Personal submission on the Zero Carbon Amendment Bill

This is my personal submission on the Zero Carbon Amendment (ZCA) Bill. Social Justice figures large in it, as does the shortfall between ambition and what is required to meet the Paris 1.5° C goal. But the main thrust of my submission is around the improper and incorrect framing as agricultural emissions being a 48% driver of New Zealand emissions.

Submission on the The Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill (ZCA Bill)

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the ZCA Bill.  This submission is a personal one, in the name of W John Allen.   I want to be heard in person at a hearing considering submissions.

Bill is opposed

Whilst the intentions of the ZCA Bill are applauded, I believe that, as written, it will not achieve its purposes and is therefore opposed on these grounds:-

  • Part 1: it provides no basis for ensuring social justice in the implementation of mitigation and adaptation actions
  • Part 2: it’s goal of contributing to the global effort to limit global warming to 1.5° C1 is not achievable as the Bill is written and is inconsistent with the aims of the IPCC SR15 report
  • Part 3: the framework provided under the Bill is predicated on a falsity and thus mitigation policies, targets and in particular, social justice aspects, will remain neither clear nor stable when those falsities are corrected:-
    1. The Bill does not recognise a fundamental aspect of the science around climate change.  That is, that the single cause of global warming is the unbalancing of nature’s carbon cycle.
    2. CO2 targets are set on a net basis, meaning that forestry offsets accrue to fossil CO2 emissions.  However, the CH4 target is set on a gross basis, meaning that the CO2 sinks that generate that CH4 (pasture grasses and fodder), are excluded.
    3. A further distinction between biogenic and fossil methane is required:
      1. to ensure justice and equity for ruminant farmers
      2. fossil methane must be reduced to zero in the shortest timescale possible.
      3. biogenic methane emissions are declining or stable, and so do not contribute to warming as much as many want it to. 
      4. if forced methane reductions are the means to relieve pressure on the reduction rate of fossil CO2 emissions, then ruminant farmers must be paid a price that reflects their lost revenues
    4. Contrary to the assertion that the Bill seeks to strike a balance between flexibility and prescription in NZ’s long term transition, it is very prescriptive around methane emissions.

The Explanatory Note to the ZCA Bill announces its purpose as providing a “… framework by which New Zealand can develop and implement clear and stable climate change policies that contribute to the global effort under the Paris Agreement to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels”.  And goes on to argue that the overarching purpose “represents a balance of the guiding principles … to frame the development of climate change policy: leadership at home and abroad; a productive, sustainable, and climate-resilient economy; and a just and inclusive society.”

As argued below, the framework will be neither stable nor clear in the long term, because it  maintains business-as-usual, and thus is not balanced, and is counter-productive, unsustainable, unjust and exclusive.

The ZCA Bill will not solve the problem before us even while we give ourselves the illusion that we are in process to solving it.  Hence I cannot support it.

Part 1: Social Justice provisions

The elephant in the room of climate social justice is that people with high discretionary incomes contribute much more to global emissions than those without.  This is true both across international borders and within this country.  

A 2014 report by Motu Economic and Public Policy Research2 quantified this difference in New Zealand as a near four-fold inequality: Decile 1 -> 9.48 T CO2e pp compared with 35.67 T CO2e pp for Decile 10.  So it follows that the costs of both mitigation and adaptation actions must fall more on the rich than on the poor.

The ZCA Bill does not include specific provisions to protect those who have a reduced ability to cope with the costs of mitigation and adaptation actions.

The only reference to ensuring social justice within the ZCA Bill as written, is in the adaptation section (5ZQ(4) which provides for “the distribution of the effects of climate change across society, taking particular account of vulnerable groups or sectors: “.  This is just words and words do not offer protection to those who need it.

Further, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is seen as the key tool in meeting emissions budgets and achieving the 2050 goal.  It will therefore, add to the cost of living for all New Zealanders.  However, there is no provision in the ZCA Bill to return ETS revenues to the poor or at-risk communities as a social justice measure.  It is therefore, a regressive provision, and will likely result in even greater economic inequalities as the poor will end up paying a disproportionately higher percentage of their income on ETS costs, than the rich will pay.

