09 December 2010

Lignite a bad choice for NZ – Environment Commissioner

Plans for a large-scale increase in lignite use would dramatically increase New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions says the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright.

Dr Wright makes the call in her latest report, Lignite and climate change: The high cost of low grade coal, which assesses the environmental effects of plans to increase lignite use a hundredfold or more.

She says there are considerable problems with proposed large-scale lignite use.

"The plans to increase lignite use are extremely concerning as they would produce huge quantities of carbon dioxide which contributes to climate change – the biggest environmental threat we have ever faced.

"Just one of the two proposed lignite-to-diesel plants would hugely increase our annual carbon emissions and send New Zealand in the wrong direction.

“Those extra emissions are likely to cost hundreds of millions of dollars a year and much of that cost could be borne by the taxpayer unless changes are made to the Emissions Trading Scheme.

"The sheer scale of investment and production involved in significant use of lignite are likely to lock us into using lignite for decades which would make it harder to move to cleaner technologies.

"Such a move would also threaten our clean green reputation and the industries we have built on it.

"We are heading into a future where, one way or another, we are going to pay the price for our carbon emissions and a decision to use lignite would make that a very high price indeed."

There are three recommendations in the report.

That the Minister for Climate Change Issues:

  1. Amend ETS to exclude large scale lignite industries from receiving free carbon credits.
  2. Amend ETS to set criteria for deciding which new activities are eligible for free carbon credits. One criterion to be that activities deemed eligible will reduce New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions.

That Cabinet:

3. Establish a clean green taskforce to explore growing our green economy. Include considering implications for the country of large scale exploitation of lignite.

The full report, appendix, and a video interview with the Commissioner are available here.

ENDS