The recently formed Climate Commission has just released it first report, Draft Advice for Consultation and is now asking for public comment. The report describes how the country can meet the greenhouse gas emissions reductions required by New Zealand’s Zero Carbon Act, in order to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Buried back in Chapter 8, the Commission examines how these emissions reductions stack up with our international commitments to reduce emissions. The long and short of it is, without significant additional effort in emissions reduction, we are on track to miss an international commitment for 2030 and will need to purchase billions of dollars’ worth of emissions credits on the international market in order to keep our word.
How did this happen?
The emissions reduction commitment in question was agreed upon as part of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, to which New Zealand is a signatory. This commitment is to, by 2030, limit New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions (gross emissions minus CO2 removals by forestry) to 30% less than the level of its gross emissions in 2005. In order to meet this commitment, the Commission calculates that New Zealand can emit no more than 585 million tonnes (Mt) CO2 equivalent (CO2e) over the next 9 years, from 2021 to 2030.
The problem is, the Climate Commission’s plan through 2030 achieves the targets set in the Zero Carbon Act but isn’t enough for the Paris commitment. Combined with an estimate of 2021 emissions, the Commission’s plan yields 628 Mt CO2e by 2030 – 43 Mt over the Paris commitment. The Commission goes one further, suggesting that a more realistic analysis of climate modelling suggests that the net emissions needed to meet the Paris agreement’s target of no more than 1.5°C warming should be 564 Mt CO2e, or 64 Mt more than the emissions trajectory of the Commission’s plan.
So, if the government buckles down on emissions and follows the Climate Commission’s recommendations we will still be 7-11% over our Paris commitment by 2030. The Climate Commission suggests that the government could meet the shortfall by purchasing offshore emissions credits, as other countries have done and will continue to do. Depending upon the international price of carbon in 2030 and the availability of such credits, the Commission estimates that these could cost the country as much as $11.5 billion.
What do we do?
Do we just give up on the commitment altogether, tossing it into the “too hard” basket? Or, do we start looking for reputable offshore credits and start putting aside the foreign currency needed to buy them?
To me, neither of these two strategies exemplify the Kiwi spirit. Think of the spirit that stepped ahead and gave women the right to vote; that stood up to our alliance partners and banned nuclear weapons and nuclear powered ships from our harbours; that risked lives in the Southern Ocean to save some of the last of our planet’s whales; that worked as a team of 5 million to keep a deadly pandemic at bay.
There is another option. We can all do what we can to limit our emissions.
Each litre of petrol not bought, each hectare of native forest or wetland restored, each lamb or calf not born to end up in a slaughterhouse, each airline flight cancelled due to low passenger demand, they all add up. Companies can play their part too, by moving up plans to replace a coal furnace with a wood burner; by replacing automobile fleets with EVs or plug-in hybrids, by replacing crowded offices with work from home; by hosting meetings and conferences online instead of in person. There are many ways, big and small that we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions without needing a government incentive.
I, for one, don’t like the thought of New Zealand facing derision from its OECD neighbours for a lack of action on climate change. If we put our minds to it, we can do that bit more required to meet the 2030 Paris emissions commitment. I say we give it a go.
Tom’s brother Gavin is visiting on his way back to the North Island.
“So, Tom, now that you have an electric car, you are a certified, card-carrying tree-hugger!” Gavin says with a laugh.
“Who’d of thought that the kid doing burnouts in front of the church at two in the morning would become a greenie?”
“Shush, Gavin! Jimmy just got his license and doesn’t know about that. And, I’d appreciate it if he didn’t find out. Bad example, you know.”
“OK, Tom, the secrets of your wild and crazy youth are safe with me.”
So, how’s the electric car working out?” Gavin asks, nursing his cup of tea.
Tom: “Great so far. I don’t have to visit petrol stations anymore and the extra on the electricity bill isn’t that much. And the car is so quiet. I especially like ‘one-pedal’ driving. I hardly touch the brakes anymore.”
Gavin: “One pedal? How does that work?”
Tom: “It’s called regenerative braking. Instead of braking to a stop, you simply back off on the accelerator pedal. The car uses the electric motor to slow the car down and put electricity back into the battery. I only need to use the brakes in an emergency.”
Gavin: “Well, that is clever. I’ve always thought it was a shame to waste all that energy when you hit the brakes. Speaking of batteries, though, isn’t there a problem with recycling these electric car batteries? Seems like we’re headed to a future full of electronic waste”
Tom: “I don’t know, Gavin. They haven’t been around all that long. I suppose someone is looking into it. Let’s ask Google Assistant.”
“Hey Google, can car batteries be recycled?”
Google: “Lead-acid car batteries can be easily recycled but currently there is no recycling facility in New Zealand…”
Gavin: “Wait a minute Google. You’re talking about EV batteries, like lithium ion batteries.”
Google: “You need to be more specific with your questions! My servers don’t have all day, you know! You’ve just wasted 2,359 milliseconds that I’ll never get back!”
“Sorry Google!” shouts Tom. He leans over and whispers to Gavin, “He can be a bit testy when there is lots of internet traffic, you know.”
Google: “The recycling of lithium ion batteries is complicated and limited to only a few companies so far. For example, Tesla, the electric vehicle manufacturer, recycles its EV batteries. There are many different types of batteries and they are changing as new types are developed, meaning that recycling techniques need to change along with it. Some places, like the European Union and the UK, are requiring increasing amounts of battery collection and recycling to prevent pollution from batteries disposed to landfills.”
Gavin: “Thanks Google. Well, if we end up with as many EVs as they say we are, we’ll need to be recycling the batteries. So, what about the stress on our electricity system? Won’t all these EVs eat up all our power?”
Google: “EVs will likely require more generating capacity for the electricity system. But with new technology, their large battery capacities will help even out peak load in the electricity grid and even store power from wind and solar. This is expected to reduce the need for new power lines and new generation to handle loads when electricity demand is high. In essence, EV batteries plugged into people’s homes will store energy for when the electrical grid needs it. These ‘car to home’ systems are available now in Japan and will be coming to NZ in the next few years.”
Gavin: “So, with more generation capacity, you’ll be able to buy a more powerful EV, Tom”
Google: “And, you’ll be able to keep doing donuts in front of the church for years to come.”
Tom: “Google, you’re not supposed to know about that!”
Google: “Your secret is safe with me, Tom, though I note that you haven’t rated my service in more than a year now. More than just two sentences this time, and little Jimmy never has to know.
The Blog posts are a collection of opinion articles written by CKM member Tom Powell for the Marlborough Express. Tom is a retired geologist who came to New Zealand in 2004 to work in the geothermal industry on the North Island, is a New Zealand citizen and now lives in Blenheim.