23 Apr 2019

Majority of ETS submitters accept purchase of overseas carbon credits

10:15 am on 23 April 2019

Only a tiny minority of people submitting to the government on climate change think that New Zealand should do all the hard work by itself.

A pine forest.

A pine forest. Photo: 123RF

The vast majority want this country to be able to buy carbon credits from other countries that do the heavy lifting on our behalf.

This has become evident from a summary of submissions on proposed changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme.

That scheme is up for review and a summary of submissions to that review has just been published by the Ministry for the Environment.

The list contained 253 comments from individuals and organisations.

Of those, a total of 115 got into the issue of buying greenhouse gas emissions from other countries.

Only 15 argued that such credits should be banned.

They said that New Zealand should reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions itself, not pay other countries to do it on our behalf.

This could be achieved by driving fewer or cleaner cars, converting more farmland to forestry or eating more plant-based protein and less meat.

But the vast majority of submitters thought buying from overseas was fine.

They differed on issues like whether emitters such as oil companies should be buy from overseas directly, or whether they should have to do so via the government.

The government's official position is that overseas credits should be limited in number, if the reform process ends up agreeing to accept them in principle.

Overseas credits for emissions reductions have been used before, notably from Russia and Ukraine.

These were banned in 2015 because of doubts that they were genuine.

It is understood future international credits would be required to have more integrity.

An example is sometimes given: countries could pay to plant a rainforest in Colombia and offset their own emissions against the carbon absorbed by the growing trees.

However many countries could want to take part in this, so the price for participating nations like New Zealand could become quite high.

All this relates to the Paris agreement that aims to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius at least and 1.5C if possible.

Another issue that emerged from the Ministry of the Environment's summary of submissions is a belief that agriculture should be included in the Emissions Trading Scheme.

In fact, the status of agriculture in the Emissions Trading Scheme was not part of the discussion's process.

This is being left to the Climate Change Commission and its junior sibling, the Interim Climate Change Commission.

But 50 of 253 organisations submitted anyway.

Many argued that almost half of all greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, and exempting this huge quantum from the Emissions Trading Scheme put a greater burden on everyone else.

Others said New Zealand would never meet its own goals on emissions reductions without dealing with all gases in the atmosphere and all sectors in the economy.

They added putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture would lead to more efficient decisions about what to do with that land in the first place.

But some submitters took a different view, highlighting the difference between agriculture's short-lived methane emissions and long-lived gases from other sectors, such as Carbon Dioxide.

And there were arguments that farmers were already being treated unfairly by not getting greenhouse gas credits for forests growing on their farms.

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