbon price is the dominant driver of NZ unit prices. It is pure speculation that actual NZ prices will be any where near the proposed price ceiling.

Remember Nick Smith's two for one deal for 2010 to 2012? Where emitters can can emit two tonnes of greenhouse gases and surrender one emission unit? In other words it halved the emitters obligations to surrender units. The report recommends extending this to out to 2015. So 2013 would be the "three for two" deal, 2014 would be the "five for four" deal, before finally going to one tonne to one unit deal in 2015. So in carbon pricing we look to simplistic sales slogans. Only in New Zealand.

And I said there was a 'but' for agriculture. On entry in 2015, the report recommends that agriculture should be eligible for the two for one deal until 2016. Then three for two deal, the five for four deal, before finally going to one tonne to one unit in 2019. Oh I forgot to mention that from 2019 there would still be 90% allocation of free units declining at a linear rate of 1.3% each year.


I must admit I am completely underwhelmed by the report, its analysis and it's recommendations. I didn't think it was possible to further dilute the carbon price signal in the NZ ETS with more exemptions. I didn't think it was possible to make the NZ ETS sound even more like a bad used car parts advertisement. But I am wrong on both counts.