In The Field

Carbon conference: The other election

Before signing off for the conference, I figured I would highlight one other bit of news that cropped up yesterday. It involves a major national election and a peaceful power change that could shift a government’s policy on global warming emissions. And no, it has nothing to do with Barack Obama.

While the world’s eyes were on a sharp turn to the left in the United States, New Zealand held its own elections on Saturday – and moved sharply to the right. Apparently one of parties – ACT – that stands to gain is sceptical about global warming and has promised to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol. And all of this comes at a time when New Zealand is implementing a potentially groundbreaking cap-and-trade program designed to regulate all greenhouse gas emissions, including the difficult stuff like agriculture and development that is cutting down native forests.

I’m getting most of my information from Tim Denne, a private consultant who spoke at the conference and has been working for the New Zealand government as it develops and implements the regulations. Denne said the impacts in terms of climate policy are still unclear, but he remains optimistic. “I don’t think they will change the fundamental design, rather they will just throw around a few additional allowances,” Denne said.

“Allowances” in a cap-and-trade system are in essence permits to pollute, with one allowance equalling a tonne of carbon dioxide. If you don’t have an allowance, you can’t pollute. So by limiting the overall number of allowances, the government can limit overall greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, Denne believes the incoming government might be forced to compromise on just how onerous the regulatory system will be.

So there you go. We’ll see what happens.


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