CORSIA, coming soon to an airport near you

By Robert McLachlan

On 27 September, Greta Thunberg addressed a crowd of 500,000 at the School Strike for Climate in Montreal, saying,

“You are a nation that is allegedly a climate leader. And Sweden is also a nation that is allegedly a climate leader. And in both cases, it means absolutely nothing. Because in both cases, it’s just empty words. And the politics needed are still nowhere in sight. So we are basically the same.”

(Eric Demers/Polaris)

Meanwhile, also in Montreal, just a few kilometres away, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO, part of the United Nations) was also talking about climate change, speaking the language of international diplomacy:

“Whereas the sustainable growth of aviation is important for future economic growth and development, trade and commerce, cultural exchange and understanding among peoples and nations; therefore prompt action must be taken to ensure that it is compatible with the quality of the environment and develops in ways that alleviate adverse impacts…”

ICAO and Greta Thunberg. Which of those two will have the most impact?

The stakes at the ICAO meeting were high. The main UN body for dealing with climate change, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, which resulted in the Paris Agreement), has so far left dealing with international aviation up to ICAO, which is keen to defend its turf. But aviation is growing rapidly, up 80% since 2009, and is projected to triple further by 2050. In response, after the Paris Agreement, in 2016 ICAO developed its flagship scheme for addressing the climate impact of aviation: the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, or CORSIA.

CORSIA is intended to cap international aviation emissions at 2020 levels. It runs until 2035. Participation is voluntary until 2026, although many countries, including New Zealand, will join in 2021. The New Zealand Cabinet recently approved the development of legislation to allow CORSIA to operate in New Zealand (although not as part of the Emissions Trading Scheme). However, for a sector of such importance, and a scheme that starts on 1 January 2021, time is running out.

For the details are still scarce, and ICAO is still trying to work out how CORSIA will operate. The main part of the plan involves the purchase of carbon offsets – that is, the purchase of emissions reductions elsewhere. Now, carbon offsetting is not intrinsically flawed. New Zealand’s emissions trading scheme is essentially based on carbon offsetting – people who burn fossil fuels pay a fee, which both acts as an incentive to stop doing it, and provides money to someone else who may be, for example, planting trees.

The devil is in the details. New Zealand has already been caught in one international carbon credit scandal, in which many large New Zealand emitters bought dodgy credits from Ukraine at rock-bottom prices (for by that time, they were the only buyers in the market). This led to a suspension on the use of international credits in New Zealand, although it still remains part of our long-term plan.

For the system to work, the purchase of carbon credits must lead to genuine emissions reductions that would not have happened anyway. However, a recent assessment for the German Environment Agency found that 80% of registered carbon credits do not meet this standard. For example, they may relate to projects such as wind farms that have already been built, and that will continue to operate regardless of whether they can sell their carbon credits. In addition, many credits arise in countries that have plans to reduce emissions already in place. In that case, it’s very hard to tell if the credits are actually leading to extra emissions reductions. Finally, there is a problem of double counting. If a plane flies from Auckland to Singapore, with some of the emissions offset in Vanuatu, the offsets cannot be counted both in New Zealand and Vanuatu.

A likely scenario involves a vast oversupply of carbon credits, with a corresponding crash in prices. Indeed, EasyJet announced recently that it will offset all the emissions of its flights, at just $6 per tonne of CO2 – a tiny fraction of the current carbon price in Europe. At those prices, offsetting a return flight from Auckland to Brisbane would cost $2.

CORSIA is also likely to have an impact on biofuels. Already in 2017, ICAO, under pressure from Brazil and the US, almost entirely removed sustainability criteria from the jet biofuels that can be used under the scheme. In 2018, at Saudi Arabia’s request, fossil kerosene from ‘clean’ oil refineries was also credited. An environmental organisation, Biofuel Watch, claims that the Finnish company Neste is planning to make biofuel in Singapore from palm oil, a claim the company disputes (although does not entirely deny).

With CORSIA starting operation in New Zealand in just over a year, we don’t know yet where its carbon credits will come from. So far, ICAO is reserving all rights to operate and verify the system.

For all these reasons, many environmentalists are sceptical that CORSIA will deliver any environmental benefits at all. They are joined by the EU, which had originally planned to include all aviation in its emissions trading scheme in 2012. Following intense lobbying, this has been delayed to 2024 for extra-EU flights. ICAO doesn’t even much like the EU charging a carbon fee on internal flights in the EU (which are, after all, international). In September it passed a resolution stating that CORSIA “should be the only market-based measure applied to international flights”.

