National Party reshuffle leaves its climate policy in neutral


Over the weekend, the weekend just gone, the National Party had their annual conference in Christchurch. It was – among other things – a chance for the rural and urban wings of the party to meet as one and see how they are (not)reconciling their differences over climate change.

Until now National Party M.P. Todd Muller (M.P. for Bay of Plenty) had been held the climate change portfolio. Mr Muller, who until today had been No. 31 on the party list, has had a promotion following the resignation of Nathan Guy (M.P. for Otaki), who is standing down at the 2020 election. As a result, but also partially out of dissatisfaction with the efforts to negotiate a deal with the Government on agricultural emissions, Mr Muller has lost the Climate Change portfolio.

The rural wing of the party, it would appear does not believe in climate change and does not want anything done on the issue. This will no doubt concern National Party leader Simon Bridges, who despite Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s tumble in the polls, is still a long way behind her. The need to keep the blue-green wing of the party on board at a time when the Government is trying to make significant inroads into the issue is critical in order to avoid National conceding seats at the 2020 election.

Scott Simpson (M.P. for Coromandel), takes his place as Climate Change spokesperson. Mr Simpson is not known to have the contacts Mr Muller did in the rural community. In 2017 he was appointed National’s spokesperson for the environment. In that capacity he has been critical of Minister for Environment Eugenie Sage, following revelations that 55 micron L.D.P.E. bags would only work 20 times or so instead of the recommended 55 times to pass the multi-use test.

Mr Simpson will need to move quickly on Climate Change whether he wants to or not. The Zero Carbon Bill, which addresses how the Government should try to reach our 2050 goal of being carbon neutral, closed for submissions on 16 July. National will need to achieve some sort of reconciliation soon between its rural and urban wings over climate change, lest New Zealand First whose membership has a significant rural component undermine their vote.

He will be further motivated by the fact that the Government, whilst on one hand is definitely forging ahead with climate policy, on the other is very definitely lacking ideas or a willingness to try anything radical. There are a number of steps that they could be taking fairly rapidly such as compulsorily recycling all aluminium, which is very energy intensive to manufacture at a smelter. There are also a number of longer term initiatives such as developing biofuel from the waste stream to power vehicles, using waste to energy plants to generate electricity and provide hot water to communities.

Can Mr Simpson be the successful bridge between the blue-greens and the rural wing of the National Party, or will he let the work started by Mr Muller slide in favour of other priorities?

 

Youth politicians the new big thing


As schools prepare for the start of a new term, teachers and students alike will be looking at the calendar and wondering when the next climate strike is going to fall. The protests which have been a rallying point for young people, too young to vote, have drawn both criticism and praise for what they are trying to achieve. And as their confidence at protesting grows, so it appears are the number of people who think that they should still be in school (despite the last two weeks being official holidays).

Youth politics and youth politicians are not new. Since about when I started voting there has been a Christchurch City Councillor named Yani Johanson. Cr. Johanson first started as a youth board member advocating for things like a new skateboarding rink for youths to take their wheels after complaints about their behaviour in public places. Another one who turned to politics early on was young Auckland lady Chloe Swarbrick who came into the public eye for trying to moderate an argument between a pair of fellow Mayoral candidates. A year later in 2017 she entered Parliament as one of New Zealand’s youngest ever Members of Parliament on the Green Party list.

New Zealand has a healthy – I will not say proud – reputation of having a Youth Parliament every two years, which debates issues important to them. They are school students with an interest in history, politics and current affairs who are selected by their local Member of Parliament to represent them in the Youth Parliament.

Thanks to social media, and politicians in Parliament and increasingly the large city councils recognizing the need to champion youth issues, youth politics and politicians are on the rise. At the up coming local government elections a 26 year old lady named Louise Hutt is standing for Mayor of Hamilton. A few years ago a young man named Sam Broughton took over the Mayoralty of Selwyn District in Canterbury.

Knowing that this is just the beginning it is time for society to acknowledge the following things:

  • The generation currently in high school and the generations that follow will have to deal with the effects of our hugely unsustainable appetite for resources and climate change
  • They understand that simply declaring emergencies will in itself not solve the problem – the idea is to raise awareness
  • Thanks to the social media we accuse them of being addicted to they are substantially more clued up to as to what is happening than we are willing to give them credit for

But some seem slow to get the message as those who challenged South Waikato District Council earlier this week found out. S.W.D.C., which has responsibility for an overwhelmingly rural part of Waikato, where the major industry is dairy farming, objected to the challenge lodged a climate change activist group dominantly populated by students and young people that it should declare a climate emergency. They were reacting to a challenge by Extinction Rebellion. One of the councillors even went so far as to call them terrorists.

