Thursday, June 28, 2012

Gordon Campbell asks has Peak Oil Peaked?

New Zealand journalist Gordon Campbell has just written an interesting feature "Has The Peak Oil Idea Peaked?" in his on-line publication "Werewolf". Campbell's key point is that there are now increasing volumes of unconventional oil and gas production entering the market. And that the old oil barons and the new unconventional oil barons both want to maintain prices that a) make shale oil and tar sands profitable b) don't rise so much as to incentivise renewble energy sources and c) don't cause dropping demand as was the case in 2008.
...both the new and the old oil and gas suppliers have a common interest in the price staying out of the basement, and up in the mid-range. The conventional players within OPEC and the big players outside it can live with Brent prices in the $90-100 price range. Go any higher, and the fear both within and beyond OPEC is that this could cause a re-run of the latter half of 2008, when sky-high oil prices sparked a massive global investment in alternative, cleaner forms of energy. For the industry, the trick will be to keep prices just high enough to protect the profit margins that are required (on top of the higher costs of exploration and extraction) but without throwing renewables a life line. That’s going to be the challenge: let prices rise too high and renewables will get breathing space.
...the frackers and the deepwater oil and gas explorers...need the price to stay relatively high (maybe just south of $100 a barrel) to deliver a return on their relatively expensive activities. Trouble is, the break-even estimates do vary quite widely on this point – with anything from $60-130 a barrel being cited as the break-even point for fracking when conceived as anything more than a hit and run operation.
As the IEA says its not a good outlook for renewable energy to replace fossil fuel energy quickly enough to avert dangerous climate change. Campbell concludes:
the environmental imperatives behind the peak oil concept remain. Thanks to the resilience of the fossil fuel industry though, the political battle has suddenly become a whole lot harder.
Campbell's feature is well worth reading.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Phil O'Reilly of Business New Zealand says Hands off our Emitters Trading Scheme handouts

Business New Zealand the eponymous lobby group is putting a proverbial head above the parapet and expressing a view on the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (the NZETS). Robin Johnson's Economics Web Page argues that the NZETS gives us the "Eyes Glaze Over" syndrome as it is a flogged dead horse. The NZETS is toothless by design. In both respects, Business NZ has got the NZETS exactly how they want it.

Phil O'Reilly, the CEO of business lobby group Business NZ, has just written an opinion piece in the New Zealand Herald on the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (the NZETS).

Okay, I think I can guess what you are thinking.

"Oh no, an article about the NZETS...just the mention of it sucks the life out of me. I bet it has attracted a whole lot of crackpot denier comments. It's so complex and full of jargon I don't really know what to think about it. I find the whole subject just a turn-off. My Eyes are Glazing Over.

Yes. This is the entirely natural MEGO response. You need to fight it! Most mentions of the NZETS descend into flogging the dead horse in order for the snake to swallow the elephant in the room.

We need to realise that this ETS-inertia politically assists the parties who gain from the current NZETS. That is of course, the big emitter business members of Business NZ. So, obtain a coffee or other stimulant and return. I can help you through this. I have waded through Phil O'Reilly's NZETS musings so you don't have to.

Turning to Phil O'Reilly's article, at first reading it seems a confusing mix of criticism of the NZETS and also some praise.

The criticisms; NZETS policies are uncertain, there has been lost of tinkering and amending - this is bad for investors and even low carbon investors.

"We need to stop the politicking, get the settings fixed, and just let the ETS get on with it its job."

The praise:

"The framework is fundamentally sound and capable of allowing a stronger price signal to flow through once the international carbon market revives...Major design changes at this point are unnecessary since higher carbon prices are almost certainly on the horizon, especially if Europe recovers."

What on earth is Phil O'Reilly on about? I can't decide which is further from reality; that the NZETS has a sound framework, or that the European economies are about to recover!

However, facts and internal consistency just don't matter in a business op-ed about the NZETS. A bit of criticism is a useful dog whistle to the fringe of climate change deniers. Sure enough, they pop up in the comments section including New Zealand's favourite energy expert Bryan Leyland. The wingnuts perform the function of making Phil O'Reilly look centrist and therefore reasonable.

And, according to the flogging the dead horse theory, it doesn't matter what you say about the NZETS, the mere mention of it induces ennui. So the more yada yada yada, the better.

But! Let me focus on the bottom-line meta-message from Phil O'Reilly. It is "Hand offs the generous free allocation of emissions units to emitters" as indicated in this quote.

"The allocation of free units allowed under the ETS is not a subsidy but a necessary protection against an uneven playing field."

Business NZ have a history of lobbying very effectively against having an effective carbon price. In particular, for the NZETS, they have lobbied very hard and successfully for generous free allocation of emissions units to big emitters. Its useful to look back at the history of this.

