Zero Carbon Bill – Time for some honesty

Climate Change Minister James Shaw assured his coalition colleagues in Cabinet that the consultation for the Zero Carbon Bill would be thorough, innovative and “informed by the evidence.” Sadly, the Ministry for the Environment’s (MfE) discussion document “Our Climate, Your Say” fell short of this aspiration. Instead it provided hyperbole, mis-leading facts and material omissions to reinforce a political narrative promoted by environmental NGOs and proliferated by the mass media.

De-carbonising in a reckless, ill-thought through manner based on ideology, and not science, will result in undue hardship for Kiwis and a sub-optimal outcome for the environment. The science is well established – in New Zealand, MfE’s “Our Atmosphere, Our Climate” document published last year provides the local analysis and data. It is exemplary in its objective, rigorous and honest assessment of the current and historic state of New Zealand’s climate. Whilst finding a one degree increase in temperature since the 1900s, “For most of New Zealand, there is no clear evidence that intense rainfall events have changed between 1960 and 2016” and that there is ‘no clear trend’ in annual rainfall patterns and the “frequency and magnitude of extreme wind decreased at about one-third of sites across New Zealand.” And out of the 30 sites monitored by NIWA, “no trend in warm days was apparent at 21 sites” with cooling observed at one site and warming observed at only eight. Since satellite measurements began in 1993, “no trend in sea-surface temperature change in the Tasman Sea and New Zealand’s oceanic, subtropical, and subantarctic waters” has been observed.

Despite recent weather, these observations suggest New Zealand’s long-term climate is stable and are broadly consistent with the latest Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change’s Assessment Report from Working Group 1 (the physical science). Known as ‘AR5’, its Chapter 2 entitled “Observations: Atmosphere and Surface”, confirms that the global warming trend started naturally in around 1850. Temperatures then “warmed strongly over the period 1900–1940, followed by a period with little trend, and strong warming since the mid-1970s”. A hiatus in warming followed from 1998. Pre-1950s warming is deemed largely natural whereas ‘more than half’ of warming from 1950–2010 is deemed from anthropogenic increases in greenhouse gas concentrations.

But aside from higher temperatures, and consequential climate indicators (e.g. sea-level rise, glacier/Arctic melt) the likelihood of a catastrophic event is considered low. AR5’s Summary for Policy Makers concludes: “‘Abrupt climate change’ is defined in this IPCC fifth assessment report (AR5) as a large-scale change in the climate system that takes place over a few decades or less, persists (or is anticipated to persist) for at least a few decades and causes substantial disruptions in human and natural systems. There is information on potential consequences of some abrupt changes, but in general there is ‘low confidence’ and little consensus on the likelihood of such events over the 21st century.”

Chapter 2 concludes that: “In summary, confidence in large scale changes in the intensity of extreme extra tropical cyclones since 1900 is low. There is also low confidence for a clear trend in storminess proxies over the last century due to inconsistencies between studies or lack of long-term data in some parts of the world (particularly in the SH). Likewise, confidence in trends in extreme winds is low, owing to quality and consistency issues with analysed data.”

Then there are the ‘models.’ The IPCC openly acknowledges that their models are “running hot” with temperatures tracking at the very lowest emission ‘representative concentration pathway’ (“RCP 2.6”) which either means emissions are following the very low emission pathway (where emissions peak in 2020) or the climate’s sensitivity to incremental atmospheric CO2 is much less than modelled.

Despite this good news, in my opinion, none of it means that steps to reduce emissions should not be taken. But why were these facts – the “evidence” – not put to Kiwis objectively in the context of the consultation? Minister Shaw assured Cabinet evidence would be the foundation of the consultation.

