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Global warming means political heat

21 May 2000


Global warming means political heat
(652 words)

Within three years, GST could be partly replaced by a carbon tax to help reduce New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to those who make and operate wind turbines.
“Even sooner, there are likely to be energy efficiency regulations for new buildings. Subsidies may also be introduced for household insulation and solar hot water heaters,” Paul van Lieshout, chairperson of the NZ Wind Energy Association says.
“There may even be a ban on the construction of new gas or coal-fired power stations.”
A fortnight ago, Prime Minister Helen Clark announced that the government would ratify the Kyoto Climate Change Protocol in mid-2002. This means New Zealand needs to start reducing emissions of greenhouse gases so they reach 1990 levels by 2012 –- the target under the protocol.
Since 1990, New Zealand’s carbon dioxide output has grown by 30 per cent. While this has been partly offset by a big drop in numbers of methane-belching sheep, overall emissions are continuing to grow.
The carbon dioxide comes from transport (45 per cent), electricity generation (18 per cent), residential (1%) and industry and commerce (36 per cent). Of New Zealand’s electricity, 77 per cent of it is generated from renewable sources, like hydro dams and 23 per cent from coal and gas.
“Some tough decisions will have to be made. But we must start now,” van Lieshout says.
“Already, in Australia, energy companies have to generate more of their electricity each year from renewable sources like wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and biomass.
“Electricity users in the backblocks are being subsidised to convert from diesel to renewables. City households who install photo-voltaic systems are eligible for cash rebates.”
He says achieving the target in the energy sector will be easier than for many countries. New Zealand has excellent renewable energy sources.
But van Lieshout predicts the process will be politically fraught. Not just at a party political level, but between sector groups and between governments.
“For instance, the Kyoto protocol allows countries to trade in carbon credits. They can also offset the output of carbon dioxide by creating ‘carbon sinks’, such as planting new forests, which lock up carbon.”
Van Lieshout says this may sound straight forward, and it may help New Zealand. But he points out that governments are already arguing about the definition of a forest, so relying on this solution is very risky.
Here in New Zealand he says there is likely to be conflict between those industries, like farming, which have cut their greenhouse gas outputs and those which have had an increase. Farmers are likely to ask to be ‘ring-fenced’, and for instance, excluded from a carbon tax on diesel, on the basis that they’ve already done their bit.
“A carbon tax would be the biggest hot potato of them all,” van Lieshout believes.
“Government would probably make it fiscally neutral, so it is not seen as just another tax. This means consumers would pay less for nearly everything except energy. And Treasury says it would be easy to devise and cheap to collect.
“But that doesn’t take into account our national love affair with the motor vehicle.”
One thing is certain, he says. If the process is left to the free market, the Kyoto targets won’t be achieved. Other countries have realised this, and moved to provide extra help.
“The Ministry of Commerce predicts that by 2020, in the absence of any policy changes, 35 per cent of our electricity would be generated from fossil fuels –- gas and coal –- up from 23 per cent today.”
Wind turbines are the fastest growing energy technology in the world. New factories and new jobs are being created in Australia and elsewhere. The cost of wind power is dropping rapidly, van Lieshout says.
"However, so long as fossil fuel generators are not required to pay their share of the costs of global warming, New Zealand will miss out on these exciting developments.”


For more information, please contact
Paul van Lieshout, Tel 04 495 8505 or Mobile 021 519 085


Ian Shearer, manager, NZ Wind Energy Association
Tel 025 306 004

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