NZ unveils zero carbon goal, but goes soft on sheep emissions

The New Zealand Government has achieved a significant milestone towards establishing the country’s first pathway for reaching zero carbon emissions, with the tabling of legislation in the New Zealand parliament on Wednesday.

James Shaw, the minister for climate change and a Greens MP,  tabled the Zero Carbon Bill in parliament, which will establish a net zero emissions target for carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, as well as establishing an independent climate commission and a requirement to produce plans for climate adaptation.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern highlighted the efforts undertaken to develop a comprehensive plan for the New Zealand community that will cover all economic sectors.

“We’ve built a practical consensus across Government that creates a plan for the next 30 years, which provides the certainty industries need to get in front of this challenge.” Prime Minister Ardern said.

In a notable contrast to Australian politics, there has been constructive engagement by all New Zealand political parties in the development of the legislative package.

The bill will establish an independent Climate Change Commission, which will advise the New Zealand Government on targets and interim emissions reduction pathways, and develop regular five-year budgets for emissions.

The New Zealand Government will also be legally required to develop adaptation plans for communities, businesses and farmers in response to the effects of climate change.

Notably, the Zero Carbon Bill will separate methane gas emissions, establishing a separate set of targets for reducing methane emissions from sectors such as agriculture.

The Bill is the culmination of almost a year of community and industry consultation undertaken by the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment. More than 15,000 submissions were made in response to a consultation paper released by the New Zealand Government.

The issue of agricultural emissions remains a hot topic, and 91 per cent of submissions called for a zero emissions target to be legislated for all sources of greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand.

Agriculture represents approximately half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. The vast majority of these emissions are in the form of methane, and the gas represents 43% of New Zealand’s overall greenhouse gas emissions footprint.

However, the bill will establish a separate for methane emissions, with a 10% methane reduction target by 2030, with a further target of 24% to 47% by 2050.

By splitting out methane and allocating a separate set of emissions reductions targets, the New Zealand Government can effectively shield the agricultural sector from needing to rapidly shift to zero net emissions.

“Agriculture is incredibly important to New Zealand, but it also needs to be part of the solution. That is why we have listened to the science and also heard the industry and created a specific target for biogenic methane.” Minister Shaw said.

“The split gases approach we’ve agreed on is consistent with that commitment.”

NZ opposition leader Simon Bridges welcomed the bill, but expressed reservations about the targets set for the agricultural sector.

“While we have found common ground on the Commission’s form and function, the net-zero target for long lived gases, and the separate treatment of methane, we have serious reservations about the expected rate of reduction for methane.” National party leader Simon Bridges said.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace New Zealand executive director Dr Russell Norman criticised the bill for lacking an enforcement mechanism that would ensure the targets are met, threatening further protests and civil disobedience if the legislation is not strengthened.

“What we’ve got here is a reasonably ambitious piece of legislation that’s then had the teeth ripped out of it. There’s bark, but there’s no bite,” Norman said.

“The Bill sends some good signals until you get to the section at the end that negates everything else you’ve just read. This section states there is no remedy or relief for failure to meet the 2050 target, meaning there’s no legal compulsion for anyone to take any notice.”

“I think if the New Zealand Government doesn’t get on with stopping polluting activities and backing clean energy, then we’ll see more public protest and civil resistance.”

The Investor Group on Climate Change, who’s membership includes investors from Australian and New Zealand welcomed the progress towards legislating for zero carbon emissions.

“Climate change represents a systemic risk to the financial system and economy,” Emma Herd, CEO of the Investor Group on Climate Change said.

“The Zero Carbon Bill is a crucial step towards establishing a robust road map for New Zealand to unlock investment in the zero carbon economy.”

“The setting of ambitious, long-term emissions reduction targets aligned to 1.5C and predictable governance frameworks are crucial for both investor confidence and ensuring a carefully planned transition to a zero carbon economy.”

The Bill will be considered by the New Zealand parliament and the Government hopes the bill will be passed before the end of the year. The NZ Labour party currently shares power through a coalition arrangement with the NZ First party led by Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and supported by the NZ Green Party.

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