Pete Hodgson has just admitted that New Zealand will miss its first commitment period Kyoto target by 36.2 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent. This is expected to cost us around $600 million over that period to purchase carbon credits to cover the extra emissions.
The government is blaming higher-than-expected economic growth and changes to the way forest sinks are calculated for the change, but there's also a significant policy failure. From the beginning, we had been relying on forest sinks to cover excess emissions - and just three years ago, the picture was looking very healthy. But the government has now established a policy framework that, rather than encouraging land-use changes to forestry or conservation forest, encourages the opposite. Those in the forestry sector have been cutting their trees down early to avoid the "Kyoto penalty" if they cut them down after 2007. At the same time, the government itself is helping to change a large portion of North Island forest into dairy farms - and vastly increasing our net emissions in the process (not to mention contributing to the pollution of our lakes and rivers).
This has to change. It's not enough to focus on the energy sector. If we are to meet our international obligations and do our bit towards mitigating global climate change, the government needs to encourage the planting of forest sinks and long-term changes in land-use. It is a one-off gain, but it will give us more time to solve the real problems of reducing animal and transport emissions.