Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Various GHG Emissions Graphs

With the scope of New Zealand's ETS expanding to cover petrol and electricity last Thursday (July 1st), there have been some protests organised by Federated Farmers and the ACT party. Leaving aside the irony of ACT standing against people paying for the resources they use, I want to look at how the way you present the statistics on carbon emissions may shape your response.

When ACT says that "New Zealand's ETS will not make one iota of difference" they have presumably been looking at the leftmost of these two graphs from a public consultation on NZ's proposed emissions reduction target for 2020.
I'm not sure how an iota stacks up against 0.2%, but there is a point to be made that NZ going it alone won't solve the problem. Another point is clearly seen in the right hand graph--that NZ is above the median emissions level on a per-capita basis and has a moral responsibility to act.

If we can't go it alone, then the answer is not to pike and leave the problem for others (aka the global poor, who will die in their millions) but to show leadership. Rather than being so-called Fast Followers (aka laggards and shirkers) we should bend every effort to creating an international solution. I would be more sympathetic to those opposing the ETS if they showed willing to work for an alternative.

Those countries who are willing to take action are deadlocked over who should do how much. Once again, different graphs give a different spin.

Let's start with this graphical analysis of proposed reduction targets for NZ, from the same set of documents as the previous graphs. I think it's quite cleverly compiled, presenting many different data points to show that the government is balancing competing domestic demands and taking a fast-follower position vis-a-vis other countries.

These percentage reduction figures seem to function as a proxy for the effort made by each country. Certainly the domestic conversation was predominantly about what level of reduction we could manage, and how hard other countries were(n't) trying. The level of effort can be emphasised by graphing projected emissions over time as well as proposed reduced rates, but such a graph runs the risk of making the problem look urgent as well as difficult.

Oxfam and Greenpeace tried to shift the discussion towards impact rather than effort. How much can we afford to emit? This question is better answered by the blue bars in the next chart, which takes the per-capita data from one of the first graphs and adds in a Goal value representing the long-term sustainable emissions level. Suddenly a 40% reduction for NZ seems less outlandish.

Another question arises once we see a long-term goal. How will any initial commitment develop? Will everybody close steadily on the Goal amount, or will their be an ongoing inequity? What is the equitable way to close to a common goal from such disparate starting points?

The red bars on this graph represent data that we rarely see: estimated emissions embedded in the provision of goods and services consumed within a country. These contrast strikingly with the emissions generated for the goods and services created in the country. This data is harder to measure, which I assume is why the Kyoto process isn't using it, but is significant in terms of where the dollars would end up if there were a global carbon price.

How do these numbers change the picture? Is it in our interest to negotiate an international deal based on the blue numbers, so long as we have a global market and our export customers cannot avoid paying us the difference between the red and blue bars? Should China be our ally, as their blue bar has outpaced their red throughout the decade since the figures shown above? Are the Americans even less likely to sign up to such a deal?

I guess I should stop there for now and post this thing. Perhaps in the future I'll get back to other datasets, such as total emissions since 1850 by country per capita of current population or NZ's emissions with and without changing land use factors. (For the latter, look into the consultation paper referenced above and marvel at how the timing of a spike in forestry saves NZ's bacon for Kyoto then reverts us to being way behind for any future commitments!)

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