The experience requirements of the Climate Commissioners will preclude those who do not identify with the rich or influential or politically connected people and so may not select people with practical experience of being vulnerable.  Therefore, the voice of those needing economic protection will not be heard by government.

  1. Include Social Justice provisions within the mitigation and adaptation sections of the ZCA Bill.
  2. Include provisions for ETS revenues to be returned to the people as a part of those Social Justice provisions.
  3. Add to the mandate of the Climate Commission, the monitoring of the justness and fairness of climate actions.
  4. Change the selection criteria for Commission members to include those with practical experience of being vulnerable.

NOTE: The ETS was retained as New Zealand’s key tool for meeting emissions budgets on the basis that it was too difficult to develop a new system.  A new carbon tax based system is well justified when considering social justice matters and the regressive nature of the ETS.  I would like to propose a new system, one that combines a consumption-based personal/business carbon budget (T CO2e/year) with a declining carbon cap (T CO2e) and an increasing carbon tax ($/T CO2e) charged on local production and imports, but not exports (to protect export receipts).  Manipulating the carbon tax rate (up) and the carbon budget (down) would be the primary means of controlling consumption emissions.   Products that incur a carbon tax will have the tax added at the point of sale with the collected tax being refunded annually up to the value of the cap.   Such a system would be progressive – those spending within their cap will not incur additional costs but those spending above it will pay that amount of the carbon tax that exceeds the product of their carbon budget (T CO2e/year) multiplied by the carbon tax ($/T CO2e).

Part 2: Consistency with the IPCC SR15 Report

The explanatory notes to the ZCA Bill argue for consistency with the goals of the IPCC SR15 report.   As a principle, this is agreed with but is not consistently applied in the ZCA Bill.  The IPCC SR153 report:

  • warns that limiting warming below or close to 1.5 °C , requires net emissions to decrease by around 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 (para C.1).  The first aspect of this warning is not included in the ZCA Bill.
  • argues for 
    • “deep reductions in emissions of methane” of at least 35% by 2050, relative to 2010 (para C.1.2).  Note that this is a reference to methane from all sources and that on a global scale, fossil methane emissions are forecast to be around 44%4 of total anthropogenic methane.
    • Figure SPM.3b of the IPCC SR15 report records the interquartile range from all model pathways with no or limited overshoot, for the reduction of “agricultural”methane by between 24% to 47% from 2010 levels at 2050.   
    • The report specifically excludes these data from necessarily being used to set national emissions reduction strategies (Figure SPM.3b: “These pathways illustrate relative global differences in mitigation strategies, but do not represent central estimates, national strategies, and do not indicate requirements.”).  
    • Contrary to this qualification, and an opinion expressed by the NZAGRC5“While this range can serve as a reference point, it does not in itself prescribe a specific target for methane emissions reduction by any individual country. A national target necessarily depends on national value judgements around what is an appropriate contribution by New Zealand and the economic cost of reducing emissions… 
    • the ZCA Bill seeks to enshrine this 24%-47% range in legislation.  This appears to be a politically motivated target, without value judgements and so is also not consistent with the IPCC SR15 report. 
  • argues that “all pathways that limit global warming to 1.5°C with limited or no overshoot project the use of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) on the order of 100–1000 GtCO2 over the 21st century.”   Carbon sequestration actions are not mentioned in the ZCA Bill which is then, not consistent with the PICC SR15 report.

Thus the ZCA Bill is inconsistent with the IPCC SR15 report on at least four counts:

  1. No inclusion of an interim (2030) CO2 reduction target.
  2. Focuses on agricultural methane (page 4).  Elsewhere in the ZCA Bill, the focus is on biogenic methane, so the one use of agricultural methane demonstrates and inherent bias against agriculture in the formulation of the Bill.
  3. the ZCA target for methane reduction of 24%-47% by 2050 is a consequence in modelling work and goes against IPCC expectations of it not being used as an emissions reduction target.
  4. Carbon Dioxide Removal technology is not included at all.

