PM Jacinda Ardern and climate change minister James Shaw. (Dom Thomas/RNZ)
PM Jacinda Ardern and climate change minister James Shaw. (Dom Thomas/RNZ)

The BulletinNovember 1, 2021

NZ to halve emissions by 2030

PM Jacinda Ardern and climate change minister James Shaw. (Dom Thomas/RNZ)
PM Jacinda Ardern and climate change minister James Shaw. (Dom Thomas/RNZ)

The government has unveiled a new target on the eve of the climate conference to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50%, but critics say it doesn’t go far enough, Justin Giovannetti writes in The Bulletin.

We have eight years to halve our emissions. On the eve of the Cop26 climate conference, the government has set a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 50% of the country’s 2005 level by 2030. RNZ reports that it’s a substantial increase on the previous goal to slash emissions by 30%. According to the prime minister, the new goal means the country is now pulling its weight in the international effort to limit warming to 1.5 degrees celsius..

There will be a heavy cost to cutting emissions so quickly. Speaking with reporters yesterday afternoon, climate change minister James Shaw explained that the deeper target was a long time coming. As Shaw sees it, for nearly three decades the country has done too little, allowing emissions to keep rising and putting off difficult choices. After the delay, those choices are now more expensive and require sharper cuts than would have otherwise warranted.

To get to the country’s target by 2030, nearly two-thirds of the emissions reductions will need to come from overseas and could cost the country $1 billion annually until domestic cuts catch up. It’ll be cheaper to pay other people to reduce emissions than to do it in New Zealand. Stuff writes that along with the way the new target mixes gross and net reductions, something it calls an “accounting trick”, the international offsets are being used by other countries as well. To help get to the new target, the government will be subtracting the emissions reduced by the planting of new trees.

Shaw: After 30 years of delay, it’s the best we could do. This plan is a compromise, representing what Shaw called “the highest possible ambition in light of our national circumstances”. The Green co-leader and minister was clear yesterday that his hope would be to do more, but this is what he could get through a Labour cabinet. “I think we should be doing a whole lot more, especially given our rubbish record historically, but the alternative is committing to something we can’t deliver,” he said. “As long as I’m in this job, I’ll be striving to do more.”

The initial reaction hasn’t been glowing. The Council of Trade Unions called the new target a “welcome and positive step”. Environmental groups disagree. Greenpeace said the “government wimps out on climate action” and demanded a tougher target for agricultural emissions. Oxfam called the plan “a betrayal to Pacific Island countries”, while the WWF labelled it “a slap in the face”. The last two cited the government’s change in methodology as a problem. In a sign of the growing political division in parliament over the response to climate change, both Act and the National party attacked the government for setting a target they both called too high and too expensive.

The final word goes to Sam Dean, a climate scientist for NIWA who wrote this for the Science Media Centre:

“This is a bigger change in New Zealand’s international climate policy than may appear at first glance, and will help restore international credibility. What matters to global warming is the change in concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – the difference between what we emit and what we remove through actions like forestry, known as net-emissions. Reframing our targets this way is also simpler to understand.”

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