Creating a fair carbon trading system or emissions tax is important in the climate change battle, but funding is also needed for vital research into alternative energy, a United States expert told politicians today.
Stanford University environmental scientist Professor Stephen Schneider told a select committee set up last year to look at climate change policy that it was vital people had incentives to reduce carbon emissions.
If there were no legislative changes in the way countries went about reducing emissions, people would not work as hard to invent alternatives or would do it with impunity.
Prof Schneider presented International Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) data giving scenarios about long-term sea level rises, potential polar ice sheet melt and temperature increases.
One set of data showed scenarios for estimated temperature increases between the year 2000 and 2100 ranging from 1.1degC to 6.4degC.
The projections varied with uncertainties including the level of carbon emissions expected.
Prof Schneider said the 6.4degC projection would be considered by most scientists to be a potentially catastrophic scenario.
Assessing which scenario was more likely depended a lot on predicting future human behaviour in terms of mitigation.
He also spoke about a potential 5m sea level rise if the Greenland ice sheet melted, but said there w ere only theories as to what level of global temperature increase would induce such a catastrophe.
His own assessment was that a rise of over 2degC was more likely than not to cause the sheet to melt.
Prof Schneider was quick to dismiss some of the scepti cism relating to global warming and said all countries had a responsibility to reduce emissions, but had to ensure it was done on a level playing field.
He urged New Zealand to continue working towards implementing a fair carbon trading or tax system, but also to explore other incentives at the same time, including support for energy efficiency research.
Improving energy efficiency was the single cheapest and best way to achieve emissions reductions, and California was a good example.
The state had 50 per cent of the emissions per capita and energy use per capita of the rest of the country, and was 100 per cent better than Texas.
"The reason is that California has a 35-year history of performance standards, building codes, refrigerator and air conditioner standards. . ."
The equated to electricity savings of billions of dollars each year.
Prof Schneider said funding was needed to entice people to get serious about finding energy efficiency solutions.
"Someone is going to make a trillion dollars when they invent a really efficient solar thermal system for storage."
There were other potential methods, but again, they needed experimentation and plenty of funding.
He said he was asked by a senator in the United States to suggest how much in loan guarantees would be needed to get some momentum and impact on the energy efficiency front, and gave a figure of $US40 ($NZ75) billion.
He was told that was "impossible" in the current financial climate, but replied that a trillion dollars had just been committed to bailing out "a bunch of greedy bankers who were under-regulated".
"Why can't we spend 5 per cent of that every year to try and get planetary sustainability and long term energy systems that will sustain the economy?" he said.
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