Offsets, not tricky climate accounting, it’s outrage

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New Zealand has offered tricky accounting to justify its emissions reductions at the world climate summit. But the problem that has masked is what needs our attention, write Rohan MacMahon and Jez Weston.

As the world moves away from COP26, a debate continues to rumble in climate circles: the accounting trick played by New Zealand to demand a 50% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030. This round of The “net emissions versus gross emissions” slap in the face angers a lot of people, and rightly so. But hold back my beer. There is a much bigger issue that needs to be of concern and concern to us: the extent of offshore offsets required to meet our emission reduction targets.

At the end of October, as he headed towards COP26, Climate Change Minister James Shaw announced a review of the National Determined Contribution (NDC) to halve emissions by 2030. At first glance, this looks brave and is actually an improvement over the previous NDC set by John Key. in Paris in 2015. This NDC committed us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% from 2005 levels. This is not enough to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees .

So a 50 percent hike seems necessary and good. But as many reviewers were quick to point out, the actual number is much lower, thanks to a nice accounting trick. The government’s NDC takes a gross-net, average, annual point approach. As Newsroom’s Marc Daalder says, if you convert it to a budget approach, rather than a one-off year, and leave the other accounting tips behind, you get a 41% reduction. This is the figure that is comparable to the old NDC of 30 percent reduction from 2005 levels.

If you do away with gross-net accounting, you get a reduction of around 28-29%. If you remove the average forest sequestration, you get about a 22 percent reduction. Climate action monitoring does a decent job of explaining this.

Is this scandalous? A little, but it’s not unexpected. There are no international standards for NDCs – it’s up to each country to design them. The government is simply following the same methodology used previously. And, let’s face it, Shaw needed a number to bring to Glasgow after the embarrassment of the emissions reduction plan. Fifty percent sounds pretty schmick.

If there is a reason for indignation, it is not the accounting. This is the extent of the compensation needed to get us there. About two-thirds of the planned reductions do not come from actually reducing our emissions, but from purchasing offsets – around 100 million tonnes of emissions saved.

If we’re talking about analogies, it’s like saying you’ll lose weight by paying someone else to walk around the block twice a week.

It’s getting worse. We do not yet know the cost of these compensations. The Climate Change Commission estimates something between $ 2 billion and $ 20 billion. Rising carbon prices this year are pushing these stakes even higher.

What will happen to all this money? We don’t know, but there is a good chance that we are paying other nations to plant trees for us. Lots of trees. Potentially, we would increase our exotic forests by 50 percent, except that the additional half will be overseas.

How are we going to count these trees and measure this carbon? Other rich countries want to buy these offsets as well, so how are we going to make sure that there is no double counting and fun deals like there was under the Kyoto Protocol? Will these forests trap that carbon forever in a world with more droughts and forest fires? Above all, do the inhabitants of these countries have a say in what happens to their land? Will they accept it being bought and tied up by wealthy Westerners?

The government’s plan for the large purchase of offsets is also at odds with the opinion of the Climate Change Commission which opposed a ‘plant and pollute’ model. And that provides more water to critics’ views: Greta Thunberg called the climate finance plan of former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, based on offsets, simply more greenwashing.

We accept that offsets have a useful transitional role to play, as they allow those who want to pay to reduce emissions to do so. But the scale of the compensation required is reckless, unnecessary and frankly outrageous.

Our goal should be to reduce gross emissions. We can do it now, with a faster transition to renewables, electrified transportation and a smarter agriculture sector. There is a huge scope for innovation here with smart Kiwi companies developing real solutions. They see tremendous demand from countries that have committed to reducing gross and non-net emissions.

To put it very simply, we could fight harmful emissions by – wait – by reducing harmful emissions.

Rohan MacMahon and Dr Jez Weston are directors of the Climate Venture Capital Fund



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