Day 2 of climate conference

Very well attended, an absolutely excellent effort from the Institute of Policy Studies. Very timely as we’re all trying to work out what to do now that we’re not going to have a carbon tax (short answer to what next – hey, how about a carbon tax?)

More points from the conference:

Everyone says something must be done.
Whatever is to be done needs to be implemented within one or two political cycles.

Whatever is to be done needs to be an enduring and long-term policy.
Whatever we do, we probably won’t get it right first off, so we’ll need to adjust it.
The last two statements clash.

We need to find a balance between stopping bad things from happening and being ready when they do. But, New Orleans could have spent $20 billion over ten years raising their flood defenses so that hurricane Katrina would have just bounced off. They didn’t coz it was too expensive. Then Katrina hit and cost them $200 billion. That’s ten times as much. Oh, and two thousand people died. Whoops.

Two approaches to getting the public and business on-board to make a difference:
1) Admit the costs, there will be short-term pain for long-term gain.
2) Look for win-win solutions in the short term to make a difference and convince public that the problem is solvable.

People want a politically sustainable solution, so want cross-party agreement on this. But political parties have clashing ideas, about who should pay and when, and how much we should lead or follow the rest of the world, or ou local region (e.g. why should the NZ gov disadvantage our businesses when the Australian gov isn’t disadvantaging Oz businesses?)
[I’d suggest that a solution here lies in depoliticising the debate, that the question of is it happening is a scientific one, and what to do about it is a economic one, so there’s no politics involved, but I might be being rather naive there.]
[Yes, what we do is a drop in the ocean, but I’d also suggest that beyond the moral issue of doing our bit, there’s a benefit to NZ’s economy from being a leader. We export to rich nations that are doing something about it. If we lead them on climate change action, then we keep on benefiting from the ‘clean green nz’ image, and by benefit I mean we can charge them more for what we sell them. If we lag them on climate change action, their consumers will make it cost us.]

Nick Smith asked about what’s the difference in costs between doing something and doing nothing:
The costs of doing something about it are large and we pay now and don’t benefit for decades.
The costs of doing nothing about it are more variable, probably larger, possibly huge, but we don’t pay now. Which gives us two questions:
1) If we don’t know the payback on pouring money into adapting and mitigating, then
how do we justify that spend?
2) Its a question of intergenerational equity, how much do we spend, how much do our children spend?
[And its a moral issue. We have a say in the international debate because we have the credibility that comes from doing our bit. The more we lead the actions, the more we can lead the debate.]

Easy solution: work less, buy less, party more. This was seriously suggested.

There are poorly known risks of tipping points that lead to positive feedback from natural systems, which may make climate sensitivity worse as warming happens. Oh bugger.

The costs are horribly non-linear. By that, I mean that if, for example, the maximum wind speed goes up by 25%, then the costs of repairing wind-damage to buildings does not go up by 25%. No, it goees up by 650%. Whoops.

Tony Blair again called climate change the most important long-term issue, urgent and getting worse at an accelerating rate. NZ is well positioned to prosletise, agitate and demonstrate solutions, to lead by example.
[Tony Blair, 20 foot high on video link, but with sound delayed by half a second so he looks like zombie Big Brother, is just plain scary]

Climate change is already causing wars. The slaughter in Dafur is partially a result of water access. When it really kicks in, then there will be massive migration from the interior of Africa, India and possibly East Europe. And that kind of thing never happens without a bit of a kerfuffle.

Lots of people talked about the need to put a clear price on carbon. Simon Upton talked about signalling this price well ahead and having it rise at a rate compatible with the replacement of long-term investments in generation and infrastucture and a lot of people agreed with him.

Simon Upton also talked about NZ’s key role for a technological solution, that of our research into cows and sheep belching methane. This makes up about 30% of our greenhouse gas emissions. We have an advantage in the research on this, especially as most of the European research is aimed at animals that are not pasture-fed. Still, we’re only spending $4 million/year on this. He called this not enough and he’s damn right.

