New Zealand passes historic zero carbon bill with near unanimous bipartisan support

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New Zealand passes landmark legislation enshrining its zero-carbon target into law with bipartisan support, although concerns linger about plans to tackle agricultural emissions.

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern embraces Climate Change Minister James Shaw in Parliament. Credit: AP Photo/Nick Perry
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The New Zealand parliament has passed landmark legislation that enshrines the country’s commitment to the Paris Agreement into law, and will see the country achieve zero net carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

The legislation establishes New Zealand as one of the few countries in the world with a legislated commitment to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, with the New Zealand bill committing to establishing policies consistent with limiting global warming to just 1.5°C.

The bill was passed with bipartisan support, including from the centre right Nationals, in contrast to Australia where climate and energy policy has provoked toxic debate and scare campaigns from the far right factions that dominates the Coalition government.

“This is a historic piece of legislation and is the centrepiece for meaningful climate change action in New Zealand”, New Zealand climate minister James Shaw said following the passage of the bill.

“Climate change is the defining long-term issue of our generation that successive Governments have failed to address. Today we take a significant step forward in our plan to reduce New Zealand’s emissions.”

The bill sets a trajectory for reducing emissions and introduces a range of complementary measures, including the establishment of an independent Climate Change Commission to advise advice to the NZ government on reducing emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change, as well as determining emissions budgets.

The Ardern government has also established a $100M Green Investment Fund, which will invest public funds in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, serving a similar role to that of the Australian Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

It is a further step that will cement New Zealand’s position as a climate leader in the Pacific region, a position that has effectively been abdicated by the Australian government.

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern said that the passage of the bill sent a meaningful message to the Pacific region that New Zealand took the threats of climate change seriously.

“We have committed ourselves to a 1.5°C target that we are embedding in legislation, not just because of the statements of the Paris Agreement but because that is what is required if we are to show our Pacific neighbours that we understand what the impacts above 1.5°C will have on them — it is real,” Ardern told the parliament.

Shaw said that the passage of the bill had the backing of the wider New Zealand public, after consultation on the bill received a huge response from a wide diversity of stakeholders.

“We as the elected representatives of New Zealanders must take the opportunity to act on climate change before the window closes,” Shaw added.

“We’ve led the world before in nuclear disarmament and in votes for women, now we are leading again.”

“The Bill had nearly eleven thousand written and oral submissions. The Committee heard from parents, students, scientists, farmers, academics, health professionals, activists, iwi, local government and many more,” Shaw added.

The Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill, passed through the New Zealand parliament with near-unanimous support, although the National party has pledged to make amendments to the zero carbon legislation if it wins government at next year’s election.

“We have taken a bipartisan approach to climate change but we will continue to fight for the changes we think will make the law better,” NZ leader of the opposition Simon Bridges said.

The sole dissenter was David Seymour of the ACT New Zealand party, which has consistently held a position of climate change denial.

The passage of the bill was welcomed by environmental groups, along with business groups that welcomed the multi-party support passage of the bill as a strong signal of policy stability.

“We want to congratulate Generation Zero and all of the people who worked so hard to get the Zero Carbon Act across the line,” Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson said.

“Now that the Zero Carbon Act is passed, the Government can get to work on introducing policies to cut climate pollution.”

However, there was angst amongst New Zealand farming groups, which see the Bill as a potential threat to industries dependent on the raising of sheep and cattle, which are major contributors to New Zealand’s national emissions.

“They had a golden opportunity to pass a Bill that was fit for purpose, and could have taken a bipartisan approach to climate change, and could have taken farmers along as well,” NZ Federated Farmers vice president Andrew Hoggard said.

While the bill enshrines a target of achieving zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, the bill has taken a softer approach on biomethane, a potent greenhouse gas that is predominantly produced by New Zealand’s agricultural emissions.

Given the significant portion of New Zealand’s economy that is reliant on the agricultural sector, the NZ government opted to set ambitious methane reduction targets, but stopped short of mandating zero methane emissions by 2050.

Approximately half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the agricultural sector, and the zero carbon bill establishes a target of reducing methane emissions by 24% to 47% from 2017 levels by 2050.

The softer target was justified by a desire to protect agricultural producers from stricter targets and acknowledges the difficulties of completely eliminating emissions from the agricultural sector.

New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra announced in July that it would phase the practice of using thermal coal to process and dry milk. The practice had been labelled “insane”by the founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance Michael Liebriech.

The New Zealand government is pursuing a range of initiatives towards meeting these emissions reduction targets, including the planning of one billion new trees by 2028, strengthening its emissions trading scheme and stopping the exploration for new oil and gas reserves.

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