A short update on wind power in New Zealand, where there has been a string of positive announcements since I discussed the Turitea wind farm in May:
On 22 May, Genesis committed to buy all the electricity from Tilt Renewables proposed 133 MW Waipipi wind farm at Waverley, south Taranaki, which allowed the project to go ahead. Construction is to start shortly.
On 12 November, Mercury Energy decided to build the whole Turitea wind farm, expanding it from 113 MW to its full 222 MW. They own enough hydro generation to cover the variability of wind. Construction has started.
On 22 November, the Government approved funding for two wind turbines in Stewart Island. This is small, but locally significant, as the island currently burns through 360,000 litres of subsidised diesel each year, and, until now, dozens of studies have come to nothing.
On 16 December, North Canterbury lines company Mainpower decided to build the Mt Cass wind farm. (It’s either 93 MW, as reported by Stuff, or 78 MW as specified in the resource consent.) Apart from a 1 MW mini hydro system at Little River, Mainpower has not been a power generator until now.
All up that’s another 433 MW, compared to our existing 690 MW of wind, which generates 5% of our electricity. In addition, Mercury is quite likely to eventually add the (up to 318 MW) Puketoi wind farm further east, since they’re putting in the lines infrastructure for it now. This all adds up to a significant boost to renewable energy, which should keep a lid on wholesale electricity prices, which have been rising sharply, and cut emissions. Predictions are that as renewables are added, baseload gas will close, potentially cutting emissions by 800,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.
Average wholesale electricity prices
These announcements are also consistent with how things looked to me in May, namely that there is insufficient incentive for existing operators to build large new renewables. These farms are either from new operators (Mt Cass), subsidised (Stewart Island), or will not sell their electricity into the spot market (Waipipi and Turitea).
A number of consents are due to expire in the next few years, notably Genesis Energy’s massive 860 MW Castle Hill wind farm in the Wairarapa. Genesis Energy emits 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 a year from their coal and gas-fired generation, and a lot more from their half-ownership of New Zealand Oil and Gas. If Castle Hill goes ahead, we will really be able to say that the tide has turned.
The 2015 Paris Agreement is much more than a one-off climate change deal. Its main aim to limit global warming to well below 2℃, ideally 1.5℃, was a breakthrough. A follow-up report shows that keeping warming below 1.5℃ will require reducing fossil fuel burning by half by 2032. The 1.5℃ target has been written into New Zealand’s Zero Carbon Act.
But the ongoing process is also notable. Each country has registered a pledge (Nationally Determined Contribution, or NDC) to indicate how it plans to meet the agreement’s terms.
Without climate action, we are heading for 4.5℃ of warming by 2100. Current pledges, if fully realised, take us to 2.8℃.
Countries have complete freedom regarding their target and how to achieve it. The NDCs will be revised every five years, first in 2020, and are required to be increasingly ambitious over time. The idea is that the international community can check the targets against performance and global goals. Best practice can be shared, and poor performance exposed.
This flexibility made it possible to get the agreement through, but it can be confusing. Targets have been set for different dates, from different baselines and for different types of emissions. Countries may have good reasons for setting weaker targets – they may be starting from a low base, like India. Or they may have unusual emissions, like New Zealand’s large proportion of agricultural methane.
So for each country we can ask:
Does the target really reflect its highest level of ambition, as agreed in Paris?
Is it consistent with 2℃ or 1.5℃ of global warming?
The European Union is on track for a 48% reduction, partly due to a collapse of heavy industry in Eastern Europe in the 1990s and more recently from a phase-out of coal. Despite this, because of lack of action on transport and buildings, and an increasing reliance on natural gas, the EU has been rated insufficient by Climate Action Tracker, an independent research unit founded in 2009 and partly funded by the German Ministry for Environment.
So far the US is down 11%. The Obama-era climate plan would have achieved the 2025 target, but is now being rolled back, and the US will leave the Paris Agreement on November 4 next year, the day after the elections.
On the other hand, city and state-level actions and the continued decline of coal mean some further reductions in emissions are likely.
China is well on track to achieve this. Emissions actually levelled off for five years before rising again in 2018. China is the world’s largest installer of renewable energy, but also the world’s largest consumer of coal. It also funds a lot of coal power stations in other countries. China has announced it will greatly strengthen its target next year.
India is well on track to meet this, having rapidly moved into solar energy. Its target involves an increase in total emissions, but should be seen in light of India’s very low emissions of only two tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita. This is compatible with the 2℃ target.
Australia is presently only on track for a 7% reduction. But a decrease in forest clearance has masked the fact that emissions from fossil fuel burning have increased and are projected to increase further, to 8% above 2005 levels by 2030.
New Zealand is projected to reduce by 15% under current policies, with the difference to be made up by purchasing carbon units from overseas. This may set up a clash with the Zero Carbon Act, which requires that “emissions budgets must be met, as far as possible, through domestic emissions reductions and domestic removals.” However, these figures mask the fact New Zealand is, most unusually, using “gross-net” accounting. The 2030 target is for net emissions (that is, including the carbon sink of forests), but is measured against their 2005 gross emissions. The target allows net emissions to grow by up to 24% and is woefully unambitious.
Using a different methodology, taking into account each country’s situation, performance, and plans, the Climate Change Performance Index found that the top three countries are Sweden, Denmark and Morocco, and the bottom three are Taiwan, Saudi Arabia and the US. New Zealand is ranked 34th and Australia 53rd of the 58 countries assessed.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.