In his most recent report he has accused the government of keeping two sets of carbons accounts. Even though he accepts that New Zealand is absorbing more carbon today than it was in 1990, he states that it is only a"bit more" and not enough to bring it under Kyoto compliance. He goes on to say that a spokesman to climate change minister Nick Smith told him that
"those are not the only numbers. "The convention inventory includes a wider set of activities than under the Kyoto protocol." In a nutshell, the Kyoto protocol allows New Zealand to ignore what is happening across the wider landscape and simply report the growth of its 600,000 hectares of new forests, planted mostly during the 1990s.Which means that New Zealand is simply passing on the problem to a future generation to deal with when the forests are felled in 2020, a time in which even deeper cuts in emissions will be required.
That sounds dodgy, though within the Kyoto rules. Even so, if these "Kyoto forests" had been specifically planted as part of a genuine policy to cut the country's long-term contribution to global warming – we might still applaud.
Unfortunately it is not quite like that. Those forests are not long-term sinks; they are commercial plantations. As Smith's spokesman told me, they "are likely to be harvested in the 2020s". And, he added: "The government has no intention to ban the harvest." When they are harvested their carbon will return to the atmosphere."
"The government's own civil servants seem to agree. The New Zealand Treasury recently called the carbon accumulating in the Kyoto forests a "contingent liability". It warned that negotiators should take this into account when agreeing future emissions targets – such as a Copenhagen deal on 2020 emissions.
There is a final problem for New Zealand's carbon credentials. The government's scientists have, in the past couple of years, been reassessing all their figures in a way remarkably beneficial to the government. Last April, they reported to ministers of the incoming government that emissions from deforestation were almost 10m tonnes a year less than previously supposed "due to new data showing smaller trees being felled". Meanwhile, they said, the Kyoto forests were absorbing a quarter more carbon than previously supposed "due to the trees not being thinned and being planted on better soils.
Very handy. But even Smith was moved to note the "volatility" of the numbers.
A number of scientists have been pointing out for some years that the Kyoto rules on forests were an Achilles heel in the protocol. "If [countries] plant sink forests and make inflated claims for them, they know it will be impossible to either prove or disprove those claims. It really is a cheat's charter," warned Michael Obersteiner of the forestry division of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), a thinktank based in Laxenburg, Austria, back in 2000.
It may not be cheating, but New Zealand seems determined to prove him right."
Only brave soul has leaped to New Zealand's defence by stating that carbon will be sequestered in construction timber, whilst this may be true to a certain extent New Zealand households burn one heck of a lot of wood to keep warm every winter. One study of a large Lyttleton house with a floor area of 330 sq m, showed it used little electricity but more than 53,000KWh worth of firewood each year whilst another promoted as a zero energy home used an LPG heater and a log burner with a wetback. See NZ's high winter death rate and burning wood to keep warm.
In June of this year the Environment Minister Nick Smith admitted that 10 NZ cities and towns are unlikely to meet air quality targets by the year 2013, saying that the overwhelming proportion of pollution is caused by home fires. And the solution to not meeting those targets?.....the goal posts will be moved.
No doubt they too were made of wood.
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