Biofuel Act

The Biofuel Act was passed by parliament last week, despite heavy criticism by Dr Jan Wright, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. This Act sets mandatory levels of biofuel in petrol and diesel, and was passed despite governments overseas halting plans to pass similar legislation because of environmental concerns. The two main problems with the legislation are:

  • Biofuels may not actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • There are environmental and social issues around the production of biofuels, where crops may take land away from food crops or from rainforest.

Both of these issues are addressed in the Act (Section 34GA) in an amendment the Greens have made a big deal about, but they are not addressed directly. Rather, the “Minister must recommend Order in Council … providing qualifying biofuels must be sustainable biofuels”. This basically means that the Act does not define how biofuels will be determined to be sustainable, leaving this up to the Minister to sort out at a later date – despite this being the primary objection to the policy.

To guide the Minister in this, some Principles are outlined. Principle 3 (biodiversity and land with high conservation value) is reasonably logical. Principle 1 states:

Principle 1: Less greenhouse gas

Sustainable biofuels emit significantly less greenhouse gas over their life cycle than obligation engine fuel. In relation to this principle, the Order in Council must— …
(b) specify minimum levels of no less than 35% greenhouse gas emission reductions for qualifying biofuels in comparison to obligation engine fuel.

Just to show what environmental effect we can expect from this, if you replaced all fuel in NZ with a 2.5% biofuel blend, the biofuel having 35% less GHG emissions to standard fuel, then you would reduce NZ transport emissions by 0.875%. A completely insignificant amount.

Principle 2 states:

Principle 2: Food production

Sustainable biofuels do not compete with food production and are not grown on land of high value for food production. Without limitation, the following biofuels do not contravene this principle:
(a) byproducts of food production described in the Order in Council:
(b) ethanol from sugarcane grown in circumstances and in areas described in the Order in Council:
(c) rotational oilseed crops grown not more than 12 months in any 24-month period on the same land or as otherwise specified in the Order in Council.

In other words, in order to be sustainable a biofuel must not compete with food production. But ethanol from sugarcane and rotational oilseed crops, both of which in many cases will directly compete with food production, are specifically allowed.

So what “unsustainable biofuels” are ruled out? Pretty well nothing. We have no idea. The Minister can declare anything to be sustainable, if they can declare rotational oilseed doesn’t compete with food production they can claim anything.

Worse, this legislation has actually reduced the amount of sustainable biofuel we can expect to use. Argent Energy has halted plans to spend over $100 million on a biodiesel plant that would have produced biodiesel from tallow and waste cooking oil – about the most sustainable biofuel that you can get, as this is recycling of waste products.

Dickon Posnett, managing director of Argent Energy’s NZ subsidiary, says New Zealand’s proposed legislation in the Biofuels Bill makes the playing field too uneven.

“Ethanol gets a government-backed subsidy, through relief from excise duty, that amounts to 42c a litre,” he says. “Oil companies are being incentivised to import ethanol. That makes it utterly uneconomic to invest in the domestic biodiesel plant we were proposing to build.

“New Zealand needs to stop talking about its need to add value to its resources and actually do it. Much of its tallow resource is likely to go offshore and be converted to biodiesel which will get sold back here at a much higher price. It is tantamount to selling frozen lamb or beef carcasses and letting the importers overseas make the real margins by selling the juicy cuts.”

“Biodiesel production technology using tallow is proven now and the cost of making it in New Zealand would be more than competitive – if we had a level playing field,” he says.

So efficient, sustainable, locally produced biofuel (that would probably have been produced with no biofuel legislation) is halted and inefficiently produced, unsustainable, foreign biofuel is promoted instead. In this case the environment would have been far better off in a free market with no controls on fuel composition, which shows how pointless this Act is.

This is a classic example of ridiculous legislation that does not conform to the basic principles of The Family Party environmental policy: “Environmental policy needs to be factually sound, practical, affordable, measurable and actually help our environment”. It makes no practical sense, and would have little if any environmental benefit.

If elected we will be opposing such policy.

UN says eat less meat

The UN is calling for people to eat less meat, to combat global warming. This is because animals produce more greenhouse gas emissions per kilogramme of food produced than plants, as a rough rule.