Instead MfE claimed that “each year we are seeing more and more extreme weather events” stated with an undeserved level of certainty that contrasts with its own equivocal data and the IPCC ‘low-confidence’ advice. They noted the one degree warming since the 1900s stating “the increase in greenhouse gases is the main reason for this” ignoring AR5 which confirm that warming through to the 1940s was likely natural and that only half of post–1950s warming could be attributed with any level of certainty to greenhouse gases. MfE then drew a long bow when telling us that whilst “New Zealand’s share of global emissions is very small (0.17 per cent), countries like us make up around 30 per cent of total emissions.” A long bow because when added together “countries like ours” that emit 0.2 per cent, or less, total to only 7 per cent. MfE says its calculation is based on countries that emit 1.0 per cent or less, thereby adding in countries that emit up to 6 times as much as New Zealand, lumping us together with all but the top 8 emitters. Then there is the elephant in the room – MfE says “the world is now committed to a low emissions future” but that is wishful thinking. The developing countries have made few, if any, commitments at all and their ongoing commitment may be dependent on the Green Climate Fund that is hopelessly underfunded. China has merely said it wants flexibility to increase emissions until 2030. Who knows what the Russians are doing. The United States, the world’s second biggest emitter is pulling out putting the durability of Paris in peril.

If this, or any, Government wants to secure cross-party support and have Kiwis get behind de-carbonisation efforts – and as an energy and infrastructure specialist, I am keen – then some honesty needs to be introduced to the process. Honesty around the science, the current climate indicators and the politics. Competing ideologies must be put to one side. We need to be cognisant of the commitment of other nations, the technical options practically available and eschew the alarmist political narrative promoted by NGOs and many in the media.

Originally published on Freeman Media’s “Energy News”.

From Crime to Climate Change – Making your own luck in a changing world

I was recently flattered to be asked to address students and staff at Waikato University’s Centre for Environment, Resources and Energy Law. Due to my previous involvement with the International Bar Association’s Section on Energy, Environment and Infrastructure Law, Professor Barry Barton who heads up the Centre and received the periodical I used to edit for SEERIL, suggested a presentation that provided a mix of career and energy issues might be of interest. It gave me a great opportunity to take a trip down memory lane, back to my first few months out of University in 1992, back in my home town of Napier. To get into a very tight law graduate market I provided research services to a criminal barrister. After my research resulted in an acquittal, he recommended me to a local law firm and I ‘was away.’

Working in the Provinces exposed me to real issues, real clients and real judges. Real people would go to real jail if I didn’t perform.

I still believe that, notwithstanding some of the high value commercial deals I have been involved in, the greatest pressure I ever found myself under as a lawyer was holding the freedom of your client in your hands – you simply can’t have a ‘bad hair’ day when your client’s facing the prospect of a stint inside. Certainly the most colourful war stories emerge from my criminal law days – I remember, as a young, fresh faced lawyer about to interview a Maori chap on armed robbery charges at Mangaroa prison out of Hastings. It was tipping down with rain. When the prisoner entered the room I figured I’d break the ice – “good day to be inside” I said cheerfully. “You reckon” he responded, and I twigged, and released an internal ‘D’oh’!!

Working in the criminal law taught me that very few criminals are inherently ‘bad’. Most are easily led, make poor decisions and fall into a cycle that leads them back to making those poor decisions again and again. My commercial head shakes at the human resource tied up in New Zealand jails – wouldn’t it be great if we could get these guys working, earning some cash, having respect for what they can achieve and maybe break that cycle and make the place a bit safer?

In 1994 I headed off on my big ‘OE’ (‘overseas experience’). I played rugby in San Francisco, ran with the bulls in Pamplona, went to the beer festival at Munich and did the Kiwi bar tender thing in London. After a couple of years I decided to get the suits on again and see what I could make of myself in London. Another competitive market but after short stints as a paralegal, notably 4 days at Clifford Chance, enough to get on the CV, I got a role with Agip UK in London, helping to assimilate a huge number of documents resulting from their acquisition of Sun Oil Britain. I took to the commercial intricacies of upstream oil and gas contracts like I was made for it – I joked that I was simply a black t shirt wearing ‘petrol head’ from Napier – what could be more natural than working with over sized drill bits, pipelines and oil? I learnt a lot while at Agip and owe the team there a great debt. I was asked to stay on, qualifying as a UK lawyer in 1998 which really was career defining. From there I went on to become Petro-Canada’s Counsel for North West Europe, a 120,000 barrel a day business, again, working with some great folks and mentors, and after two years in Calgary, Senior Counsel International. Along the way I picked up the editor’s role for SEERIL’s Current Practice that Barry read and ultimately resulted in my appearance at Waikato University and completed an LLM in petroleum law and policy through Dundee’s Centre for Energy, Mineral, Petroleum Law and Policy. I recently called on skills gained there in advising the New Zealand regulator on policy development matters. I also did a stint as Chairman of the IBA’s UK Energy Lawyer’s group and Director of the European Chapter of the Association of International Petroleum Negotiators.

