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Taking the Long View

Taking the Long View
Gord Stewart

Committed Youth Take on Climate Change

If you want something profoundly important accomplished, here’s a recipe for success: Get young people to do it. And don’t pay them.

That seems to be the case with climate change action and the proposal for a Zero Carbon Act. Perhaps it’s enough for them just to know their future depends on it.

Generation Zero launched its blueprint for a Zero Carbon Act at Parliament in early April. It’s a call for a powerful new climate change law to get New Zealand to zero carbon by 2050 or sooner. It’s a natural for cross-party support in Government. It needs and deserves our support, too.

Established in 2011, Generation Zero is a national organisation of young people who aren’t waiting around for politicians to protect our future. They’re all volunteers, working to raise awareness about climate change issues and to propose and implement practical solutions. They receive occasional grants and small donations, but generally do their great work on a shoestring budget – on the smell of an oily rag, really.

Why does New Zealand need such an Act? Through the Paris Climate Accord, countries of the world agreed to limit warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. This requires global CO2 emissions to reach net zero by early in the second half of the century, along with deep cuts in other greenhouse gas emissions.

Many countries are responding and seeing great progress through innovation and efficiency. Sadly, New Zealand is not one of them. Our greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and there is no plan to meet even the inadequate reduction targets the Government has set.

The UK Climate Change Act, passed in 2008, is proof that such a plan can work. The framework put in place allows politicians to think beyond election cycles and work together. CO2 emissions have fallen 28 percent since the act was passed, to a level last observed in 1894.

Others are following suit. Similar legal frameworks are now in place in Finland, Denmark and Ireland, and in several states and provinces in the US, Australia and Canada. Sweden will soon introduce a law committing to be carbon neutral by 2045. Seven of eight parliamentary parties support it.

We can do it, too. The proposed Zero Carbon Act will commit New Zealand to zero carbon by 2050, set a legally binding pathway to reach the target, and require the Government to make a plan.

A crucial part of the Act will be the establishment of an independent Climate Commission. It would consist of an expert panel appointed by Parliament and have two main functions: to provide advice on targets, policies and climate risks and to hold the Government accountable. This is crucial as climate change action is too important to leave to whether the Government-of-the-day cares or not.

The Act would have a number of key principles, including a transition that is fair and cost-effective, an honouring of the Treaty of Waitangi, and attention to intergenerational equity.

The Act would set separate targets for long-lived greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide) and short-lived ones (mainly methane). Sensitive to the particular impacts on agriculture, short-lived gases will have to be reduced to sustainable levels, but not zero.

The Act would also ensure a comprehensive national response to the now inevitable impacts of climate change. This will require a five-yearly national climate risk assessment and an adaptation programme to address the identified risks.

Finally, the Act will ensure New Zealand delivers on its international climate change obligations in a transparent manner. This includes duties under the Paris Agreement to support efforts in developing countries, such as our low-lying Pacific island neighbours.

Generation Zero is currently gathering petitions in support of the Act (see ‘More Info’), but will wait to have it tabled in Parliament after the election. Hopefully the parties in power then will see the wisdom of such an Act. There’s nowhere to hide from climate change. Together we can do what’s needed.

In a heartfelt call to action, Lisa McLaren, Zero Carbon Act campaign convener, said, “Let’s get to work tackling the greatest challenge of our time and stand united as a nation that values reason, fairness and our children’s futures.”

Gord Stewart is an environmental sustainability consultant. He does project work for government, industry, and non-profit organisations.

More Info Online
Generation Zero –
Zero Carbon Act blueprint and petition –
Net Zero in New Zealand: Scenarios to achieve domestic emissions neutrality in the second half of the century – (look under Projects).

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