Generation Zero: come clean on NZ’s energy future



At the end of last week Generation Zero, a non-partisan group of young people formed to advocate for climate action, started a Vote New Energy campaign to put a clean energy transformation on the political agenda in the run up to the general election. The campaign kicked off with the release of a report — A Challenge To Our Leaders – Why New Zealand needs a Clean Energy Plan [pdf] — which makes a compelling case for NZ to plot a course to zero emissions by 2050. The key points are:

  • To have a reasonable chance of staying under 2ºC of warming, the world has a trillion tonne carbon emissions budget it must meet. NZ’s fair share of that budget will be used up in 15 years on current policy settings.
  • Other countries are doing more than NZ. Denmark is implementing a cross-party plan to phase out fossil fuel use by 2050.
  • The transition to a clean energy economy is “achievable, affordable and offers big economic opportunities for New Zealand”.

The report is model of clarity and concision, and I strongly recommend that you take the time to read it. It provides a very useful summary of what we know about the realities of emissions budgets in the New Zealand context, and builds on work done by groups like Pure Advantage to demonstrate the tremendous business opportunities to be found in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

It will make uncomfortable reading for supporters of the present government, not least because the report pulls no punches when analysing current emissions policy settings:

…the clearest indicator of failure is that the total effect of all government policies is an expected reduction of just 0.4% compared with having no climate or energy policies in place at all. The projected impact of policies on reducing CO2 emissions from energy and industry is even smaller at just 0.15%, and a mere 0.03% for emissions from transport.

And those are the government’s own figures!

Generation Zero’s challenge to all parties — “to commit to implementing a comprehensive clean energy plan that will put New Zealand on track to phase out coal, oil and gas by 2050” — has been welcomed by Labour and the Greens, but the only reaction from the government was a throwaway line from Tim Groser on the TV3 news report:

…New Zealand is committed to meeting its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, but that some of the negative effects of climate change “can’t be avoided” and adaptation is important.

All of which may be true, but none of which is a sufficient response to a cogent and well presented analysis from a group of young New Zealanders who are committed to building a better future for their country.

Generation Zero plans future reports to look at climate action being taken overseas, and what a clean energy plan for NZ might look like. If this first effort is anything to go by, they will be important contributions to what should be the most important policy debate of election 2014.

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  1. I hate coming across as some sort of troll or Grinch, I apologize for stating facts.
    We are now @ 402.6 (or there abouts) ppm CO2, and methane @ 2 ppm. One thing no one is taking into account is methane has a forcing factor of 150 – 300 over CO2, so the atmosphere could be as high as 800ppm CO2 and CO2e now.
    Sorry for being a kill joy, but the planet hasn’t seen this sort of thing for maybe 100+ million years …. god knows when???? but you can bet dollars to doughnuts once we start to real in some more of the 30 – 40 year time lag humans will go extinct.
    We are locked into +6 within 40 years NOW plus being as it will happen so fast, the planet will face a massive methane burp, which will see the thermometer hit plus 10 and higher. Humans will not fit in this picture.
    We can’t avoid the time lag, anything we do now will take up to 40 years to show any benefit, and then only if it is such a massive effort that humans can remove gazillions of ton of carbon from the atmosphere starting yesterday.
    And we still have the problem of to many of us.

    • Robert you are right about methane being released from permafrost etc, maybe it’s too late to overcome time lags and positive feedback loops, but it is in human nature to try, we are fighters and hoper’s as well as being short sighted greedy and stupid, among many other attributes, i admire the folks who are attempting to pressure govt into making policy changes, but i think if the will and mentality within the global establishment actually gave a shit we would have seen some action on this gravely serious issue by now. But we haven’t. possibly because they do understand the consequences, and the effect it will have on human life, but they simply don’t care they live for today, and maybe a few mega wealthy beleive they can build a dome or something to enable them and their prodgeny to survive. Who knows, except to say i think we have passed the point of no return.

    • Robert I hate to come acoss as a cynic, but I suspect you are trying to create a case for doing nothing. While methane is a big concern,etc,etc, sensible phased in reductions of C02 could still keep warming under the danger threshold. This is what numerous studies show.

    • The global warming potential of methane is about 27 times CO2, according to IPCC sources.

      Methane breaks down into water and CO2 after about 10 years in the atmosphere.

      • Andys, good to see you admit C02 is at least one of the problems. However C02 is a bigger problem than methane overall.

        And since you are really concerned about methane, what do you suggest we do about Methane?

        • I am not concerned about methane. The GWP figure is highly dubious (based on various factors including residence time of CO2)

          As I said, methane breaks down into CO2 and water by interaction with OH in the atmosphere. Methane from cows is, in my view, a non-issue as the levels stabilise over time (unlike CO2 from fossil fuels which increase)

          There isn’t much we can do about methane from other non-anthropogenic sources.

          • AndyS oh I see you have now changed your mind. One second you are quoting the IPCC with pride on Methane, the next you are saying they have got it wrong.

            Methane still spends ten years in the atmosphere to be replenished by more methane no doubt. This obviously adds to the global warming effect.

            But I agree nobody knows what to do about cows. Solve that one and you would be up for a nobel prize and some serious money. I wish I had done some advanced chemistry.

            • I am not quoting the IPCC with pride.
              I am quoting the IPCC

              Having spent some time trying to understand how GWP is calculated, I find the methodology highly problematic.

              Dave Frame of VUW has also expressed concerns about this too

              • Andys, well until he actually publishes something in some journal, his views don’t carry much weight.

