The Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) must proceed, as it is an essential system for New Zealand to adjust to a carbon-constrained future and live up to our clean green image, says Dr Jan Wright, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.
An independent Officer of Parliament, Dr Wright was commenting today on the release of her office's review of the Cawthron Institute's Report on the ETS.
"Putting a price on carbon is an essential tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions," says Dr Wright. "A price on carbon puts the cost of emitting greenhouse gases directly into every monetary transaction.
"That's great penetration into every production and consumption decision. Low carbon goods and services will become relatively cheaper; high carbon goods and services will become relatively more expensive."
Dr Wright says much of the current comment about the ETS relates to the inevitable jockeying for advantage of special interest groups at the outset of a 'cap and trade' system. "We saw the same kinds of behaviour when the fishing quota system was introduced," she says.
"There are some genuine dilemmas here, such as the issue of production shifting to countries without a price on carbon. But extending support for exporters and delaying entry of the transport sector mean that New Zealand will be slower to start adjusting to a carbon-constrained world."
"We should not forget the principle at the core of the emissions trading scheme of 'polluter pays'," says Dr Wright. " 'Polluter pays' is actually a variant of 'user pays'; we are using the atmosphere as a dumping ground for waste gases."
In terms of its environmental impacts outlined in the Cawthron Report, the ETS is likely to have both positive and negative effects on the environment. "But I make the point that any greenhouse mitigation policy response would have similar effects on the local environment."
"The threat to high value biodiversity from incentivising the planting of exotic forests for carbon storage does need attention, but should not delay the implementation of the emissions trading scheme or require major modifications of the proposed legislation."
Dr Wright recently recommended to the Local Government and Environment Committee that the Biofuel Bill should not proceed. "My view of the ETS Bill is very different", she says. "The ETS Bill should proceed. The most important thing is to get the ETS framework in place - there is no reason to delay."