New Zealand Climate Commission Accused of Carbon Accounting Tricks

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Robert Lachlan, Distinguished Professor of Applied Mathematics at Massey University, has accused the New Zealand climate commission of using dubious accounting tricks to exaggerate New Zealands progress towards achieving emissions reduction goals.

Why the Climate Change Commission’s targets are so weak

Robert McLachlan
05:00, Mar 13 2021

OPINION: Of all the many things the Climate Change Commission has been asked to advise on, the emission budgets are the most important. These describe the total amount of all greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

They admit that simply meeting the global average isn’t enough (we’re a rich country whose historical contribution to climate change is about six times the world average). And yet, the proposed budget of 628m tonnes is higher than 564m tonnes. They invite the public to comment – submissions close on March 28.

But it’s worse than that. These figures reflect the particular carbon accounting methods which have been applied by the commission. The choices that have been made make our contribution – “a 30 per cent reduction on 2005 levels by 2030” – look far better than it really would be.

The first of these is called “gross-net accounting”. The 2030 target is for netemissions: we get to subtract off the carbon stored in trees from our gross emissions from burning fossil fuels and agriculture. Yet, it’s compared to gross emissions in the baseline year. This artificially bumps up our past emissions, making the future targets look better. 

The second is shifting the base year. Many climate targets use a base year of 1990. For example, the EU has a target of reducing emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990. (That works out to at least a 41 per cent reduction over 2018–2030.) 

By shifting the base year to 2005, we are letting ourselves off the hook for our rapid increases in emissions in the 1990s. Again, choosing higher baseline emissions in the past makes the targets look better.

The third is the treatment of forestry. Here there are two main choices, Greenhouse Gas International (GHGI) accounting and Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) accounting. The first is used by all countries in their annual reports to the UN, the second arose out of the Kyoto Agreement.

Read more: https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/climate-news/124520105/why-the-climate-change-commissions-targets-are-so-weak

If professor McLachlan’s analysis is correct, in my opinion, “cheating” is a reasonable description of New Zealand’s questionable carbon target accounting tricks.

I’m a bit shocked. I thought the New Zealand government was completely nuts for planning on sacrificing their economy on the altar of the carbon god, but I thought they were making a genuine effort to achieve their emissions reductions. It never occurred to me that they were also planning to cheat.

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March 13, 2021 at 12:15PM

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