The OE had to end. After being a partner at London law firm, Memery Crystal, for 3 years I returned to NZ in 2013. Being back in New Zealand brought into sharp contrast the social conscience I had developed as a criminal lawyer with the commercial demands of the petroleum business but there is a part of that criminal lawyer still in me. I am passionate about the industry and fervently believe it has the capacity to provide a step change for all New Zealanders – maybe some of those guys in jail could get work in the hot trades or related industries or just digging pipeline trenches? Maybe early breast cancer screening for women 40 and above, as per WHO guidelines and not from 45 as per NZ practice? What about first class health care for our Mums and Dads?

The environmental conscience in NZ is strong and we are rightly cautious about our beautiful place on the globe. But constraining activities that can really help people make a go of their lives is not the answer. Yes, the Macondo spill in the Gulf of Mexico was bad but it was a great example of technology getting ahead of safety. Since then the industry has developed the types of tools (capping devices) that weren’t available to BP and adjusted good industry practice – it’s hard to believe that blow out preventers were routinely installed without being tested prior to Macondo. It was also a demonstration of regulatory failure. As a member of the IBA’s working group providing submissions to the EU on regulatory responses, we noted the regulator in the US was wearing conflicting hats – to encourage more commercial activity and to ensure appropriate safety measures were in place. That is not the case in NZ. We have 5 different regulators that would have had the power to stop a Macondo happening.

The marine life will recover, the Gulf of Mexico is a hydrocarbon emitting basin – oil in the water is natural, admittedly not in the quantities that we saw, but it will recover in time. Do you know what really kills marine life? Fishing. But it is a huge double standard that we seem to be comfortable in killing fish, some of which is delivered to our dinner table, but have a massive problem if a small number are affected by extracting petroleum that transports the fish to the table. In time, it will be the 11 families without their Dads, Sons or Brothers that will be forever affected by the Macondo blow out. Does anyone mention the Ekofisk blow out – the North Sea’s biggest spill in 1977? Admittedly much smaller than Macondo, nevertheless, half of the oil evaporated and the other half was broken broke up by natural forces. The first oil in NZ was dug out of a Taranaki beach, the coastline around Taranaki is still oil bearing, there are unknown quantities of oil seeping out naturally into the seabed on the North Island’s East Coast and huge quantities of gas, which is what is likely to be found in NZ, being released from gas nitrates. We should definitely be vigilant and having the global resources that are in place for spills is warranted, but we should not be preventing opportunities that can secure high living standards for all New Zealanders.

Concluding on climate change – again a lot of misinformation is out there to support agendas that definitely do not have the world’s climate at heart. Leaving aside the thorny question of whether natural variability has more impact than the IPCC would have us believe, here are some facts: (1) The US will meet the target emissions it set for itself in Copenhagen because it has developed gas extraction technology that makes coal fired power stations uneconomic. The ‘science is settled’ that gas can produce the same electricity as coal for half the CO2 emissions. If we replaced all coal fired generation with gas we would be a long way to meeting global targets. Australia’s Gorgon LNG project will deliver huge quantities of gas to India and China as a direct substitute for coal. Environmentalists don’t like to hear this but the best thing NZ can do for global climate change is to find that big gas field Shell reckons is in the Great South Basin and use it to shut down coal fired generation globally. Maybe we’ll get a few jobs out of it too. (2) the leading carbon capture and sequestration proponents are oil companies – it is they who are investing billions in developing this technology (iii) it is the major oil companies that have called on Governments to get their act together and introduce a carbon tax in Paris – of course making petrol more expensive isn’t going to win many votes.

In other words it is the oil and gas industry who are developing solutions to CO2 emissions. And it shouldn’t be forgotten it is not they who are doing the emitting – it’s ordinary people, like you, me and even the environmentalists that are the final users of oil and gas products.