ICAO also “urges States to refrain from environmental measures that would adversely affect the orderly and sustainable development of international civil aviation” – in other words, not to tax on jet fuel, a move which is also presently being considered by the EU.

The problem is growth

To limit global warming to 1.5ºC, as New Zealand has agreed to aim for, emissions from burning fossil fuels need to fall 45% by 2030. (For 2ºC, we get an extra six years). As Manchester Metropolitan University’s David Lee concluded in a report to the UK Department of Transport,

“achieving a 1.5°C target will become irreconcilable with any continued fossil fuel usage by aviation at some point around the middle of the present century… Since aviation’s current goals are inconsistent with the Paris Agreement, in the absence of additional measures, then more ambitious goals should be set.”

Tufts University’s Parke Wilde, founder of the blog Flying Less, wrote to ICAO that

“What really is needed from ICAO and CORSIA is actual emissions reductions within the aviation sector. It is a travesty that ICAO only provides overall goals for emissions “net” of offsets, and will not state goals for actual emissions reduction in the aviation sector.”

(For these and similar statements, ICAO recently blocked Parke Wilde on Twitter.)

But all major institutions associated with aviation are devoted to, and designed around, support for continued growth, which is currently running at 5% per year. In New Zealand, international aviation emissions grew 33% in the past three years. Our government, like most others, spends money supporting the growth of tourism, for example by advertising New Zealand in Europe (the furthest destination of all), and paying $100,000 for Stephen Colbert to joke around with the Prime Minister.

Apart from ICAO, other parts of the UN, such as the UN World Tourist Organisation, also support growth. The UNWTO’s goal is to “promote tourism as a driver of economic growth”. The World Tourism and Travel Council, an industry body, supports growth. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) supports growth, and in fact worked closely with ICAO in the development of CORSIA. The two organisations can be hard to tell apart, with many of ICAO’s resolutions supporting IATA’s calls for states to do more to support demand growth, for example by supporting airport expansion.

The larger aviation and tourism gets – it may already be up to 10% of the global economy – the harder it is for policymakers to control.

For all these reasons, Susanne Becken, Professor of Tourism at Griffiths University in Queensland, recently concluded that “only systemic changes at a large scale will be sufficient to break or disrupt existing arrangements.”

Next steps

Prior to this year’s meeting, ICAO has always resisted calls to set targets to actually reduce emissions. After a lot of wrangling, they have now finally agreed “to continue to explore the feasibility of a long-term global aspirational goal for international aviation” for their next meeting in 2022. In the meantime, the only people actually calling for a reduction in emissions are the No Fly and Fly-Less movements and a scattering of environmental organisations. And Greta Thunberg.

On the road to Net Zero, the next step is to update our UN pledge

By Robert McLachlan

A lot has happened since the UN’s report on 1.5ºC was released in October 2018. New Zealand’s Zero Carbon Bill has passed, and enshrines the 1.5ºC goal in law. The UK and France have also legally strengthened their targets to Net Zero 2050. The School Strike For Climate and Extinction Rebellion have become household names. But progress on the ground is slow:

Under the Paris Agreement, each country lodges a “Nationally Determined Contribution”, or NDC. This is one reason why the Paris Agreement is regarded as a breakthrough in climate negotiation. The NDCs will be updated every five years and must reflect each country’s “highest possible ambition“. The first update is due at the end of 2020, with the UN recently releasing a progress report.

Despite Jacinda Ardern’s speech at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit on 23 September, New Zealand does not appear on the list of 70 nations that have said they will enhance their NDCs by 2020.

Our current NDC calls for a 30% reduction in net emissions on 2005 levels by 2030. (Because emissions skyrocketed during the 1990s, that’s equivalent to nearly double our 1990 levels). Climate Action Tracker has rated our NDC “insufficient” (consistent with global warming of up to 3ºC) and our projected emissions “highly insufficient” (consistent with global warming of up to 4ºC). Of the Zero Carbon Bill, they remark that “New Zealand has very few policies to implement this bill.” Globally, emissions have to halve by 2030 to stay on track for 1.5ºC.

(It’s surprising to be in the same category, “insufficient”, as Australia. But Australia is a world leader in the shift to renewable energy, installing a staggering 5 to 6 GW of new wind and solar every year – three times as much per capita as the nearest competitor, Germany.)

