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Govt And Labour Cautious About Latest Kyoto Liability Estimates

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, April 15 NZPA - The Government and the Labour Party say New Zealand still faces big climate change challenges despite latest figures showing liabilities under the Kyoto Protocol have swung from deficit to surplus.

A Ministry for the Environment report released today showed the liability had shifted from an estimated deficit of $546 million last year to an estimated surplus of $241 million.

And while the Government and Labour were cautious about the latest estimate, the report provoked starkly different reactions from Business New Zealand and the Greens.

Business NZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly said the changed position gave the Government room to move on the emissions trading scheme, which is on hold while a parliamentary committee reviews it.

"We should now take the time to thoroughly explore all options for reducing carbon emissions while safeguarding economic growth," Mr O'Reilly said.

But the Greens co-leader, Jeanette Fitzsimons, said the figures had eliminated the Government's last excuse for doing nothing.

"New Zealand's climate change policy is a shambles, increasing uncertainty for businesses and families in an already uncertain economic climate," she said.

"We cannot continue to rely on the global economic downturn, bad weather and accounting tricks to make our reductions for us."

The liability is an estimate of how much New Zealand will have to spend to buy carbon credits if climate change emissions are not reduced to levels agreed under the Kyoto Protocol, or how much its credits would be worth if its emissions reduce.

The cost is based on Kyoto Protocol units -- a unit is equivalent to one tonne of greenhouse gas converted to its carbon dioxide equivalent.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said the latest estimate was positive but he was cautious about what was going to happen between now and 2015, when the liability becomes effective.

The report showed the main reasons for the swing from deficit to surplus was the 2007/08 drought and improved information on carbon storage in forests.

"It is good news that we may exceed our Kyoto target but we need to be cautious of these projections given their volatility," Dr Smith said.

"It is difficult for the Government to make sound climate change policy when projections have ranged from a 55 million tonne surplus in 2002 to a 64 million tonne deficit in 2006, and when the figures over the past year have varied by 31 million tonnes."

Labour's climate change spokesman, Charles Chauvel, said there was no room for complacency.

"Anyone suggesting otherwise has their head firmly in the sand," he said.

"I'm not knocking the good news contained in today's announcement, but let's not kid ourselves."

He said the figures contained only one year of actual data, for 2008, and four years of projections.

"In the past, estimates of our Kyoto liabilities have varied widely," he said.

"Those projections need to be independently audited before we can be confident they are accurate."

Mr Chauvel said uncertainty about the emissions trading scheme (ETS) was a major problem.

The ETS has been put on hold while a parliamentary committee reviews it.

Dr Smith said he expected the figures would continue to bounce around between now and 2015.

He said the report released today would be sent to the Audit Office for review.

He expected that would take a few weeks.

Explaining the figures in the report, Dr Smith said the drought caused significant reductions in animal emissions due to fewer cattle, sheep and deer.

Deforestation emissions were also down due to new data showing smaller trees being felled in land use changes.

Another improvement was the result of more accurate data on nitrous oxide agricultural emissions.

Dr Smith said there had been no significant change in emissions from the energy, transport and industrial sectors.

Forestry was "saving our bacon" because of strong planting in the 1990s, but those trees would be harvested in future years.

"These figures do not signal any progress in abating New Zealand's gross greenhouse gas emissions, which are 23 percent above 1990 levels," he said.

"We are just fortunate that more than 600,000 hectares of new forests were planted in the 1990s that are growing strongly and offsetting our continued growth in energy and transport emissions."

Dr Smith said New Zealand still faced a major challenge to reduce its gross greenhouse gas emissions and the Government would continue to advance "pragmatic policies".

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