By Pattrick Smellie
May 8 (BusinessDesk) - After months of cross-parliamentary wrangling, the government this morning unveiled its long-awaited draft legislation that will guide New Zealand to its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill enshrines the overall target, but splits out the short-lived greenhouse gas, methane, for special treatment.
Methane is a powerful global warming gas emitted by cows, sheep and other cattle and accounts for some 35 percent of all New Zealand’s GHG emissions.
Rather than targeting net-zero methane by 2050, the Bill proposes a target of reducing methane emissions to between 24 percent and 47 percent of 2017 levels by 2050.
That is a slightly weaker target than was contained in the 2018 report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, which also acknowledged a split gas approach to methane. The IPCC recommended that global methane emissions should fall to between 24 percent and 47 percent of 2010 levels.
However, the New Zealand methane pathway gets a push at the front-end, with a target of a 10 percent reduction in methane emissions by 2030.
“That provisional range will be subject to review by the independent Climate Change Commission in 2024, to take account of changes in scientific knowledge and other developments,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Climate Change Minister James Shaw said in a statement.
The seven-year difference between the IPCC and New Zealand targets may allow New Zealand some breathing space to account for the rapid expansion of dairy farming during the first part of the current decade.
The legislation will establish the Climate Change Commission as an independent body with advisory and monitoring provisions, but no decision-making or regulatory powers.
It will publish five-yearly reviews of New Zealand’s progress towards its emission reduction goals and make recommendations based on that progress.
Detail on the contentious subject of using international carbon credits to meet New Zealand’s commitments is lacking in today’s announcements.
“Emissions budgets will primarily be met through domestic action – that is, the reduction and removal (e.g., through forestry) of domestic greenhouse gas emissions.
“In very limited circumstances, they will also allow for reductions sourced from overseas to meet emissions budgets.”
It was not immediately apparent what political deals were required to reach that outcome. But today’s decisions leave untouched at least two other key issues that are highly politically sensitive: the extent to which agricultural GHGs are included in the emissions trading scheme and whether the government’s target of 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035 will endure.
The Interim Climate Change Committee has already signalled its belief that the 100 percent renewable target will be too costly. In February, it told iwi leaders that accountability for livestock emissions should ultimately lie with each farm. But it suggested pricing emissions through a levy, given simple, user-friendly ways to measure and report emissions will not be feasible near-term.
Notes accompanying today’s announcements described “constructive discussions” with New Zealand First, which has traditionally taken a softer line on climate action because of the likely economic impact, particularly on farming and regional economies.
The same notes suggest the National Party has yet to commit its support for the Bill, although the government was “certainly hopeful” after a “good faith” process to get to this point.
Those decisions will flow from the recommendations of the Interim Climate Change Commission, whose final report was to have been released last week in a ministerial press conference that was cancelled at short notice.
Its release, expected at the end of the month, is now likely to be accompanied by government decisions.
The Zero Carbon Bill itself will be introduced to Parliament this month, with the bill becoming law late this year, along with the establishment of the seven-person Climate Change Commission.