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NZ falls into line on 1.5 degree climate change target

NZ falls into line on 1.5 degree climate change target in Paris talks

By Pattrick Smellie

Dec. 11 (BusinessDesk) - New Zealand will line up with more than 100 other countries behind the so-called 'high ambition' target to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius as the global climate change talks in Paris head into what may be a final long night of negotiations.

Speaking to BusinessDesk from Paris, Climate Change Minister Tim Groser said the decision had been made on Thursday evening, Paris time, after discussions with Prime Minister John Key in New Zealand, to support a 1.5 degree rather than a 2 degree goal, coinciding with a meeting with Pacific Island delegations to the Paris talks.

New Zealand had been holding out for the previously widely accepted goal of trying to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees, even though the latest calculations of countries' Intended Nationally Determined Commitments - a key element of the new global pact emerging in Paris - suggests they would only succeed in limiting global temperature increases to 2.7 degrees. New Zealand appears to have buckled following unexpected support for the more ambitious target from US Secretary of State John Kerry, in Paris on Wednesday

Australia had already moved ahead of New Zealand in accepting the aspirational 1.5 degree warming limit target, isolating Groser, who enjoys a strong reputation as a negotiator among participating countries at the same time as being pilloried by environmental groups for New Zealand's relatively modest goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 2005 levels by 2030.

Groser said it had been his view that limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees was unachievable, but he didn't want the potential for an agreement in Paris to founder over an issue of "aspirational language."

"Since it's obviously so important to Pacific Island countries (some of which face possible inundation as sea levels rise), we've said 'OK'," said Groser.

Groser remains confident a final agreement will be stitched together at the Paris talks, the most positive annual global meeting on climate change action since the 2009 summit in Copenhagen, which failed to set a course for carbon emission reductions after the expiry of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, in 2012.

"The atmosphere is not the nasty, cantankerous, pernicious atmosphere of Copenhagen. While failure is possible, I will be astonished if it fails."

The result would be that the world would move from "a ludicrously partial coverage of emissions to covering 90 percent of emissions."

At this stage, there were no red flags for New Zealand in the emerging agreement, although neither New Zealand nor the US would accept proposals that would make developed countries legally liable to fully compensate developing countries for natural disasters created by more extreme weather.

"The reality is that whenever a hurricane goes through the Cook Islands or somewhere else in the Pacific, New Zealand and Australia step up," said Groser.

"But we won't live with language that says we are legally liable to fully remedy loss and damage."

Such provisions would also kill a wider global deal in the US Congress, he said "My judgement is that hardline countries pushing for compensation and legal liability will back off because if they don't, there will be no deal."

He expected the final deal to contain provision for mandatory review of progress on climate change action within five years and that the proposed US$100 billion sought in funding from developed nations for developing nations would be found by the 2020 deadline.

Meanwhile, Parliament's local government and environment select committee heard yesterday that the Ministry for the Environment provided no advice to the government on whether agricultural emissions should be included in next year's review of the emissions trading scheme.

Asked by Labour's newly appointed environment spokesman, David Parker, whether the ministry had given any advice on the issue, the Ministry's chief executive Vicky Robertson said: "No."

"At a practical level, it's too early to bring them in," she said.

Groser said he had received no criticism from government delegations in Paris on New Zealand's stance on agricultural emissions, despite heavy criticism from environmental activists.

"The climate has shifted on agriculture," Groser said. "People realise we are dealing with the issue."

(BusinessDesk)

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