And how is our target looking?:

If you’re struggling to see how that target (the green line, 70.5 Mt net emissions in 2030) is a 30% decrease on 2005 levels, welcome to the topsy-turvy world of carbon accounting. The target is for net emissions, compared to a baseline of gross emissions. In 2005 gross emissions were 83.3 Mt. So our present target allows us to increase net emissions (currently 56.9 Mt) massively over the next decade.

But hang on, we’re not done yet. How is net emissions of 70.5 Mt a 30% reduction from 83.3 Mt? (Hint: it isn’t.) The answer lies in further carbon accounting. As our NDC says, “In meeting its target New Zealand intends to use international market mechanisms” – in other words, by buying international carbon credits (an activity that got us into trouble in the past). On the other hand, the Zero Carbon Bill says that “Emissions budgets must be met, as far as possible, through domestic emissions reductions and domestic removals”, a requirement that was strengthened further as the bill progressed.

These two things appear to be in conflict. But as of today, a focus on “international carbon markets” is one of New Zealand’s priorities at COP25, which opens in Madrid on 2 December.

Some of these issues will be worked out in time, in particular through the Climate Commission’s carbon budgets; the budgets for 2022–2035 are to be announced in March 2021. In the meantime we need a new Nationally Determined Contribution that reflects true accounting, our “highest possible ambition”, and genuine cuts to emissions.

Why municipal waste-to-energy incineration is not the answer to NZ’s plastic waste crisis

Since the Chinese plastic recycling market closed, 58% of New Zealand’s plastic waste goes to countries in South-East Asia. from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

By Trisia Farrelly

New Zealand is ranked the third-most-wasteful country in the OECD. New Zealanders produce five times the global daily average of waste per person – and they are getting more wasteful, producing 35% more than a decade ago.

These statistics are likely to get worse following China’s 2018 ban on imports of certain recyclable products. China was the world’s top importer of recyclable plastics, but implemented the ban because it could no longer safely manage its domestic and imported waste. Unsurprisingly, in 2015, China was named the top source of marine plastic pollution in the world.

Since the Chinese market closed, 58% of New Zealand’s plastic waste now goes to Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam — all countries with weak regulations and high rankings as global sources of marine plastic pollution.

Waste-to-energy (WtE) incineration has been raised as a solution. While turning plastic waste into energy may sound good, it creates more pollution and delays a necessary transition to a circular economy.

Dirty plastics

Shipments of plastic recycling often arrive in developing countries unsorted and contaminated. Materials that cannot be easily recycled are commonly burned, releasing dioxins into air, soil and water. In response, South-East Asian countries have started returning dirty plastics to developed countries.

Several New Zealand councils have stopped collecting certain plastics for recycling offshore. They are sending them to landfill instead. Available data suggest that even before the China ban plastics made up roughly 15% of the waste in municipal landfills – about 250,000 tonnes a year. Much of this is imported plastic packaging.

Many New Zealanders are very or extremely worried about the impact of plastic waste. We cannot continue ignoring our role in the global plastic pollution crisis while dumping plastic in homegrown landfills or in developing countries.

In the scramble to find alternatives, waste-to-energy (WtE) incineration has become a hot topic, particularly as foreign investors look to establish WtE incinerators on the West Coast and [other centres]in New Zealand. Some local government representatives have endorsed WtE proposals, or raised WtE as an election issue.

Less plastic good for climate

Like landfills, WtE incinerators symbolise the linear “take-make-waste” economy, which destroys valuable resources and perpetuates waste generation.

Globally, countries are moving to circular approaches instead, which follow the “zero waste hierarchy”. This prioritises waste prevention, reduction, reuse, recycling and composting and considers WtE unacceptable.

Some New Zealanders say Nordic countries have proven that incineration is the environmental silver bullet to our waste woes. But a recent study found these countries will not meet EU circular economy goals unless they replace WtE incineration with policies that reduce waste generation. Such policies include packaging taxes, recycling and recovery rate targets, landfill bans on biodegradable waste, deposit return schemes and extended producer responsibility.

Rejecting linear approaches is also good for the climate. Actions at the top of the waste hierarchy stop more greenhouse gases than those at the bottom.

In contrast, WtE incinerators can produce 1.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide per tonne of municipal solid waste burnt. New Zealand’s zero carbon act means we have a responsibility to ensure we do not increase our greenhouse gas emissions by investing in WtE incineration.

Incinerators also cannot magic away toxins in plastic waste. Even the most high-tech WtE incinerators [[release dioxins and other pollutants into the air]. Meanwhile, toxin-laden fly ash and slag are dumped in landfills to eventually leach into the environment and contaminate food systems.