                However I believe it’s futile punishing our farming sector over methane emissions, if that’s your concern. NZ should focus on C02 issues.

  2. Andy not sure where you are getting that # from ? reference please.
    The last I read it was 85 times worse than CO2 over 20 years and 35 times worse over 100 years, BUT methane only hangs around for about 8 years, so why add 12 or 92 years to the equation?
    Sean, bailing the water out of steerage while the ice burg disappears over the horizon (in the rear view mirror), is human nature I know, but the boat is still sinking.
    Personally all I want to see is the pig ignorant masses working it out, to the point that we stop having children, because every child born today faces an unsurvivable future, meaning no retirement/Kiwi Saver, and for most, if not all – no 21st birthday.
    Yes Nigel doing nothing is the best thing to do, because when the pig ignorant masses see bullshit projects that profess to ‘save the world’ the first thing they do is pump out more kids, so for the sake of the yet to be ‘created’ I’m saying STOP.
    If we understood there was zero hope maybe just maybe we could learn to live out the last years of our species with some dignity, and as much as I hate this word …… some humanity. But no we will fight, kill, burn, and destroy, until we are gone ala The Road.
    The last time the planet was @ 400 ppm CO2 it had taken several thousands of years to get to that point, so there wouldn’t have been a 30 – 40 year time lag as we have now, so when the planet was say @ 300ppm it was as warm as it could be at 300 ppm and when it was @ 350 ppm …. it was as warm as it could be @ 350ppm, so all the methane that may have been around then would have been and gone by the time the planet hit 400ppm. Where as today all the methane is trapped under mostly ice, and as we are above the PPM level that guarantees NO ICE, then all that methane is going to be released within the next 30 – 40 years …. at best.
    I didn’t write these cancellations, but they look good )
    DO THE MATH (yourself)
    CO2 @ 400 ppmv = 400 ppmv CO2e
    CH4 @ 120 ppmv CO2e (using the IPCC’s ‘high-end’ value, since its obviously rising fast)
    Actually, CH4 is currently at almost 2 ppmv (soon will be) x 10-yr factor of 100(+) = 200+ ppmv CO2e (and rising fast)
    N2/Ox @ 324 ppbv (2013 Mauna Loa) x 290 (20-yr. relative forcing factor) or (0.324 ppmv x 290) = 94 ppmv CO2e
    OTHER gasses combined (per IPCC graph), composite RF at approx 2/3′s that of CH4 forcing (or more) – for approx. 70 ppmv CO2e
    Aerosols (masking, aka dimming ) at approx. 55 ppm CO2e (per Scribbler article)
    TOTAL (w/ ‘global dimming’ removed) at 740 ppm CO2e – past tense
    If (when) CH4 does reach 2 ppmv (if not already) (& at 10-yr RF @ 100x+) then TOTAL RF becomes 820 ppmv CO2e

    The kids are screwed, and so are we.

    • Robert Atack, I agree Methane is an issue possibly more in this geological age than previously. Methane is a powerful positive feedback from methane under the tundra and under the sea as methane hydrates.

      The population explosion obviously can’t continue forever. This either slows naturally to zero, or will come up against environmental constraints and major problems. Fortunately the rate of increase has at least slowed in many countries even latin america, it’s not all doom and gloom. I’m trying to be optimistic here.

  3. The CO2 content of the atmosphere stands at 402ppm (versus norm of 280ppm(, having increased by the biggest amount ever because no government anywhere is doing anything significant to reduce emissions and most have policies in place to increase emissions.

    The short term multiplier for CH4 relative to CO2 is approximately 300.

    2000ppb = 2ppm, and that is causing forcing equivalent to approximately 600ppm CO2.

    The industrialised world is fully committed to extracting low-density fossil fuels which have extraordinarily high emission profiles, and activities such as fracking are causing additional releases of methane into the atmosphere.

    Only rapid collapse of Industrial Civilisation can prevent runaway greenhouse rendering this planet largely uninhabitable in a few decades: and few people will vote for collapse of Industrial Civilisation. Most demand bigger houses more stuff, more trinkets from China etc.and more of the pollution that is wrecking everything.

    Tomorrow’s US Drought Monitor report should make ‘interesting’ reading, what the a new Dust Bowl forming and all that.

    Ignorance is bliss (in the short term)..

    • Only rapid collapse of Industrial Civilisation can prevent runaway greenhouse rendering this planet largely uninhabitable in a few decades:
      You are forgetting the lag time, it is printed in stone NOW, even if humans left the planet tonight, and took their 440 nuclear power plants with them, we are still @ 402 ppm plus the methane, even if we had Russel Norman as world leader … we are still tits deep in the crap.
      As I keep going on and on and on about, the only way to reduce human suffering due to climate change etc is to stop adding more humans to the problem, as Albert Bartlet asks “name one issue we have that adding more humans solves?”
      But no we will keep playing the game and the person that dies with the most toys wins.

      • Yes Robert, the time to deal with all the ‘problems’ was back in the late 1960s to early 1970s, when they were first fully characterised and the population of the world was below 3 billion.

        Even then its would have been difficult. But with 40 more years of business-as-usual and another 4 billion people on the planet the chance of getting through this without massive global suffering is zero.

        And yes, there are many time-lag factors which indicate the methane monster (along with the CO2 monster) is unstoppable. Not that anyone (other than a handful of people) is trying to stop anything. Everyone trapped in the mainstream matrix wants more. Most stuff, more energy consumption, more people, more pollution.

        I will shortly do battle with my local council (yet again) and they will take no notice of anything I say (yet again) because they are f-ing mad..

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