Perhaps S.W.D.C. was more concerned about the elections looming large in a few months time and did not want to be seen to be turning against their rural mandate. Perhaps they have never considered climate change to be an issue that they need to deal with. Whatever their answer to the question of why they were so negative, it struck a jarring note when numerous other councils have been wanting to appear environmentally responsible and – even if they did not declare an emergency – acknowledge the concerns of young people.

It is time to acknowledge the rise of the youth politician because young people as politicians is a phenomena that is only going to grow in strength and popularity.

My submission on the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon)Bill


The Climate Change (Zero Carbon)Bill has been receiving submissions from the public over the last few weeks on how it should tackle carbon. My submission below tackles some of the concerns that I have articulated over the last year or so about addressing climate change.

INTRODUCTION

I generally support the Climate Change (Zero Carbon Bill)on the understanding it is part of a substantially broader effort to address anthropogenic climate change. No one segment of the economy, government or society will be spared the effects in the worst case scenario. Therefore no part of these first three can ignore the probable impact on the environment that makes it possible for economy, society and government to exist.

Legislation, whilst useful, can be repealed or diluted. This is most likely to happen if it tries to achieve too much too soon. This Bill of Parliament in its final form will therefore need to be able to provide for encourage the use of common knowledge and science to help societal, economic and government sectors reduce their environmental footprint.

For example we know that aluminium is hugely energy intensive when being made in a smelter, but that recycled aluminium is not (1). Therefore a logical response should be to institute a recycling programme nation wide to cut down power generation.
We know that anthracite is the cleanest burning of the four coal types. Does it not therefore make sense to allow only anthracite to be burnt in coal burning utilities?
We know that in Denmark, regular waste is burnt to drive a turbine that supplies hot water to towns (2) – could such technology work here?

Other nations are experimenting with bio waste as a fuel source. Air New Zealand for example has been experimenting with biofuel as an alternative to the current aviation fuel (3). If we are to peacefully transition from fossil fuels to the future energy sources, we need to develop interim fuel sources. Local small scale variations such as using waste cooking oil/fat, which might be sustainable in large urban areas.

Sources:

https://www.thoughtco.com/the-benefits-of-aluminum-recycling-1204138
https://www.c40.org/case_studies/98-of-copenhagen-city-heating-supplied-by-waste-heat
https://www.airnewzealand.co.nz/press-release-2017-biofuel-rfi-update

RECOMMENDATIONS

I have broken my recommendations down into categories of urgency.

Break priorities into four or five categories urgency – e.g. IMMEDIATE, SHORT TERM, MID TERM, LONG TERM

In IMMEDIATE term put things like establishing aluminium and steel recycling programmes; changing types of coal being burnt

In SHORT term put things like local government plan changes; N.E.S.A.Q. changes if necessary, as they will need to have public input; an A.A. working group to look at necessary fuel standards for biofuel

In MID term look at things like establishing biofuel programme as an alternative to petroleum; changes to building code to provide for hempcrete, which is carbon friendly as it does not create as much carbon based gas as concrete manufacture does.

In LONG term, the eventual ending of fossil fuels, per the Zero Carbon legislation and the April 2018 announcement about the end of such fuels by 2050

Keep the Parliamentary review and inquiries and other legislative mechanisms to a minimum. Much of this is based on known technology and science developed and put into practice overseas. Legislation should be for filling in gaps where business, communities and planning practitioners cannot achieve goals on their own or within their collective means.

Assessment of the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon)Bill


As a response to the growing concern about the impact of climate change on New Zealand, and in order to give effect to our commitments under the Paris agreement of 2015, the Government has drafted the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon)Bill. This article attempts to assess the C.C.R. Bill.

The Bill of Parliament is broken into the following parts:

  • Part 1A focuses on the establishment of the Climate Change Commission, its powers/functions/duties, composition and so forth
  • Part 1B focuses on the establishment of the emission reduction targets, the emission budgets and the processes for establishing these budgets, as well as the role of the Commission and the monitoring of the targets
  • Part 1C focuses on adaptation to climate change
  • Part 2 examines consequential amendments

There are good parts in this Bill of Parliament. They include provision for:

  • A Climate Change Commission that will include a range of figures from scientists to people in the business community, as well as those familiar with local government and planning processes
  • Reducing emissions that are not biogenic methane to net zero by 2050; reduce biogenic methane by 24-47% by 2050 and by 10% or more by 2030
  • A sequence of emissions budgets that act as stepping stones towards the above targets
  • Require the Government to develop policies for adaptation and mitigation

There is however significant room for improvement. There does not appear to be any mention of providing for more immediate as well as intermediate steps that do not need substantial policy development and which are already known to work. The lack of urgency around these has been a cause of concern among environmentalists and the Green Party, but are also potentially likely to have useful social outcomes such as improved energy budgets. I have covered all of these concerns in previous articles.