Shifting responsibility for plastic waste

To address plastic pollution, it is easy to see how prevention and reduction work better than “getting rid of” plastic once produced. Many WtE proponents argue that incineration technology can be a temporary solution for the plastic waste we have already created.

But incinerators are not short-term fixes. They are expensive to build and maintain. Large-scale incinerators demand about 100,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste a year, encouraging increasing production of waste. Investors guarantee returns on their investment by locking councils into decades-long contracts.

The only real solution to our plastics problem is through regulation that moves New Zealand towards a circular economy. We can start by making the linear economy expensive by increasing landfill levies above the current $NZ10/tonne and expanding it to all landfills. We must also invest in better waste collection, sorting and recycling systems, including a national network of resource recovery centres.

Instead of burning or burying plastic that cannot be reused, recycled or composted, we can prevent or reduce it through targeted phase-outs. The government is proposing to regulate single-use plastic packaging, beverage packaging, electronic waste and farm plastics through mandatory product stewardship schemes. This would make manufacturers responsible for the waste they produce and provide incentives for less wasteful and toxic product design and delivery systems (e.g. refill stations).

All of these circular solutions will provide far more jobs than WtE incineration.

Without a swift, brave shift to a circular economy, New Zealand will remain one of the world’s most wasteful nations. Circular economies are developing globally and WtE incineration will only set us back by 30 years.

Hannah Blumhardt, the coordinator of the NZ Product Stewardship Council, has contributed to this article. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Zero Carbon: It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law

By Robert McLachlan

Two years into New Zealand’s Labour-led government, the long-delayed Zero Carbon Bill became law on 7 November. Passed essentially unanimously, the lengthy public debates and political manoeuvring faded away until the final passage was even anticlimactic:

So it’s worth remembering just how significant this new law is. We will start seeing action almost immediately. (The previous emissions target, not set in law, was for a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050, with no plan how to get there.) The Climate Change Commission will determine the first three carbon budgets (covering 2022-2025, 2026-2030, and 2031-2035) by February 2021, and the government will respond by the end of that year. Judging from experience in the UK, those budgets will have to show more or less a straight line to net zero by 2050. That’s completely different to where we are heading now.

Our gross CO2 emissions in 2017 were at their highest level since 2008. Land transport emissions jumped 6% in one year alone, and, with the fossil-fueled vehicle fleet continuing to increase by 140,000 vehicles each year, that’s likely to continue for some time. Clearly the Commission is going to have to recommend some strong measures. Very soon we will find out what the Zero Carbon Bill is made of.

No
No
Not this either
Caution

While some other countries have net zero targets in place, when this bill was introduced in May, only Norway and Sweden had set the targets in law. Since then, France and the UK have followed suit. Significantly, these laws are an effort to respond in detail to the 1.5ºC target and to base national plans around the science reported by the IPCC.

New Zealand has learned from processes that have worked elsewhere, notably the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, which attempts to balance science, public involvement and the sovereignty of parliament. Ireland and Sweden are also following this model.

The few tweaks to the bill since its introduction have mostly strengthened it.

First, the Climate Change Commission will now make recommendations on gross emissions reductions and offsets through planting trees. This is vital, as current roadmaps to reach net zero by 2050 involve planting enormous numbers of trees, and (because landowners can be paid for the carbon stored in the trees) there are signs of a “Green Rush” already under way, despite questions about the net environmental and climate impact of plantation forestry.

Second, the focus has shifted slightly to emphasize domestic reductions over purchasing overseas reductions. Good news, since our track record in the latter is appalling.

Third, legal accountability has been strengthened slightly, although there is still no legal recourse if a carbon budget is missed.

Fourth, the Commission is now asked to advise in 2024 on whether to include international aviation and shipping in the target. At first sight, this is disappointing, since this is a large area of emissions that is at present unaccounted for and that is growing rapidly. The next five years should be spent making a start on what is known to be a difficult area. For example, the UK’s CCC is already trying to get their government to include these emissions. The EU has pointed out that jet fuel is effectively subsidised, and has proposed that it be taxed at 57 cents per litre to level the playing field. Even Air New Zealand, in their submission on the bill, did not ask for this delay.

Remember that global emissions are still rising. Even in the best-performing countries, substantial progress so far has been limited to essentially one area, electricity. We need to get the right agreements and structures into place so that when we start tackling harder areas like industry, transport, and buildings, we can find strategies that work and that everyone can get behind. That’s what the Zero Carbon Bill does.