Amend the ZCA Bill to be consistent with the IPCC SR15 report by:

  1. including a 2030 emissions reduction target of a 45% reduction below 2010 levels.  This equates to a 34% reduction below 1990 levels and would replace our existing 2030 goal of an 11% reduction below 1990.
  2. amend all references to “agricultural methane” to “biogenic methane”
  3. The biogenic methane reduction target of 10% to 2030 can be exceeded with a focus on agricultural manure management (4.3% of total CH4), waste management (11.7% of total CH4)  and Energy (2.6% of CH4 total) (all data from Table 10s3 of MfE 2017 GHG Inventory)
  4. Delete the biogenic methane reduction target of 24% to 47% (from 2010 levels at 2050) from the ZCA Bill and allow the Climate Commission to develop a 2050 target once impacts of the 10% reduction (to 2030) are better understood and once progress on the IPCC emissions reduction pathways is clear.
  5. Add Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) targets to the ZCA Bill.  In support of this, I have used biochar for three years to make our Earth Day events carbon negative.  Whilst Biochar is a valid and effective carbon sequestration technology, it is not getting government support for its development.  Part of the reason for this is the manufacturing cost of biochar makes it uneconomic compared to ETS values.  Biochar production costs will not come down to approach ETS values until its production technologies are studied and developed.
    1. This requires that Biochar as a CDR technology be brought in to the ETS.

Chart 1 below shows that methane from all sources is essentially static and so is not contributing to further warming to any significant extent.  It also shows the accumulated emissions of various gases since 1990.  Methane, on a CO2eq basis, has the lowest accumulated emissions than any of the GHG gases and so contributes the least to global warming in terms of Global Warming Potential.  The decline in forestry sinks however, has made the second largest contribution to New Zealand’s emissions profile.

Part 3: Framing of the drivers of global warming

The present framing of our carbon emissions is counter-productive to actually reducing emissions.  This framing presents agriculture as being responsible for 48% of national emissions (data from 2017 GHG Inventory) with the consequence that mitigation actions are widely viewed as something for the agricultural sector to address.

This framing ignores a number of relevant points.  One is that 100% of the methane emissions are derived from carbon already within the carbon cycle.  Another is that enteric methane is a part of the natural world and thus has a role to play in global environments.

A reframing would recognise that there is but a single driver of global warming and were the issues we face framed in terms of that single driver, the solution to the predicament we now face, would be the focus of this Bill.  Instead, the Bill focuses on maintaining and protecting the economic system, that led to our problems.

That single driver is the unbalancing of nature’s carbon cycle. That balance has been so grossly upset, that it is now beyond nature’s capacity to restore it for perhaps centuries.    Science is clear on two things: that increasing green house gas concentrations in the atmosphere, leads to the greenhouse effect and thus, to global warming; and that it is human activities that caused that increase in gas concentrations.

The two human activities that are are the primary drivers of global warming are: 

  1. increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere through the mining and burning of fossil fuels. (releasing previously sequestered fossil CO2 and fossil CH4). 
  2. the removal of global carbon sinks – forests – that leave more gases in the atmosphere and so are equivalent to new emissions

If global warming was framed as a consequence of these two drivers, then we would deal with fossil fuel use and with deforestation.  Instead, many see agricultural emissions, at 48% of New Zealand’s total emissions, as the primary cause.  The problem with this is that it gives many the reason to not address the two actual primary causes.

The chart below gives the lie to this framing.  This shows New Zealand’s cumulative emissions growth (by gas) since 1990.  CO2 has contributed more than five times that of CH4 (CH4 as CO2equivalent).  It also shows the extent that forestry removals have declined since 1990.  On the basis that removing forestry sinks is equivalent to increasing CO2 emissions, then the LULUCF sector is the second largest contributor to the increase in NZ’s emissions since 1990 (3.6 times more than the contribution from CH4).