In 2005 Business NZ opposed the proposed carbon tax

They succeeded in getting the tax withdrawn. Clearly, the carbon tax didn't have enough exemptions.

In 2006, Business NZ started "a project to develop a framework for emissions trading". Partners were Business NZ members (and big emitters) Genesis Energy, Mighty River Power, Contact Energy, BlueSkope Steel, Solid Energy, Comalco (now Rio Tinto Alcan NZ), Fletcher Building and Fonterra.

Why were they doing this? Phil O'Reilly said "It's important that the system doesn't harm business competitiveness, and hopefully it can actually enhance competitiveness." One part of the project was to "evaluate and make recommendations on emission credit allocation schemes for different sectors".

In other words, by 2006 Business NZ had already evolved what was to be a highly successful tactic; over-emphasize the competitiveness risks to the big emitters and lobby for generous free allocations of emissions units to the big emitters.

In September 2007, Helen Clark's Labour-led Government released its draft NZETS Framework. In this framework, the free allocation of units to eligible industrial emitters was to be equal to 90 per cent of 2005 emissions plus some units for electricity consumption up to 2012, then decreasing annually on a linear basis so allocation ended in 2025, with no allocation to new industries.

In April 2008, Business NZ said the proposed NZETS allocations did not sufficiently protect the competitiveness of businesses. They catastrophically predicted that the NZETS would would cause 28% to 32% contractions of sheep and wool farming, dairy farming and processing and metals production, causing the loss of 52,000 jobs.

By 2008 business journalist Rod Oram was describing their approach thus.

"Business New Zealand says it supports an emissions trading scheme. But it's now clear it means one that transfers most of the costs to consumers and taxpayers."

Business NZ were not even trying to deny this. Passing the cost of the Kyoto Protocol onto taxpayers had been an explicit policy since 2007 when Phil O'Reilly said:

"The government needs to meet the 2012 liability itself rather than multiply its cost many times by passing on to businesses."

Labour stuck with 90% of 2005 emissions for free allocation and the 2025 end-year in the Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading) Amendment Act 2008 which became law in September 2008. Business New Zealand spat the dummy at not getting its way. Phil O'Reilly described the NZETS as "deficient","a risk to our economy" and an "example of poor law-making".

In 2009, the new National Government reviewed the NZETS, and then adopted amendments to it in November.

New Zealand Herald economics editor Brian Fallow noted that the large industrial emitters had got three big wins: a price cap of $25 a tonne to 2012; allocation of free units based on an intensity basis; a more gradual phase-out of free allocations at 1.3 per cent a year not 8.5 per cent.

Phil O'Reilly of course agreed and said "the Government had listened to business concerns about potential economic damage by providing for a more measured transition into a full trading scheme, while still placing a price on carbon."

In February 2010, Business NZ submitted on the development of Industrial Allocation Regulations in their by now time-honoured way, of emphasising free allocation to emitters:

"In the absence of other jurisdictions having emissions trading or carbon taxes, officials need to err on the side of generosity when developing the specific detail around the allocation of free units."

Fast forward to April 2011 and in Business NZ's submission to the David Caygill review of the NZETS they recommended that the $25 price cap and the 1:2 part obligation (which were due to end in 2012) be kept for ten years and that the start of phase out of free allocation be delayed until 2018.

In November 2011, when the David Caygill review announced it was recommending slower implementation of the NZETS, Business NZ said the slowdown was welcome but not enough.

In April 2012, the Government announced its intention to keep the $25 price cap until at least 2015 and to have a slower phase out of the 1:2 part obligation to 2012. In other words, they met Business NZ almost halfway.

I think its clear from this review that Business NZ has always taken a tough negotiators position on the NZETS free allocations. They work out what they can reasonably expect, then they always ask for more concessions above that. Then they complain vigourously when they don't get everything they want.

Hence their op-eds seem confusing, contradictory and act as honeytraps for crackpots. But it doesn't matter, as any discussion of the NZETS is enwrapped in a veil of flogging the dead horse.

The ETS in NZETS really does stand for "Emitters Trading Scheme"

Monday, June 11, 2012

Pure Advantage NZ pushes 'New Zealand’s Position in the Green (growth) Race' but is silent on carbon pricing

Robin Johnson's Economics Web Page looks at the latest Pure Advantage report promoting green economics. It's all great sustainability stuff except that it fails to mention carbon pricing (emissions trading schemes or carbon taxes). How seriously can we take the Pure Advantage "green growth" message on climate change, when they are not upfront about their position on a price on carbon?

Pure Advantage, New Zealand's green business advocacy group, have just released another green growth report 'New Zealand’s Position in the Green Race'. Hot Topic blog has posted about Pure Advantage before and Phillip Mills guest-posted on how NZ needs a bold low-carbon business strategy too.

