Farming out of ETS until at least 2018

A fairly cryptic release of the government's review of the emissions trading scheme has one little pearler in it: farming will stay out of the ETS until 2018. At least.

A fairly cryptic release yesterday of the government's review of the emissions trading scheme has one little pearler in it: farming will stay out of the ETS until 2018. At least.

Of course, it isn't put as clearly as that. Heaven forbid.

This is a document about climate change and the emissions trading scheme, which means it has been scanned carefully for any statement that says what it means or means what it says.

Any sentence with a whiff of clarity has been ruthlessly expunged.

But buried away in the consultation paper is the suggestion that the government might delay including agriculture emissions in the scheme past the planned date of 2015, perhaps until 2018.

For "perhaps" read "definitely will".

There are conditions put around any delay, but this is where it looks as though our servants in the Beehive have been taking note of what another government did, 10 years ago on the other side of the world, when faced with the difficulties of an international agreement it was divided on and which would have hurt some of its key supporters.

That government was the Tony Blair Labour government in the United Kingdom, facing the decision to enter the European common currency.

The move was controversial in the country and the cabinet was split: Blair himself was keen but Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown was not.

So Mr Brown played along with the idea, but devised an infamous set of "five tests" which needed to be met.

They were only ostensibly economic – the tests were, as a Treasury official admitted in an unguarded moment, political rather than economic.

They were also devised in a way which meant all five were unlikely to be met at any one time.

The UK stayed out of the euro, something about which its citizens now seem highly relieved.

It seems ministers in the current New Zealand government have been watching and learning.

True, there are only two tests for delaying extending the ETS to New Zealand's most successful industry, rather than five.

The tests are vague, which provides plenty of wiggle room.

They are, first, that the farming industry must have technologies available to reduce its emissions.

And second, and much more helpfully from a political point of view, it will not happen unless "international competitors are taking sufficient action on their emissions in general".

The competitors are unnamed, and "sufficient action" is left airily undefined, even without that "in general" tag at the end, which is a dead giveaway that this is being left as woolly as possible.

Underlying this appears to be a further calculation: that the Kyoto Protocol and its various policy offshoots is not going to be around, at least in its current form, by the time anyone has to make a decision on this.

The ETS remains on the country's other emissions, and the government expects to gather $583 million this year in climate change related imposts.

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