Three Ways to Raise the Carbon Price and Reduce Emissions Today

Congratulations to the Government on introducing the Zero Carbon Bill into Parliament. Despite criticisms it is still a long overdue step to facing up to the massive challenge of reducing our emissions.

Nonetheless, it is important to remember this legislation by itself won't get emissions down. It sets out targets and will eventually map out a pathway for reducing emissions, but it will remain up to politicians to take those steps. 

Despite acknowledging the massive challenge that faces us, this coalition Government hasn't actually done anything to reduce emissions. The offshore oil and gas exploration ban will stop companies prospecting for fossil fuels, but unless we do something to stop people using fossil fuels (either for electricity, industry or transport) then we will simply import more from overseas. 

The most powerful tool the Government has for achieving this is increasing the carbon price. The carbon price needs to start rising NOW. Here's three ways to do it:

1. Get rid of the price cap

Duh. The price can't rise if you cap it, team. At least, if you are going to cap it, raise the cap and show that it will keep rising every year into the future. At the moment our carbon price is $25 per tonne, while in Europe it is 25 Euros ($43). Our carbon price should at least be at the European level. 

The Government has agreed to remove the price cap, but it might not happen for another three and a half years. After this the Government has promised to create something called a "cost containment" regime. What a crock. This just clouds the whole issue in politics and confusion. It could only be created by a Coalition that can't agree on anything and reserves the right to fiddle with the market at a moment's notice. 

Businesses need some certainty over the carbon price to invest. This isn't helping. 

2. Phase out the freebies

Currently we give away so many free credits to large exporting emitters (and agriculture) that by 2030 all our emissions allocation will be taken up by these companies. That will leave nothing for the rest of us. We need to start phasing these out, ASAP so our large energy intensive emitters have an incentive to reduce their emissions also.

As for agriculture, given that we have acknowledged methane is different from other greenhouse gases by giving it a different target, it is also time to start renegotiating our international targets accordingly.

3. Get Trees out of the Emissions Trading Scheme  

Trees are fantastic, and we should definitely have more of them in Aotearoa. We particularly need more natives on riverbanks and erosion prone land; I plant a few myself in my spare time. Plantation forestry is also a great option in sensitive catchments where too many nutrients are entering the waterways.

However at the moment New Zealand has so much marginal land that our companies have no need to reduce emissions for the next couple of decades. Instead they will keep on emitting and simply buy up land to plant trees on. There is a risk that we get to 2050 and are still burning a whole lot of fossil fuels. 

We are the only country in the world that allows unlimited use of forestry offsets instead of making emitters actually reduce emissions. As the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has pointed out we need to rethink the way that we encourage appropriate land use. Such an approach needs to take greenhouse gas emissions into account but also water quality and biodiversity. At the very least we need to limit the use of forestry offsets to push the carbon price up and force people to actually reduce emissions.