By Tony Field
Parliament's Commissioner for the Environment has warned that plans to amend the Emissions Trading Scheme will cost New Zealand dearly in the long-term.
Jan Wright told The Nation she is dismayed by plans for the continued exemption of agriculture from the scheme until at least 2015 and for continued subsidies to big industrial users.
Businesses and farmers were supposed to start paying more for their carbon emissions, but the Government says that can't happen until the economy can afford it – something that's dismayed Ms Wright.
“These latest amendments that are making their way through Parliament now just weaken it to the point of being a skeleton, nothing more than a skeleton, and I find this deeply disappointing,” she says.
Ms Wright says taxpayers will foot the bill if the big carbon emitters are exempted.
“They are only paying for one 20th, one of every 20 tonnes of the carbon emissions they produce. You and I at the pump are paying for one out of every two, for example.”
Federated Farmers says New Zealand's agricultural production is already low carbon compared to many countries, dropping by 1.8 percent every year for the past 20 years.
“If you drive emissions, or production to other economies who are actually producing more per unit, more carbon per unit, then you are doing exactly the wrong thing,” says William Rolleston of Federated Farmers.
Business New Zealand says the issue is how much New Zealand can do relative to other countries.
“I think we underplay what we do,” says John Carnegie of Business New Zealand “I think we are doing, given that there are only two other schemes in the world out of 190-odd countries, we are doing okay.”
But the Greens say we are not doing okay.
“You can be a world leader,” says Green MP Kennedy Graham “You can be a fast follower. You can be an apathetic spectator. You can be a wilful obstructionist. We are somewhere in the middle there.”
The commissioner believes the changes to the scheme will punish industries, like forestry, that have invested in reducing greenhouse gases.
She warns that if business doesn't pay a direct cost for its emissions there is less incentive to move to a low carbon economy – something that could ultimately make New Zealand less competitive.