The next agreement after Kyoto runs out in 2012 will need to involve developing world and US. Will also need to help shift developing countries onto sustainable development paths.

EU carbon trading prices have risen strongly. Emissions trading offers the least-cost way to reach a certain level of emissions. Energy security was discussed as a big new driver for better policy. The EU doesn’t want to depend on Russian gas; no-one wants to depend on volatile oil, gas and coal prices.

There is serious international money wanting to invest in carbon markets and climate-change safe businesses. Insurers are very, very worried. The cyclones hitting Queensland will get much worse. One worst case scenario saw a cyclone over Brisbane, across land where one million people live and there is $150 billion of property. Assuming only 1% damage, that’s still a huge cost. The recent cyclone in N Queensland basically destroyed houses built before 1980. Then they changed the building regs and houses since then were okay. So we can prepare for and survive these changes, but only if we start decades ahead, because we can’t replace every house in NZ overnight.

Growing biofuels can be done on a large enough scale to make a difference without limiting food production or wild areas. It also sucks up excess nutrients from the soil, so doing this around Lake Taupo could solve the nitrification problem there.

We mislead ourselves into not acting on climate change. We need to correct those misperceptions. It is a solvable problem.

So yeah, holy crap, brain full. This was two days of talking on a very high level and scale. What does this mean for the person on the street. Well, I’m not here to scare people, I don’t think it helps. And I don’t care whether you believe in the science or not, despite the massive amounts of evidence to say that climate change is happening and that we’re causing it. I just want you to make a difference. So tomorrow (or maybe this arvo) I’m going to write down what you can do about it. And for every single thing, I’m going to put reasons why you, yourself will benefit from doing these things. I know I’m probably preaching to the converted here, and you’re not the people who’s minds need to change, but even if you don’t give a damn about the planet, I’m going to find reasons why you should take the actions that will help everyone else on this earth.

And lots of press coverage. Go press people!

And oops. Light bulb linky. Get one now.

7 thoughts on “Day 2 of climate conference

  1. tony blair: hee hee
    other stuff: wow, very, very cool. Thanks for reporting this stuff. otherwise, well, I probably wouldn’t have heard about it. Extremely interesting.

    it’s like a slow motion car crash that I’ve suddenly got fascinated with.

  2. I’d suggest that a solution here lies in depoliticising the debate, that the question of is it happening is a scientific one, and what to do about it is a economic one, so there’s no politics involved, but I might be being rather naive there.

    I don’t think you’re naive about that idea, but I think that science and economics can be equally party-political ie, scientists and economists often have their own agendas. But I think you’re right about depoliticising the debate. It can happen either by moving it into the public realm, but my feeling is that there just aren’t enough well-informed, motivated people in NZ to achieve this. But then, the West Coast logging was stopped entirely by well-organised public pressure.

    Post that stuff about how we can make a difference. And even the converted feel demoralised or don’t know what they can do to help, sometimes. I will also link to it and email it to people who aren’t converted.

  3. You’re dreaming

    I’d suggest that a solution here lies in depoliticising the debate, that the question of is it happening is a scientific one, and what to do about it is a economic one, so there’s no politics involved, but I might be being rather naive there.

    Have you seen the junk “science” ACT, fringe Nats, and United Future are latching on to in this area? Or the anti-environmentalist money pouring in from the States, either to attack political parties, or via organisations like Maxim?

      1. Fabulous

        Perhaps this explains why National Party support is up, while Don Brash is announcing that (a) there is no such thing as climate change because there’s no credible evidence, (b) it’s not human-caused if there is, (c) it’s too expensive to fix even if (a) and (b) were true, and (d) his party will maintain an opposition to any environmental moves based on such, out of principle.

        That would be the party with 40-50% of the vote.

          1. Re: Fabulous

            Clearly he’s radically changed his view from last year: In order for National to justify participation in the protocol, it would need to be convinced that global warming was occurring and that the sacrifices were commensurate to any potential gain.

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