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New Zealand’s Updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) Still Far Too Weak

While significantly stronger than the last version, our updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) just announced by the government, is still far too weak for New Zealand to make an adequate contribution under the Paris Agreement to controlling climate change. Also, its weakness is still being obfuscated by the inconsistent way in which it is defined.

The updated NDC sets a target for New Zealand to reduce its emissions to 50% below 2005 levels by 2030. But the government is continuing to define it by comparing gross emissions in the base year with net emissions in the target year. This is a bit like saying you have reduced your vehicle use by comparing last year’s distance travelled in kilometres, with this year’s distance in miles. Expressed in a consistent manner, comparing net emissions in the base year with net emissions in the target year, it is actually a goal to reduce our net emissions by only 28% over the 2010-2030 period.

This is way less than is needed for New Zealand to make a proper contribution to meeting the Paris goal of holding global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, although Climate Change Minister James Shaw states it would be. For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in their 2018 report that CO2 levels need to fall by around 45% below 2010 levels by 2030, and the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) says that global greenhouse gas emissions need to fall by 45% over the 2020-2030 period, all on a net-net basis.

Climate Action Tracker (a partnership between Climate Analytics, The New Climate Institute and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research) has rated New Zealand’s response to climate change so far as “highly insufficient”. It says that by 2030 New Zealand needs to reduce its overall gross emissions to at least 44% below the 2005 level, and preferably up towards the 70% level. As a developed country with the necessary skills and resources, there is a strong argument for us to be aiming towards the higher end of this range.

The government says that the revised NDC is consistent with the recommendations of the Climate Change Commission. While not expressed in a manner that makes comparison clear, based on the available information, the Commission’s currently proposed reductions are well below what the international bodies noted above say are required by 2030. Hence, it is totally inappropriate to use them as a guide for setting the NDC.

We are currently facing the strong possibility of climate catastrophe. Scientists tell us that what we do in the next ten years is critical. For New Zealand to play its part, we need a much stronger NDC than the government has proposed, and much faster action to reduce our emissions than we have currently taken. This is achievable if the government takes the necessary actions.

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