Sunday, October 28, 2012

Brother can you spare $3.10 for a tonne of carbon dioxide?

In which Robin Johnson's Economics Web Page laments the homelessness and begging now seen each day on Lambton Quay in Wellington. And a lament for both the downward spiral of the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme and the downward spiral of the New Zealand spot price for a tonne of carbon dioxide - now less than the cost of a flat white. Brother, can you spare $NZ3.10 for a tonne of carbon dioxide?

The other day I looked up the old Tin Pan Alley song "Brother can you spare a dime?" The experience of poverty and the Depression in America summed up in a popular song. The lyrics were written by Yip Harburg in 1931, and the music was composed by Jay Gorney. The version by Al Jolson is very well known, but I like this version by Charlie Palloy and his Orchestra.

I looked up "Brother can you spare a dime?" as I was thinking about homelessness and poverty in New Zealand. I am not the only one. Churchs, charities, politicians, experts and academics are also concerned about poverty in New Zealand.

I see homelessness and poverty every weekday in Wellington's main CBD thoroughfare, Lambton Quay. I walk along Lambton Quay looking forward to the first coffee of the day. I usually note how many people are begging. There are almost always a few people begging on Lambton Quay. 'Brother can you spare a dime' is alive and well even on Lambton Quay.

Except it's sad cardboard signs saying 'Homeless and need help'. Also its at least $3 to $4 for a coffee.

The other price thats less than the cost of a flat white is the spot price of carbon dioxide in NZ. The carbon trader OMF reports NZ spot prices each day at CommTrade Carbon. Guess what? On 17 October, the day Parliament's Finance and Expenditure Select Committee reported on the latest amendments to the NZETS, the last trade of a New Zealand Unit ('NZU', a tonne of carbon dioxide) was at $3.10.

OMF also display a chart. It shows the collapse of the international carbon price reflected in our own plucky little battler NZETS. It certainly looks pear-shaped.

As the political philosopher Simon Caney and economist Cameron Hepburn note with a little British understatement, when the demand for permits falls to the extent that the permit price approaches zero, it is difficult to conclude that an ETS is working to reduce emissions.

Can any sane person look at this chart and reach any other conclusion than the NZETS has completely failed as a carbon price policy incentivising reduction in GHG emissions?

OMF originally committed the chart sin of not starting the vertical (price) axis at $0. However, reality has intruded. As the New Zealand Unit (NZU) price has relentlessly declined towards $0, they keep having to move the bottom of their chart closer to zero. That would almost be a small bit of humour in a pretty sad story. If it wasn't the empirical evidence of the failure of the design of the NZETS as a policy to price greenhouse gas emissions.

If the $3.10/tonne NZU price is the death notice of the NZETS, the funeral must be the latest Finance and Expenditure Select Committee process to amend the NZETS. On 17 October 2012, this committee released its report Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading and Other Matters) Amendment Bill

This is the National Government's bill to further weaken the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme. You know, indefinitely delay the entry of agriculture, make the half-price "two-for-one" transition permanent.

If you can quickly recover your will to live after digesting page after page of bureaucratic and political policy denial and excuse-making, and the complete failure of the National Government majority to engage at all with the minority political parties or submitters or ENGOs or the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, download and read the 117-page report.

Otherwise, just read Patrick Smellie's report "No restrictions on foreign-sourced carbon credits confirmed"

"The Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading and Other Matters) Bill was reported back to parliament by the finance and expenditure select committee with only technical amendments, and a decision that capping the use of foreign credits would compromise the emissions trading scheme principle of "least cost of compliance".
The policy has seen major emitters such as oil and electricity companies snap up some of the lowest cost carbon units available on global markets, where prices have slumped to as little as $2 a tonne.
New Zealand Units, issued by the government, continue to be worth slightly more, at around $3 a tonne, but well below the $25 a tonne maximum price put on carbon when the ETS was introduced in 2009."

Or just read the press release from WWF-New Zealand.

This is another nail in the coffin for New Zealand's credibility on climate change and suggests the government has no intention of trying to set this country's emissions on a downward path. Other parties in the UN climate talks will rightly see New Zealand's claims to be doing something to reduce emissions as all spin and no substance."

What a complete shambles! Why didn't we just have a no-exceptions carbon tax in the first place?

They used to tell me I was building a dream,
and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear,
I was always there right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream,
with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Why don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?