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Govt sets mandate for climate change negotiations

Govt sets mandate for climate change negotiations

First published in Energy and Environment on November 28, 2019.

The Government has released its negotiating mandate ministers will be taking to the UNFCCC COP meeting in Madrid next week.

The meeting, moved from Chile due to civil unrest, runs from December 3 to 13 and is seeking to fine tune the Paris Agreement rules, as well as fill gaps including international carbon trading.

The meeting follows the release this week of the World Meteorological Organization’s data showing concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide, reached record levels in the atmosphere last year.

Levels of CO2, the main gas driving global warming, had increased to 407.8 parts per million in 2018, up from 405.5ppm the previous year, nearly 50% higher than levels before the Industrial Revolution and the highest atmospheric concentration seen in three million years.

The Madrid meeting will be a test of commitments of other countries to not only put forward plans to reduce emissions, but also around the cost of adaptation as well as the loss and damage from climate change.

The new mandate agreed by Cabinet is updated to reflect the objective of limiting global average temperature increase to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels as agreed in the Zero Carbon Act.

There is also a focus on international carbon markets. While domestic policy has been moving further away from the use of international carbon trading, ministers still want a sound and credible international market. In particular NZ wants no use of pre-2020 credits.

NZ will also push for the complete closure of the Kyoto Protocol once the Paris Agreement is fully operational; and a new mandate on how emissions from gases like methane are counted.

Another position is to encourage other countries to bring agriculture into their emissions reductions plans, while ensuring trade rules take into account the position NZ is taking on climate change policy.

Cabinet papers released have been partly redacted to protect some negotiating positions

The paper said ministers need to be comfortable with the positions and approach NZ will take because they will impact national interests, will be subject scrutiny and “the company we keep, and support we can give (or not) to like-minded countries, can impact on our relationships with other countries”.

On international carbon trading, NZ will seek guidelines for the use of carbon markets that promote environmental integrity through robust accounting, the avoidance of double accounting, strong transparency and advocate for accounting rules that do not recognise the use of pre-2020 units toward targets under the Paris Agreement.

NZ will resist potential attempts to introduce a third commitment period of the Protocol and seek to close or rationalise existing Kyoto Protocol institutions and processes.

NZ will also pursue scientific and technical discussion of greenhouse gas metrics by the UNFCCC and “encourage other countries to take mitigation action on agriculture”.

“Where trade measures are discussed, NZ will seek to ensure these discussions consider how trade measures can actively support implementation of the Paris Agreement”.

This was to give a “clearer signal on expectation of complementarity between international trade and climate change regimes”.

The Cabinet paper also said , should the negotiations move outside the bounds of existing Cabinet decisions, any final decisions would be reconsidered by Cabinet. If this was not possible, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, the Minister for Climate Change, and relevant portfolio Minister/s, could make together final decisions on the negotiation position.

First published in Energy and Environment on November 28, 2019.

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