Catherine Leining takes a detailed look at New Zealand’s recently announced 2030 climate change target. She wants a more ambitious goal

Catherine Leining takes a detailed look at New Zealand’s recently announced 2030 climate change target. She wants a more ambitious goal

By Catherine Leining*

On 7 July 2015, the New Zealand government tabled its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to global mitigation effort for the period post-2020.  It has pledged an emission reduction target of 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 (equivalent to 11% below 1990 levels by 2030), contingent on the rules for land-sector accounting and access to carbon markets.

The government has not yet specified an emission budget for the period from 2021 through 2030.

New Zealand’s proposal falls short of the global ambition needed to deliver the agreed two-degree temperature goal at least cost: countries should reduce their emissions by 40-70% below 2010 levels by 2050 on the way to a zero-net-emission global economy by the end of the century.  It also falls short of the targets recommended by a strong majority of submitters during the government’s recent consultation process (as shown in the summary of submissions).

The proposal falls within the target range which the government had pledged conditionally in Copenhagen in 2009 – a reduction of 10-20% below 1990 levels by 2020 – but a decade appears to have slipped through the cracks.  The government’s rationale is that because we already have a high level of renewable electricity generation and biological emissions from agriculture contribute to almost half of our emission profile, we lack cost-effective domestic mitigation opportunities.

Ironically, the government’s announcement occurred on the same day when the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate released its latest report identifying ten key opportunities for climate action that would generate economic benefits and deliver up to 96% of the global emission reductions needed by 2030 to keep the world on a two-degree pathway. The list is practical, energising and relevant to New Zealand:

  1. Accelerate low-carbon development in the world’s cities
  2. Restore and protect agricultural and forest landscapes, and increase agricultural productivity
  3. Invest at least US$1 trillion a year in clean energy
  4. Raise energy efficiency standards to the global best
  5. Implement effective carbon pricing
  6. Ensure new infrastructure is climate-smart
  7. Galvanise low-carbon innovation
  8. Drive low-carbon growth through business and investor action
  9. Raise ambition to reduce international aviation and maritime emissions
  10. Phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

These recommendations highlight the shortcomings of the government’s announcement.

What’s missing from the government’s INDC is a firm commitment backed by policy to decarbonise the New Zealand economy in line with global effort to limit temperature rises below two degrees.

What’s missing is a bold call for collaboration across government, business and civil society to deliver transformational low-carbon innovation with broader benefits for our economy, and to help other countries to do the same.

Instead, the announcement suggests heavy reliance on overseas carbon markets until technology improvements in agriculture and transport become more widely available sometime after 2030. It provides no policy direction to inspire and guide business investment.  It also fails to address the significant increase in net forestry emissions projected during the target period.

According to the Ministry for the Environment, compliance with New Zealand’s 2020 target will be achieved with “no change to existing policy settings” and “at no additional costs on households, businesses or government” primarily through forestry activities and surplus units acquired through the carbon market.  However, this continuation of business as usual domestically through and beyond 2030 will not prepare the New Zealand economy to thrive competitively under increasingly stringent global carbon constraints.

While the INDC defines the lowest level of commitment the government is prepared to make, it fortunately does not limit what we can actually do as a country. The government has pledged further consultation on its longer-term mitigation policies. Hopefully, this INDC can be used as the launching point for more in-depth, cross-stakeholder discussions on why and how New Zealand should shift strategically toward a low-emission economy. 


Catherine Leining is a Policy Fellow at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research. This article also appeared on the blog New Zealand’s Low-Emission Future.”  The views expressed are her own.  

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We have exactly the wrong people in government at this most critical time. They don't know science and they certainly don't know business. What a mess they're creating for us.

The summary of submissions document to the government, link paragraph 3, is well worth the read and shows the governments consultation to be a sham,and their new Policy and targets to be inadequate and sorely lacking in vision or ambition. There's so much more they can do....but won't -more of the same from National, no surprises here.

Global warming is the biggest issue facing NZ and the world in the long term- so after 6 years National allows less than 1 month for public consultation, builds no cross party or industry support, and uses this to rubber stamp its pre-decided do the minimum policy. A policy where NZ doesn't pull its weight internationally and which won't work to limit climate change. National - the ship of fools.

We already have driverless tractors - roll on cars and trucks. Just let good old innovation take it's natural course. Globally forest area is on the increase so no big deal if NZ suffers some plantation deforestation.

This from Nature the other day. Check out that future oil consumption prediction!

"Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are conveyances to move passengers or freight without human intervention. AVs are potentially disruptive both technologically and socially with claimed benefits including increased safety, road utilization, driver productivity and energy savings.

Here we estimate 2014 and 2030 greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions and costs of autonomous taxis (ATs), a class of fully autonomous shared AVs likely to gain rapid early market share, through three synergistic effects:
(1) future decreases in electricity GHG emissions intensity,
(2) smaller vehicle sizes resulting from trip-specific AT deployment, and
(3) higher annual vehicle-miles travelled (VMT), increasing high-efficiency (especially battery-electric) vehicle cost-effectiveness.

Combined, these factors could result in decreased US per-mile GHG emissions in 2030 per AT deployed of 87–94% below current conventionally driven vehicles (CDVs), and 63–82% below projected 2030 hybrid vehicles9, without including other energy-saving benefits of AVs. With these substantial GHG savings, ATs could enable GHG reductions even if total VMT, average speed and vehicle size increased substantially. Oil consumption would also be reduced by nearly 100%."

Regardless of what the watermelons say the problem is that we lack the low hanging fruit to get us to higher emission cuts.

Consider that NZ is already getting close to 85% renewable electricity supply but this counts for very little as the vast majority of this supply was built prior to 1990 when the emission targets are calculated from.

What remains is really hard - Animals and vehicles. R&D may fix animals eventually - huge investments going into this already. There is no vehicle manufacturing capability in NZ so there is no point incentivising a replacement of NZs vehicle fleet until electric cars become economic, probably about 5 to 8 years away.

The point is achieving emission goals for NZ is harder compared with other nations so the govt. is right to avoid committing us to a lower target.

"U.S. generation of electricity fueled by natural gas exceeded coal-fired generation for the first time on record in April 2015."

Pesky market forces reducing pollution all by itself.