Editorial: Saving our planet

The misleading and alarmist figures being propagated by the ACT Party and Federated Farmers about the cost of the carbon emissions trading scheme which will start in July are a last gasp from groups that have had difficulty accepting the idea at all.

In their latest scaremongering, ACT and Federated Farmers have suggested that the financial impact of the scheme in higher fuel and electricity prices has been seriously underplayed by the Government and that consumers, and particularly farmers, are in for an unpleasant shock when the scheme begins.

The tactic is futile, but as it happens the argument is over relatively trifling sums anyway. Measured against the aim of the scheme – to reduce the wasteful and damaging use of carbon-based fuels and play a part in protecting the long-term future of the planet – the costs of it will be insignificant.

That prices will go up after the ETS is introduced is undeniable. That is the point of the scheme – to make a charge for carbon emissions so that users – from giant manufacturers down to individual consumers – will be induced to find other, more planet-friendly sources of energy.

But the impact on households, as the Prime Minister, John Key, said this week, is expected to be modest. While petrol is expected to go up 3c a litre and electricity by about 5 per cent, for the typical household the increased spending overall is expected to amount to just $3 a week.

It is not surprising that the ACT Party and Federated Farmers are still trying to stir up disgruntlement with the scheme. ACT, in particular, has never supported the concept of an emissions trading scheme and would like to kill it entirely. The party stubbornly continues to reject the compelling scientific evidence for man-made global warming and the necessity for governments to take action on it. This fringe attitude makes its opinions on the subject count for little.

Critics of New Zealand's decision to go ahead with the scheme often point to the huge policy reversal in Australia, where the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, facing intense pressure before an election due soon, not only reneged on an election promise and dropped Australia's scheme, he also said that Australia was postponing its decision on any scheme until after a successor agreement to the Kyoto protocol is reached.

That is likely to be years away. While that is regrettable, Australia will not necessarily have any economic advantage over New Zealand. It is undertaking measures in the meantime to encourage the use of sustainable energy which will mean, among other things, the Australian power prices will rise by more than 7 per cent, far ahead of anything expected in New Zealand.

It is impossible also for New Zealand, as a nation heavily reliant on access to export markets around the world, to ignore the fact that other countries are already looking askance at trading partners who drag their feet on carbon emissions. Some 29 countries have emissions trading schemes and are unlikely to view favourably goods from countries that ignore their global responsibilities.

Even China, which was largely responsible for the failure of the round of climate talks in Copenhagen late last year, is showing signs of a new sensibility on the issue. The major theme of its giant expo in Shanghai at the moment is the urgency of the need to create sustainable cities.

The latest indication of the way the rest of the world is going is the report today that Europe, in the midst of severe financial difficulties, is planning ambitious new targets to combat global warming. The new aim is to cut emissions by 30 per cent on 1990 levels in just 10 years time.

Because of the economic downturn emissions are already 14 per cent below 1990 levels. The European Union is determined that any recovery, when it comes, will not include a return to the profligacy in carbon-based energy consumption of the past.

New Zealand's contribution to global carbon emissions is minute. But no-one will excuse the country from doing what we can to play our part in reducing them and we should not attempt to excuse ourselves from our global responsibilities.

The Press