It’s a massive achievement.

Politics & the Anthropocene

Potash mine, Russia. Photograph by Edward Byrtynsky, The Anthropocene Project

The Anthropocene is a proposed geological epoch marked by human impact on the earth and its systems. Popularized around 2000 by Paul Crutzen, it has not yet been officially accepted by geologists, and many aspects of it remain hotly debated.

Political scientist Duncan Kelly talks democracy, protest, time scales, fatalism, and the limits to growth in this interview with Robert McLachlan at the LSE Review of Books.

I’m so fly, I’m #NoFly!

#NoFly: Walking the talk on climate change, by Shaun Hendy. BWB Texts, 2019. Reviewed by Robert McLachlan

In June 2018, Swede Maja Rosén founded We stay on the ground with a pledge not to fly in 2019, and a goal of persuading 100,000 other Swedes to join her. In August, her compatriot Greta Thunberg began her school strike for climate. 

Today, the No Fly movement has spread around the world, with the Flight Free 2020 campaign reaching eight countries, and Greta is a household name, with the September strikes drawing 4 million people globally. What a difference a year makes!

The New Zealand scientist Shaun Hendy made his own flight-free year in 2018, attracting widespread publicity in the media, partly thanks to Stuff‘s “Quick! Save the Planet” series. In #NoFly he describes why he made the pledge, how it worked out, and how he sees New Zealand’s low-carbon future playing out.

Shaun credits University of Auckland psychology professor Quentin Atkinson for giving him the push he needed. The theory of “costly signalling” says that people can better send honest signals about themselves if their message is accompanied by taking some action that requires effort. (Philanthropy, risk-taking, and conspicuous consumption are the classic examples.) Indeed, psychological studies have found, not surprisingly, that people strongly dislike hypocrisy and regard hypocrites as untrustworthy (whereas lying, strangely enough, is all right). 

This is a very short book with just four short, tightly-organized chapters. Chapter 1 describes Shaun’s actual experience of travelling around New Zealand by train, bus, and electric car. He succeeded, and enjoyed a lot of the trips, but, needless to say, he finds that we need a huge improvement in our intercity public transport. Chapter 2 is a whirlwind tour of the discovery of climate change, from the birth of the industrial revolution, to the early speculations about the greenhouse effect by Joseph Fourier in the 1820s, to Svante Arrhenius’s landmark 1896 paper “On the influence of carbonic acid [CO2] in the air upon the temperature of the ground” establishing the basic principles of global warming by the burning of fossil fuels, to its widespread understanding by scientists by the 1980s. (Incidentally, Arrhenius’s second cousin’s great-great-great-granddaughter is Greta Thunberg, and her father, Svante Thunberg, is named after him. How good is that?!) After that, the story turns murky, as emissions have skyrocketed in the past thirty years and we are now faced with the prospect of catastrophic climate change.

There are some New Zealand connections, too, and here I can’t resist including the now-famous report in the Rodney and Otamatea Times of 14 August 1912:

Understanding how this could have happened is the subject of Chapter 3, focussing on scientists’ efforts to communicate the dangers and how this message  was received. Hendy bases his interpretation on Jess Berentson-Shaw’s A Matter of Fact: Talking Truth in a Post-Truth World (BWB Texts, 2018), where it is argued that scientists need to base their messages on values that are shared with their audience. They should be aware of their own values and how they affect the questions that they choose to study and how the results are communicated. For example, Mason Durie’s 2018 Manawatū Lecture contrasted ‘knowledge transfer’ (such as teaching postgraduate students) as a scientific value with ‘community understanding’ as a mātauranga Māori value.

Many, many factors have brought us to where we are now and still prevent decisive action. They include the power of the fossil fuel companies and their disinformation campaigns, the investors who fund the expansion of fossil fuels and the machines than burn them, our inherent short-term bias – particularly evident in some democracies –, the apparent advantages of freeloading, and the rise of neoliberal economic management, all of which are symptoms of an underlying global tragedy of the commons. On top of this, politics and social media have taken such a bizarre turn in recent years that academics and thinkers of all stripes are scrambling to make sense of the developments and to suggest solutions. 

Apart from the psychology of communication and belief formation, behavioural psychology and sociology could well be places to look for answers too. People live in suburbs, drive cars everywhere, and holiday on the Gold Coast because everyone around them is doing it, and because those were the obvious choices. A lot of climate work focuses on the top level (government and international policy) and the bottom level (individual action). The middle levels, communities, organizations, and their networks, are surely important too. Climate change will only be solved by collective action. It is important to understand how collective action – a complex interplay between government leadership, public support, and civic organizations – is achieved.

