Climate: New Zealand sets its emissions targets

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Paris in December is looming ever closer and New Zealand set its provisional emissions reduction target – 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 – earlier this month ready for the major summit.

All countries were expected to table targets, in Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), by the middle of the year as part of work towards the new climate change agreement.

Tim GroserMaking the announcement, Minister for Climate Change Tim Groser said the new target was an increase on the current target of five per cent below 1990 emissions levels by 2020.

“While New Zealand emissions are small on a global scale, we are keen to make a fair and ambitious contribution to the international effort to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and avoid the most harmful effects of climate change,” said Groser.

“Almost all of our electricity is renewable already and around half of our emissions come from producing food for which there aren’t yet cost-effective technologies to reduce emssions. So there are fewer opportunities for New Zealand to reduce its emissions right now.”

The Minister said he is optimistic about the future. “Our investment in agricultural research is beginning to bear fruit and the cost of electric and plug-in vehicles continues to fall. I think in five to 10 years, we’ll be in a good position to reduce our emissions in both agriculture and transport.”

Around 1,700 New Zealanders have attended meetings and over 15,000 people and organisations made written submissions in May during a public consultation. These were analysed and taken into account as the Government considered the most appropriate target to set, given New Zealand’s unique national circumstances, explained Groser.

“New Zealand’s target is equivalent to a reduction of 11 percent below our 1990 emission levels by 2030. Our target is expressed against 2005 emission levels similar to the approach of other significant players including the US and Canada.

“The target will remain provisional until we ratify the new international agreement. The detailed rules and guidelines for national reduction targets are likely to be set after the Paris meeting. These will cover matters such as the rules for accounting for the land sector and ensuring international carbon markets meet high standards of environmental integrity.”

The Government is to adopt an appropriate mix of policies to ensure the target is met. “In particular, we will begin a review of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) this year, which will include scope for further public discussion on what New Zealand will do domestically,” the Minister said.

Watch this short video from the Ministry for the Environment (MfE), which explains how the New Zealand post-2020 climate change target has been set.

30 percent, not far enough

The target of 30 percent reduction in emissions from 2005 has been criticised by many in New Zealand as not going far enough. The MfE website says that around 68.7 percent of around 16,000 submitters to the climate change consultation document sought 40 percent or more in emissions below 1990 levels.

Professor Ralph Sims, of Massey University’s Centre for Energy Research commented,” The original five percent below 1990 by 2020 target equates to around three million tonnes a year reduction in gross emissions if starting mitigation from today, whereas the 11 percent below 1990 by 2030 (that is the states 30 percent below 2005 by 2030) is around a 1.3 mt reduction – so it is hardly more ambitious!”

NZ's total and net emissions from 1990 to 2013

Sims questions whether New Zealand is really doing ‘our fair share’ when to meet the internationally agreed target of keeping the temperature rise below two degrees C requires around 40 percent in global greenhouse gas reductions by 2030.

While acknowledging the target is “not the stuff that strong climate action is made of”, associate professor Frank Jotzo of the Centre for Climate Economics & Policy and Director of the Resources Environment and Development programme at the Australian National University said: “New Zealand also plans to meet the target by large scale use of carbon markets, which is cost effective but dimishes the effectiveness in putting the domestic economy on a lower emissions footing.”

That said, he commented, “We need to recognise that New Zealand is in a special situation in that agriculture and transport comprise the bulk of emissions and reducing emissions in these sectors in relatively hard. Only very small amounts of emissions come from energy and manufacturing industries which in most other countries, including Australia, provide the greatest opportunity to reduce emissions cheaply. New Zealand already runs largely on renewable power.”

Size not as important as the supporting policies for forestry

Forest owners meanwhile say the size of the government’s emissions reduction target is not as important as the policies which support it.

“This is the fourth target this government has issued. The three previous ones were not supported by policies designed to achieve those targets so were effectively meaningless. What we need now are policies that show the government is committed to achieving whatever target it sets,” says Forest Owners Association chief executive David Rhodes.

The government has set the following emissions targets since it came to office in 2008:

  1. An unconditional target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to five percent below 1990 emissions by 2020 (under Kyoto Protocol rules).
  2. A pledge of a conditional target range of between 10 and 10 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2020 subject to several caveats.
  3. A long-term target of a 50 percent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by 2050.
  4. A 30 percent reduction below 2005 levels by 2030.

The forestry sector is calling for major changes to the ETS in the upcoming review and is pleased with the emphasis Minister Groser and Associate Minister for Primary Industries Jo Goodhew are placing on this, says Rhodes.

“We may be able to do better [than the target set], but we won’t know until we have the ETS operating effectively. To date the ETS has been a failure. It hasn’t encouraged consumers or industry to reduce their emissions and it certainly hasn’t resulted in any sustained planting of carbon forests.”



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