This has major problems however:

  • This is only a rough rule. Rice causes high methane emissions. Greenhouses (especially in cold climates) cause high emissions (oil consumption to heat them, construction of the greenhouse in the first place etc.). Some vegetables may be transported by plane to get them to markets fresh (high emissions), while meat is frozen and transported by ship (lower emissions). You cannot assume vegetables are low-emission simply because they are vegetables.
  • It completely ignores the fact that large areas of land, such as the New Zealand high country, are completely unsuitable for cropping. If you were to crop them (assuming you could get a tractor on the slopes), you would have massive problems with soil erosion and water pollution. However this same land can be grazed extensively by sheep and cattle with far fewer environmental problems. So for much of NZ it is more environmentally friendly to produce meat than vegetables.
  • It ignores the relative importance of different kinds of pollution. Are carbon emissions worse than water pollution and soil erosion, or are they less important?
  • It could have serious implications for our export sector, if people actually listen and buy less of our meat.

It is unfortunate that the UN, a body which we should be able to trust, can make such flippant recommendations which would have little benefit but a large potential to cause harm.

ETS not about reducing emissions

There is an excellent editorial in the Dominion Post about the ETS. It points out that the ETS is not designed to reduce emissions, rather to work out who pays for our Kyoto obligation. And in paying our Kyoto obligation, it is taking money that could be being used to actually reduce emissions.

“There is no question that Labour is well-intentioned. Despite that, the legislation is part of a strategy that remains deeply flawed. It risks concentrating on the accountancy of who ends up picking up the bill for carbon emissions, rather than on reducing those emissions.

The reality is that the scheme, designed to meet New Zealand’s Kyoto protocol commitment, will end up increasing the prices that consumers pay for all manner of things, and damage the economy, without necessarily doing anything about reducing the amount of carbon emitted in New Zealand.”

Assuming humans are causing global warming, the ETS is a waste of money. Assuming humans are not causing global warming, the ETS is a criminal waste of money. You can’t win with this legislation. Yet both Labour and National continue to push it.

Hat tip: David Farrar

Keeping politicians away from climate change

Gareth Renowden has an interesting, if biased, assessment of ACT’s view of climate change. ACT is presenting a rather mixed message, with a carbon tax in their official policy but the ACT MPs individually appear to disbelieve climate change, so it is hard to know where they stand.

Gareth certainly has some interesting stuff to say:

“Time for Hide and the ACT party to front up. Do they accept the IPCC report in full? If they do not, why not? I assume that if ACT is adopting the latter position that they have conducted a proper review of the evidence. If they have, I’d like to see it. And if they haven’t then they should shut up. Climate change is too serious an issue to leave to the political whims of parliamentary windbags. From any party.”

Now I highly doubt ACT have conducted a “proper review of the evidence”. For that matter, I highly doubt the Greens have – as they seem to disregard the opinions of plenty of scientists on this issue as “deniers”. Nor has The Family Party – we have neither the expertise nor the resources to do so. And although neither Labour or National will have conducted such a review, they may each have conducted research into which position would gain them most votes.

I fully agree that “Climate change is too serious an issue to leave to the political whims of parliamentary windbags. From any party.” This is a massive issue – if it is true it is the biggest issue affecting the world today. If it is false it is the biggest misconception (scam?) affecting the world today. We can’t trust parliament to make the correct judgement on such a massive issue.

This is why The Family Party, alone among all the political parties, is proposing to put this issue to a Royal Commission of Enquiry. We need to know:

  • Whether humans are causing global warming
  • If we are, what we should do about it

There is a lot of controversy around the accuracy of the IPCC reports on climate change. We do not know whether we can trust these reports or not, so need an independent review that takes into account both the IPCC line and the views of those disputing this position, and can tell us whether we should use the IPCC reports when designing policy.

Then, if humans are causing climate change, we need to know what we should be doing about it. Should we be reducing emissions to prevent it, or is this futile? Should we be adapting to it? Should we be doing a bit of both? What are the costs and benefits associated with each measure?

These are massive issues. Politicians do not have the expertise to sort this out. They must be worked out by scientists, economists and other experts.

If you want sensible policies on climate change, based on science rather than hype, only The Family Party is promising this.