Chart 1: Where has the increase in emissions has come from?
Not methane to a significant amount compared to fossil carbon and forestry harvesting.

In using the term net-zero emissions, the ZCA Bill implicitly promotes offsetting the CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use and ignores the impact of forestry on our emissions profile.   It also excludes the offsetting of CH4 emissions and more importantly, ignores the carbon consumed by ruminants as it cycles through pasture forages and the atmosphere via ruminant’s guts.

It is clear that rapidly reducing CH4 concentrations has a big impact on global warming and will enable a more orderly transition away from fossil fuels.  There are two aspects to this observation.  One is that ruminant farmers ought be paid for reducing CH4 emissions below the steady state (and by corollary, pay for increasing emissions above the steady state.  Second is a consideration of whether biogenic or fossil methane has caused global warming, or whether rising carbon dioxide levels is leading to the release of previously sequestered methane that would not have otherwise been released.

Changing this framing would mean a number of things:
  1. We would focus on what the world needs – a gross-zero carbon future in which new-to-the-atmosphere carbon emissions are eliminated.   A low-carbon, reduced-carbon or net-zero carbon future still releases new-to-the-atmosphere fossil carbon and so is not solving the underlying problem. 
  2. We would not look to ruminant farmers to solve our problem in the short term, by giving us breathing space to address fossil fuel emissions.
  3. I notice that no-one is suggesting that foresters must cut back on their forest harvesting work as a climate mitigation effort.  If foresters delayed harvesting by some number of years, then income from those forests would be delayed but not sacrificed (unlike the permanent loss of income to ruminant farmers who de-stock).   This would go a long way to helping the world to avoid increasing emissions thru to 2050.  The attached Cumulative Growth in CO2eq chart shows a major reduction in forest harvesting in the 2008 GFC, so do it foresters can.
  4. Carbon offsetting would be stopped and forestry plantings would then be a Carbon Dioxide Removal tech.
Pay ruminant farmers to reduce methane emissions

It has been suggested6 that there is a “main opportunity” to reduce livestock numbers as a means to reducing emissions significantly.  This implies an expectation that ruminant farmers will reduce stocking rates.  There is some merit in such an imposition.  However, if implemented, this must be fair and equitable to farmers. but there are no such provision for fairness nor equity written in to the ZCA Bill.  Further, the emissions reduction opportunity available from foresters is even more significant than that from ruminant farmers but with revenue impacts.

As a matter of interest, the average New Zealand dairy farmer grosses around $2,400 per milking cow per year (372 Kg MS data from Dairy NZ x Fonterra price of $6.40/Kg MS May 2019).  The ETS value of a cow’s enteric fermentation emissions (83.16 kg CH4/head/yr) plus emissions from  manure management (7.70 kg CH4/head/yr) is valued at around $56 (at an ETS price of $25/T CO2eq).  Paying farmers only the annual ETS value of their saved emissions is not at all fair and equitable compared to the earning forgone through de-stocking.

As another matter of interest, (the calculations have not been attempted) requiring foresters to delay harvesting forests will have a similar impact (of giving a quick reduction in warming impacts) as requiring farmers to de-stock.  Except that foresters will suffer only a delay in their earnings whereas ruminant farmers will suffer a permanent loss of earnings.

  1. That the ZCA Bill establish a fair and just calculation for the lost opportunity cost for ruminant farmers to de-stock as a global warming mitigation action.
  2. That the ZCA Bill establish a fair and just calculation for the lost opportunity cost for foresters to delay harvesting forests as a global warming mitigation action.
  3. That the ZCA Bill recognise and account for the atmospheric carbon embodied in the pasture grasses that ruminants consume.



1 Part 1, clause 4(aa)
2 p17, Greenhouse Gas Emissions in NZ: A Preliminary Consumption-Based Analysis. April 2014, Motu Working Paper 14-05
6 Mitigating agricultural greenhouse gas emissions: Strategies for meeting NZ’s goals, July 2018. Chief Science Advisor

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