Chapter 4 closes with a vision of a low-carbon future for New Zealand, involving denser cities, less travel, and improved (and low-carbon) vehicles and public transport. Unfortunately, tiny steps in this direction are not going to get us there in time.

Emissions are rising rapidly. Hendy’s numbers for aviation are a bit out of date: while domestic aviation emissions are flat (due to more efficient aeroplanes), international emissions are sharply up.

Annual gross New Zealand emissions. Aviation figures include the effects of radiative forcing at 1.9 times the CO2 emissions. International aviation includes outgoing flights only. Source: MfE

Globally, it’s the same story, with air travel up 77% in eight years, now standing at 1000 km per person per year:

Source: International Civil Aviation Organization

Hendy rightly places a lot of emphasis on how New Zealand families are now widely dispersed around the world, and the value of (some) work travel. However, for both residents and visitors,  friends and family are the reason for 28% of trips; work, education, and conferences are 15%. Holidays make up 57% of all trips. The same is true globally where work trips are a tiny portion of all flying. Unprecedented levels of migration are creating more dispersed families. And all projections are for continued rapid increases.

Land transport emissions are also rising sharply as the country is flooded with cars – we now have the highest vehicle ownership rate in the OECD. Despite all the media coverage of electric vehicles, the fact is that the petrol and diesel fleet is increasing by around 140,000 vehicles per year. It’s going to take some time, some strong measures, and some major shifts in public opinion to turn this around.

On aviation, it’s true that there are no easy solutions. We have to start with baby steps, and to my mind the most urgent of these is to bring international aviation into the Emissions Trading Scheme. Domestic flights pay a carbon charge, international ones do not. At present prices, an Auckland–Brisbane return flight (1 tonne CO2e) would cost an extra $25. Not much, and not much of a deterrent, but the point is it would bring these emissions under the falling cap on emissions that the Zero Carbon Bill will bring in. 

Collins crushes climate

By Robert McLachlan

An essay by Judith Collins MP reported on Carbon News yesterday seems to show an alarming shift in attitude within the National Party. Collins argues against the Zero Carbon Bill, the Paris Agreement, and downplays the magnitude of climate impacts.

The Paris Agreement was adopted in December 2015 and ratified by the New Zealand Government, of which Judith Collins was a cabinet member, in October 2016. This involved agreeing to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by

Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.

The Zero Carbon Bill implements this agreement for New Zealand. It implements what the National-led government agreed to when they signed the Paris Agreement, which Judith Collins now states “is not justified by any scientific findings” – this after innumerable scientists and delegates, including those of the New Zealand government, pored over and agreed to every word. Since the Agreement was signed, the IPCC 1.5ºC report – “1.5 to Stay Alive” – has strengthened the case for 1.5ºC. There is a broad consensus, both in New Zealand and internationally, about what needs to be done. Contrary to what Collins claims, the NZ emission target does not have “almost zero chance of being achieved”; it is entirely feasible and will lead to health and economic benefits for all New Zealanders. 

As for “there is no indication they [the costs of global warming] are insurmountable”, it partly depends on what value you place on mass extinction and the loss of treasures like the Great Barrier Reef, not to mention coastal cities. How can this be surmounted?

The existential risks are real if difficult to size up. Hans Schellnhuber, founder of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and climate advisor to the EU, Angela Merkel, and the Pope, said in 2018, “I think there is a very very big risk that we will just end our civilisation. The human species will survive somehow, but we will destroy almost everything we have built up over the last two thousand years. I think we have more than a five percent chance of [preventing this]. But it’s definitely less than 50% in my view.”

If Ms Collins believes “any politician… who questions global warming policy instantly being ostracised as the equivalent as a global warming ‘denier’”, she would be well advised not to include statements like “assuming the IPCC models reflect the relationship between carbon dioxide and global warming” in her essay. Certainly 600 commenters interpreted her post as support for a science denial position, with everything from sunspots, Noah’s Ark, volcanoes, Al Gore, change is normal, plants need CO2, to the ice caps on Mars getting an outing.

The faster we cut emissions, the slower the impacts of climate change will be, and the easier it will be to adapt. The mechanisms in the Zero Carbon Bill constitute a tested, measured, and reasonable way to do this.

Originally published on Carbon News. See the original article.