The report has three goals: to define green growth, to summarise New Zealand's uninspiring environmental and economic performance, and to propose "a process for developing a green growth recipe for NZ and a strategy for delivering it" (page 27).

The basic idea of the report is clear from this graphic - where 'Green Growth' starts as an amorphous brain storm of idea, which then gets focused through the 'NZ Green Race' report and an economic analysis, before emerging like a butterfly from a chrysalis as a number of strategies and policies.

Pure Advantage believes that "corporates need to step up to provide the necessary leadership" because "New Zealand’s political leadership has successively failed to make the distinction between greening our current dirty industries, and creating new forms of high-value growth in a green economy" (page 11). Hear hear for both observations!

Climate change features strongly in their definition of green growth (as does flowery language).

Green Growth is:

"the aggregated economic benefit that comes from minimising waste and the inefficient use of energy, reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, enhancing natural resources and biodiversity"
"is an economic progression driven by a series of interrelated and unprecedented global commercial imperatives, including the geopolitical drive for domestic energy security, exploding population growth, changing social demographics, mounting climate obligations, rapid decarbonisation of economies towards renewable energy..."
"is a global economic revolution driven by a series of interrelated global mega-trends, including rapid decarbonisation of economies towards renewable energy"

The report works well on the first two goals, but it fails in terms of the the third goal as their 'recipe' for dealing with climate change does not include carbon pricing. The New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is mentioned twice in the report. On page 27 there is a brief mention of the ETS in discussion of NZ's growth in greenhouse gases. And in a quote from the OECD on page 34.

So what? Should Pure Advantage mention the ETS or carbon taxes/prices? The ETS is probably perceived to be most boring topic ever. Discussing the ETS is usually flogging the dead horse to swallow the elephant in the room.

But how do Pure Advantage think we can achieve a rapid decarbonisation of the economy without carbon pricing? As James Hansen says there needs to be a rising carbon fee on all emissions of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases. Or, as the economist William Nordhaus says

"If economics provides a single bottom line for policy, it is that we need to correct this market failure by ensuring that all people, everywhere, and for the indefinite future are confronted with a market price for the use of carbon that reflects the social costs of their activities. Economic participants—thousands of governments, millions of firms, billions of people, all making trillions of decisions each year—need to face realistic prices for the use of carbon if their decisions about consumption, investment, and innovation are to be appropriate."

It is very unlikely that Pure Advantage don't have an opinion on emissions trading and carbon pricing. Its also very unlikely that they think they know better than either Hansen or Nordhaus. They are after all successful intelligent business people who have identified with sustainability. So its highly improbable that the Pure Advantage team think that decarbonising the economy can be done without effective carbon pricing.

So why don't they mention carbon pricing explicitly as an essential method to decarbonise? I suspect the answer is in this quote from the executive summary;

"To date much of the green debate in New Zealand has focused on the downside: costs and enforced obligations. Pure Advantage has been formed to focus on the economic upside of being green..."

"Costs and enforced obligations": that sounds more like the more traditional business view of the ETS. The Pure Advantage team seems to view the ETS as a downside, just like the rest of the business community who are not-so green-growth. And they only want to push the upside of green growth. So in promoting green growth (and decarbonising) to their business colleagues, Pure Advantage feel they have to downplay the ETS.

I have problems with this approach. It is less then completely transparent. Its also not showing leadership.

Wouldn't real green growth leadership involve openly stating that New Zealand must have a carbon price? That New Zealand needs to have an effective no-exception no-subsidies ETS or carbon tax instead of the ineffective NZETS?

William Nordhaus has made this comment on global warming eloquence without carbon pricing.

Whether someone is serious about tackling the global-warming problem can be readily gauged by listening to what he or she says about the carbon price. Suppose you hear a public figure who speaks eloquently of the perils of global warming and proposes that the nation should move urgently to slow climate change. Suppose that person proposes regulating the fuel efficiency of cars, or requiring high-efficiency lightbulbs, or subsidizing ethanol, or providing research support for solar power—but nowhere does the proposal raise the price of carbon. You should conclude that the proposal is not really serious and does not recognize the central economic message about how to slow climate change. To a first approximation, raising the price of carbon is a necessary and sufficient step for tackling global warming. The rest is at best rhetoric and may actually be harmful in inducing economic inefficiencies.

I'd love to hear from a spokesperson from Pure Advantage who can tell me that they are not just "eloquent speakers" on global warming - who do not propose a carbon price.

Here are some questions for Pure Advantage.

* Do they recognise the economic point that decarbonising must involve carbon pricing?

* Do they accept that the NZETS is an ineffective carbon price scheme?

* If yes to both these questions, why don't they show leadership and stand publicly for what they believe in?