Kate MacNamara: Storm brewing for the Climate Change Commission
Reminder, this is a Premium article and requires a subscription to read. Rod Carr, chair of the Climate Change Commission. Photo / Supplied OPINION: At the end of January New Zealand's newly formed Climate Change Commission dropped a draft report of seismic proportions. The suite of proposals aims to sideline the main mechanism for reducing and offsetting New Zealand's man-made carbon emissions until now, the Emissions Trading Scheme. It would declare peak meat and dairy (our most valuable exports) and reduce livestock numbers from here. And through a range of policy sticks, carrots and bans, it would have the Government reach into our living rooms and our driver's seats, dictating everything from how we heat our homes to how we get to work, in a slew of new, invasive, but surprisingly inexpensive ways. What a relief. All of this government rewiring of life to meet our greenhouse gas emissions targets is hardly going to cost us a penny: just under 1 per cent of the GDP we would otherwise reach in 2050. That's considerably less than the 5 to 8 per cent of GDP estimated by NZIER in 2019. Now we can all take a well-earned nap, secure in the knowledge that we aren't over-spending to reach this aim; that we aren't deluding ourselves in thinking it will be so cheap; and, that we aren't relying too heavily on one teensy assumption (that could blow that minimal cost estimate out by orders of magnitude). Sleep well, unless you are inclined to be disturbed by a rising mutter of discontent, largely emanating from behind closed doors. Last week a coalition of over a dozen New Zealand business and industry groups - including heavyweight exporters DairyNZ and the Meat Industry Association, Federated Farmers, mining group Straterra, the Motor Industry Association, the New Zealand Initiative, and BusinessNZ - penned a formal letter to Rod Carr, chair of the Climate Change Commission. "We are pleased that the commission has, in response to requests, begun to release the models and underlying data that supports the commission's findings," it said. "However, to constructively contribute submissions so that the commission is as well-informed as possible, we must be able to thoroughly review and comment on data and models which will influence major decisions about the future of our economy and society." "Given the delay in the release of crucial modelling data (not all of which is out yet)," the letter asked for an extension of the March 14th deadline for submissions by at least two weeks. It's a considerable failure that the commission neglected to release this data three weeks ago, along with the draft report. And the drip-feed of information, less than three weeks from the submission deadline, now threatens to reduce the window of public consultation to theatre. So far, the commission has released peer reviews of its modelling approach and some underlying data. On February 10th, it also held a workshop to discuss the modelling, though the models themselves were not released. It also has a second webinar session to discuss "cost conclusions" scheduled for February 23rd. Critically, the commission has not provided either sensitivity analysis nor the marginal abatement costs, broken out by industry. That data matters. Sensitivity work helps economists to understand just how precarious that "less than 1 per cent of GDP" figure is. Will it alter significantly with slight adjustments to inputs? And the industry data for abatement cost would allow interested parties to properly test the assumptions the commission has made. A commission spokesperson said it was unable to answer questions before the Herald's deadline on Monday. But one reason Carr has given for withholding information is the use of some US$6000 worth of proprietary global trade data from the Department of Agriculture Economics at Purdue University. It isn't clear why this data can't simply be stripped out. In an emailed response to the letter signatories, Carr also said the board of the commission will consider the request for more time. But he didn't sound hopeful. "As you know the commission has a deadline to deliver its final advice on or before 31 May 2021. Evaluating submissions and determining the impact of submissions on our draft advice also needs adequate time," he wrote. That constraint could be removed with the stroke of a pen, though admittedly not Carr's. Insiders say that Carr is to discuss the timeline later this week with Climate Change Minister James Shaw. Shaw's office did not respond to questions by the Herald's deadline. The Government has promised to use the commission's final report to develop the country's first emissions reduction budget later this year. And no doubt the Prime Minister would love to have a plan in time to tout it at the upcoming UN climate change summit, known as CAP26, in November. But that's just public relations. The public's best interest lies in full transparency and two extra weeks to digest the commission's work and make thoughtful submissions. The hurdles are only manufactured deadlines on the road to an objective some 30 years hence. Reminder, this is a Premium article and requires a subscription to read. NZ Aerospace Summit in Christchurch hit by protest - which promises escalation tomorrow.