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Total national emissions not the point

4 0 3

I am grateful to Gordon Webb for his comments on my column “Are governments serious about climate change?”, partly for giving me the opportunity to clarify his misunderstanding of New Zealand’s and China’s greenhouse gas emissions, but also because he set me off on a train of thought that has clarified my own thinking.

Gordon’s statement that “we are not statistically part of the problem” because we emit “roughly 0.17 percent of the planet’s total greenhouse gas emissions” is seriously misleading. Total national emissions are not the point — figures for China are far higher than for New Zealand because there are far more people in China.

The only two meaningful yardsticks are emissions per capita and emissions per unit of GDP, and on both of these, New Zealand is widely reported to be among the top half dozen emitters.

But it’s not as simple as this; even these two measures are misleading. If goods produced in each country stayed in that country, such comparisons might be valid, but they usually don’t. China’s industrial energy expenditure is largely used in the manufacture of goods for export, of which New Zealand is a consumer. Realistically therefore, the CO2 China produces in manufacturing the goods we import from it should be included in the accounting of our emissions and deducted from those of China.

But what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander; to be consistent, it could equally be argued that greenhouse gases emitted in New Zealand’s........

© The Gisborne Herald