This will need a comprehensive roll out so that all agencies are aware of their obligations, but also the tools and resources at their disposal. One of the biggest problems across policy making in New Zealand and probably true of the world is the number of agencies that do not communicate and whose awareness of where they fit into the larger framework of policy is not new. For policy to be effectively given effect to, this must improve.

I expect that this Bill of Parliament will run into significant resistance when it returns following the closure of submissions. A.C.T. will oppose it point blank. National will want business concessions and be concerned about the impact on the economy and tax payers, some of which might be granted, but not all. New Zealand First as a coalition partner will likely support it, but have significant concerns about the impact on rural communities. Labour and the Greens will support, but will differ over the extent to which they should move, which might cause tensions inside the coalition.

Businesses will have concerns, and some of them will be quite valid. Others will be more about protecting sectors that are considered to be sunset industries, because in a world adapting to climate change they will probably be phased out. As adaptation is the name of the game, technological and procedural innovation are likely to feature strongly in any attempt at staying relevant.

 

Holy Cow! Too many cows in New Zealand


We eat their meat. We drink their milk and make cheese, butter and cream products. We use them to introduce children to agriculture. Its beef is one of our favourite meats at the supermarket. But holy cow, New Zealand has a problem with their environmental footprint.

In Canterbury alone it is estimated that there are about 1.3 million cows, or about 2.1 for every single person living in the province. Each cow will produce the effluent equivalent of about 11 people going to the toilet, or between 14-15 million people in Canterbury. And Canterbury is paying a steep environmental price for it. In 2007, prior to the National Government of Prime Minister John Key taking office, the number of dairy cattle in Canterbury was 754,000. By 2016 that number had risen to 1.27 million.

The province, which is noted for its superb thousands year old ground water in deep aquifers under the Canterbury plains is in danger of having its drinking water supply wrecked by the spread of nitrates. Dr Alistair Humphries believes that in 100 years, it will not be possible to drink the tap water in Canterbury.

Each cow needs many litres of water to ensure it can drink, to ensure that the grass it will eat is adequate. A litre of milk will take about 1,000 litres of water or 1m³ to manufacture. In other words the 2 litre bottle of milk in your fridge takes about 2,000 litres (2m³) of water. In order for a 500 cattle farm to produce the roughly 2 kilogrammes of milk solids that each healthy cow will put out at their peak per day, roughly 1,000,000 litres of water or 1,000m³ will be needed. That has to come from a ground water source or be diverted from a river. As one can imagine in a country where dairy farming contributed $14.4 billion to the New Zealand economy in 2016, the pressures on our freshwater resources both at the surface and in the ground are considerable.

Many farmers are making an honest effort to reduce the impact of their herds on the natural waterways of New Zealand. Measures include fencing off streams so that easily erodible dirt banks are not crumbled, and to stop them defecating and urinating in the water. Some are replanting shelter belts that were torn down when the farm was converted to dairying so that irrigators could move through. Replanting damaged river banks with low level plants that help to anchor the bank is another measure.

However there is a problem. Cows also make a substantial contribution to New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. The estimated contribution of the dairy sector to New Zealand’s overall climate emissions are about 43% caused by carbon dioxide and about 11% caused by nitrous oxide. The gases mainly come from biological processes – livestock burping in the case of the carbon dioxide and cows urinating in the case of the nitrous oxide.

It has been acknowledged with some resistance on both sides of House of Representatives. Initiatives have been tried such as developing grass that does not induce so much burping, alternative forms of fertilizer to reduce the amount of nitrates going into streams and medical research to see if the nitrous oxide discharge can be reduced.

But for all the good work these farmers are doing, it does not address the core problem with the 10 million cattle in New Zealand – there is simply too many, and the total defecation and urine output from them all would be roughly equivalent to about 140 million people or about 85% of the population of Bangladesh. Large scale depopulation of herds is not something a dairy farmer will want to do and it will be a vote killer for a lot of politicians if they are brave enough to try. Unfortunately the cold nitrate loaded fact of the matter is if New Zealand wants its clean green reputation back, several million cattle are simply going to have to go.