The recently formed Climate Commission has just released it first report, Draft Advice for Consultation and is now asking for public comment. The report describes how the country can meet the greenhouse gas emissions reductions required by New Zealand’s Zero Carbon Act, in order to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Buried back in Chapter 8, the Commission examines how these emissions reductions stack up with our international commitments to reduce emissions. The long and short of it is, without significant additional effort in emissions reduction, we are on track to miss an international commitment for 2030 and will need to purchase billions of dollars’ worth of emissions credits on the international market in order to keep our word.
How did this happen?
The emissions reduction commitment in question was agreed upon as part of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, to which New Zealand is a signatory. This commitment is to, by 2030, limit New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions (gross emissions minus CO2 removals by forestry) to 30% less than the level of its gross emissions in 2005. In order to meet this commitment, the Commission calculates that New Zealand can emit no more than 585 million tonnes (Mt) CO2 equivalent (CO2e) over the next 9 years, from 2021 to 2030.
The problem is, the Climate Commission’s plan through 2030 achieves the targets set in the Zero Carbon Act but isn’t enough for the Paris commitment. Combined with an estimate of 2021 emissions, the Commission’s plan yields 628 Mt CO2e by 2030 – 43 Mt over the Paris commitment. The Commission goes one further, suggesting that a more realistic analysis of climate modelling suggests that the net emissions needed to meet the Paris agreement’s target of no more than 1.5°C warming should be 564 Mt CO2e, or 64 Mt more than the emissions trajectory of the Commission’s plan.
So, if the government buckles down on emissions and follows the Climate Commission’s recommendations we will still be 7-11% over our Paris commitment by 2030. The Climate Commission suggests that the government could meet the shortfall by purchasing offshore emissions credits, as other countries have done and will continue to do. Depending upon the international price of carbon in 2030 and the availability of such credits, the Commission estimates that these could cost the country as much as $11.5 billion.
What do we do?
Do we just give up on the commitment altogether, tossing it into the “too hard” basket? Or, do we start looking for reputable offshore credits and start putting aside the foreign currency needed to buy them?
To me, neither of these two strategies exemplify the Kiwi spirit. Think of the spirit that stepped ahead and gave women the right to vote; that stood up to our alliance partners and banned nuclear weapons and nuclear powered ships from our harbours; that risked lives in the Southern Ocean to save some of the last of our planet’s whales; that worked as a team of 5 million to keep a deadly pandemic at bay.
There is another option. We can all do what we can to limit our emissions.
Each litre of petrol not bought, each hectare of native forest or wetland restored, each lamb or calf not born to end up in a slaughterhouse, each airline flight cancelled due to low passenger demand, they all add up. Companies can play their part too, by moving up plans to replace a coal furnace with a wood burner; by replacing automobile fleets with EVs or plug-in hybrids, by replacing crowded offices with work from home; by hosting meetings and conferences online instead of in person. There are many ways, big and small that we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions without needing a government incentive.
I, for one, don’t like the thought of New Zealand facing derision from its OECD neighbours for a lack of action on climate change. If we put our minds to it, we can do that bit more required to meet the 2030 Paris emissions commitment. I say we give it a go.
The Blog posts are a collection of opinion articles written by CKM member Tom Powell for the Marlborough Express. Tom is a retired geologist who came to New Zealand in 2004 to work in the geothermal industry on the North Island, is a New Zealand citizen and now lives in Blenheim.