Climate change report finds NZ not on track to meet 2050 emissions targets

A high-powered report looking at New Zealand's action on climate change shows the country is not on track to meet its 2050 emission targets – with the Prime Minister describing the road ahead as "steep and tough at times", but also achievable.

Ināia tonu nei: The time is now, includes an estimation of the cost of lack of action – a price tag of 2.3 per cent of GDP by 2050, almost double the cost of acting now.

"Today is a huge milestone in a movement, and in a transition we must make," Jacinda Ardern said from Parliament. "Acting now is not a choice, it is imperative. Acting now makes more economic sense than waiting."

"It is safer, smarter and cheaper to act now."

"Climate change is my generation’s - and perhaps even more so, the next generation’s - nuclear free moment," Ardern said. 

Slashing New Zealand's emissions to meet its targets and international obligations require ambitious changes, the report stated.

Reaching net zero emissions of long-lived greenhouse gases and dropping methane emissions to 24-47 per cent by 2050 would require "us do to things differently in the decades to come", said Climate Commission chair Rod Carr.

"We are going to need to move sooner to do more. There are many pathways New Zealand has to transition to this thriving low transmission economy. We just need to get onto it now."

Those pathways included altering the Emissions Trading Scheme, accelerate the switch to low emissions fuels, reduce emissions from waste and to introduce policies, incentives, and tools to speed up emission reduction in agriculture.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said the advice was New Zealand needed "to build on the foundations we have laid, and that we need to do it quickly".

"Of the many challenges we face, the climate crisis is the one that will shape the lives of our children and grandchildren the most.

"I want them to look back on the release of this advice as a turning point. The moment that the whole of government realised that there is a job for everyone in bringing about a clean, stable future in which they can thrive."

Jo Hendy of the commission said that emissions increased in 2020, "meaning New Zealand has a slightly harder job to do".

She said in feedback from the draft report, the commission heard very clearly from Māori that we need to strengthen Te Tiriti o Waitangi principles in our work".

"We cannot make this transition without working in partnership with iwi Māori."

In terms of policy, the report set out "critical" changes that needed to be achieved. 

They include: Expanding native forests to build a long-term carbon sink, have more people use low emission transport options (including using emerging options such as electric bikes and scooters) rather than petrol cars, phasing out new fossil gas connections and switching existing fossil gas appliances to low emissions fuels, and eliminating coal use in commercial and public buildings by 2030, and for food processing before 2040.

"Short-term thinking has delivered Aotearoa to where we are now in addressing climate change," the report states.

"Transformational change takes time, and people need certainty around the speed and direction of travel to invest in changing how they live, work and operate. There needs to be some hard work done now that will pay dividends later." 

"Uncertainty about the future is not a reason for delay," the report states. "In fact, it is a reason for stronger action. It is important that we chart a path forward that has enough flexibility to ensure it is resilient."

It criticised the reliance on the short-term focus of emission reduction by planting trees and purchasing offshore mitigation, "rather than what was necessary to achieve actual emissions reductions at source".

The commission found a lack of trust in the effectiveness of New Zealand's Emission Trading Scheme. It currently does not differentiate between carbon removals by forests and gross emissions reductions. 

"If left unchanged, this will drive the relatively low short-run cost abatement option of planting pines, rather than more costly gross emissions reductions that put Aotearoa on a path to net zero that is sustainable over the long term beyond 2050.

"Carbon removals by fast-growing tree species, such as pine, can offset an amount of gross emissions, but this benefit is one-off. It does not reduce ongoing gross emissions, and, to maintain the one-off benefit, the planted land must remain in forest permanently. This puts a burden on current and future generations."

National said the report left unanswered questions.

"We still have questions on why farmers are being asked to do more than the targets set out in the Zero Carbon Act. 

"We broadly support the approach the commission has taken to developing carbon budgets, but the eight per cent reduction required over the next four years will not be an easy task."

Greenpeace climate change campaigner Amanda Larsson said there was a "cow-shaped hole in both the Climate Change Commission’s advice and the Government’s approach to climate action". 

"New Zealand has the world’s highest methane emissions per person, largely thanks to those six million dairy cows," she said. "The commission’s goal of a 16 per cent reduction in methane is not only insufficient, it’s unlikely to succeed because it relies on voluntary measures and future techno-fixes," she said. 

Federated Farmers' Andrew Hoggard said significant investment would be needed for access and education for the technology required to implement the climate change recommendations. 

"Feds is wary of any policy direction which assumes tougher regulation will force behaviour change. To expect landowners to make land use changes based on the weight of regulation they face, rather than market forces, is unreliable and unlikely to deliver lasting improvements. 

"Now we will wait to see if the Government’s Emissions Response Plan, due by the end of the year, can take us further together without slamming farmers and growers even harder."