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Greens put carbon tax back on the table

Friday 7th June 2013

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The Green Party is considering whether to revert to support for a carbon tax to force climate change behaviour changes, given the failure to date of local and global emissions trading scheme to place a meaningful price on carbon emissions.

The proposal emerges in a discussion paper issued at a Green Party-sponsored climate change conference at Parliament, which has attracted a who's who of New Zealand climate scientists, thinkers and policy-makers.

Fixing New Zealand's "weak and ineffective" climate change policies "will require either the strengthening of the ETS, or replacing it with a carbon charge, or a hybrid of the two."

Party co-leader Russel Norman confirmed the party is having an internal debate as to whether to ditch its support for an ETS and revert to its original support for a flat rate of tax on carbon emissions.

The same paper proposes New Zealand should make an ambitious pledge to cut its national carbon emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels, instead of the current government signal, which would allow emissions to rise between 10 percent and 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.

New Zealand's lack of a firm pledge was a "serious vulnerability", a former New Zealand diplomat who chaired global climate change talks in 2011 told the conference.

That was especially as the country has a big repair job to on its reputation after withdrawing a second Kyoto Protocol commitment period at the Doha climate change negotiations last December, said Adrian Macey, now a Victoria University adjunct professor in climate change research.

The Greens propose a 40 percent emissions cut target by 2020, higher than the UN-proposed cuts for developed economies of 25 percent.

"Any country whose target is below 25 percent might be reasonably asked to identify which other country it wishes to nominate to make up the difference in attaining the collective target," the Greens paper says.

It points to the UK's target of a 34 percent cut by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050. Rather than the current signalled target of a 50 percent cut from 1990 levels by 2050, New Zealand should target a 90 percent cut, the paper says.

Those targets would be met through the use of currently non-existent carbon budgeting, organised in five year blocks of activity.

"These 2020 and 2050 targets would be met through a combination of local and international carbon actions or trading. Some three-quarters of the 2020 target should be met in New Zealand, while 60 percent of the 2050 target would come from local action."

Amongst policy actions New Zealand could take now that would not require "tectonic shifts", Macey suggested to "fix forestry", whose capacity to contribute to climate change mitigation has been poleaxed by low carbon prices, an early package of "complementary measures" and revisiting the science around agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

New scientific findings are suggesting methane emissions' contribution to climate change could be overstated, meaning agriculture's 50 percent contribution of New Zealand's total GHG's might be lower than thought.

That could assist policy discussion by making the scale of adjustment for farmers less alarming.

Macey also called for a return to earlier times when government officials were more willing to engage with all interested parties in the climate change policy-making debate.

"People aren't blind and can see the direction the world is heading in and would welcome some greater engagement by the government," said Macey. "There is a certain reluctance among government officials ... to engage."

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