29 August 2011

The Folly of Emissions Trading: New Zealand and Europe

Coming Clean - New Zealand's Emissions Trading Scheme Explained from Lindsay Horner on Vimeo.

The video above was brought to my attention by a student in my graduate seminar this term.  It was done by one of his classmates in grad school in New Zealand (Thanks Adam!).  The video is exceedingly well done.  If you have 15 minutes and are interested in the debacle that is New Zealand's carbon policy, have a look.

News from Europe is similarly discouraging about the prospects for emissions trading, EurActiv reports:
European chemical manufacturers are covertly venting huge quantities of the powerful 'super greenhouse gas' HFC-23, according to a study by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA).

The report, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, says that Western Europe's emissions of HFC-23s – an 'F' or fluorinated gas mainly used as a refrigerant – are between 60-140% higher than officially reported.

Italy alone was found to be emitting 10-20 times more HFC-23s than it officially reports. The greenhouse gas has a global warming potential which is 14,800 times higher than CO2.
The UK and the Netherlands also emitted around twice as much as they claimed, although the figures for France and Germany were "within the reported values".

"We think it is scandalous," Clare Perry, a campaigner for the Environmental Investigations Agency, told EurActiv. "These gases have a very high global warming potential over a short timeline."
EMPA, the Swiss agency that conducted the research, explains the significance:
International agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) basically have one snag: it is almost impossible to independently verify whether participating countries abide by the agreement. Thus the evaluation of whether or not the countries have achieved their reduction targets is based on the official reports by the countries that are signatories to the UNFCCC (‘United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’). If they report reduced emissions they're sitting pretty; if not, they are pilloried.
Some might say that the response should be more regulation, more reporting, more rules -- all negotiated through a comprehensive global framework. Of course, that approach hasn't gotten very far to date.


  1. I'm not sure what she means by 'over a short timeline'. HFC-23 lasts hundreds of years in the atmosphere.

    Italian industry corrupt? Who would have guessed! Thanks heavens, when we get the Chinese on board with cap and trade, there will be none of this sort of nonsense going on with them!

  2. Sorry for the second post, but I have a question, and it's a real question, not snark. Suppose instead you have a carbon tax on GHGs. What's to prevent this sort of cheating? Evading tax is a way of life not just in Italy, but in a lot of southern European countries. And I suspect it's even worse in India and China.

  3. Does this mean the problem of "missing heat" is even worse than predicted?

  4. Brian sends this comment in by email:

    ""Not more regulations and rules, but tighter ones. By this I mean scientifically-auditable criteria, not just a new template or Excel
    sheet in which you fill in the blanks.

    ISO 14064-1 (for inventories) encourages using other protocols (such as WRI and WBCSB) alongside it. These two have ~21 should/shall
    clauses which, if implemented alongside ISO, should suffice. Maybe ISO 14064-1 "should" make the use of these protocols part of its
    standard, and maybe ISO (or a better standard) "should" be used to submit these inventories in the first place."

  5. I'd love to read ISO 14064, but ISO charges 98 CHF for the .pdf. At current exchange rates, that's about $10,000 (;-)).

    I guess our betters have decided private citizens should not have unfettered access to important international standards documents.

  6. Great production on that video!

    Two things I'm unclear on:

    1) When the video is representing the 90% credit to carbon-intensive industries as a cost to taxpayers, does that cost represent what those credits will cost New Zealand under Kyoto once 2012 rolls around, or is the government actually taxing people for them now @ 12.50/ton and putting the revenue into tree planting, R&D, etc?

    2) Since a large portion of New Zealand's commercial forestry goes to lumber and pulp, where much of the carbon could sequestered for many decades, they shouldn't be held responsible for all the carbon in the trees upon harvesting, as the video suggests, should they?

  7. Yes,

    I too found the video confusing with its talk of costs to the taxpayers from the free credits given to polluters. In what sense a cost - money (actual $$s) extracted from whom and paid to whom??

  8. -6,7-free carbon credits

    My understanding is that the credits are given away, meaning that the value that they have on the open market becomes property of industry rather than having their value monetized for the public.

  9. As long as the government doesn't buy carbon credits back there is no cost to the taxpayer. Only a similar logic to the use of the term tax expenditures (the government is giving you money when they don't take it all in taxes) would say that giving away carbon credits is a cost to taxpayers.