New 2030 greenhouse gas emissions target far weaker than 2020 goal: climate change expert
The government's new target to reduce New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 is far weaker than the previous 2020 target, according to Massey University climate change expert Professor Ralph Sims.
Climate Change Issues Minister Tim Groser said the new climate change target is a significant increase on the current target of 5% below 1990 emissions levels by 2020, equating to an 11% drop below 1990 emission levels by 2030. But Prof Sims said 2005 was the year of New Zealand's highest emissions and the 2030 target gives New Zealand "10 extra years to produce very little extra reduction."
By Prof Sims's calculations, based on gross greenhouse emissions set under the Kyoto Protocol, New Zealand needed to cut emissions by 63,384 kilotonnes under its previous target and by 59,150 KT under the new one.
In essence, he said New Zealand is now doing less than its fair share.
Mr Groser hasn't provided figures on the likely cost of the new goal but a government discussion document said if New Zealand took a target of 5% below 1990 levels by 2030, in line with its 2020 target, then national income in 2027 could be $3.5 billion less. Under a more ambitious target such as 10% below 1990, the cost of New Zealand's target could increase by an additional $200 million a year, it said.
The new target will be economy-wide including agriculture and forestry and covers all greenhouse gases. There will be a review this year of the current emissions trading scheme.
"While New Zealand's 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 emissions and avoid the most harmful effects of climate change," Mr Groser said.
All countries are expected to table targets as part of work toward a new climate change agreement to be concluded at the COP21 meeting in Paris in December.
New Zealand's intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) will be submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and remains provisional pending confirmation of the approaches to be taken in accounting for the land sector and confirmation of access to carbon markets.
"To achieve domestic reductions and to do so at an affordable cost, we have identified a need for cost-effective mitigation technology, and in particular, that our continuing investment in agricultural research delivers results that can be commercialised within the time period covered by this contribution," the INDC statement said.
In 2013 New Zealand's net greenhouse emissions were 54.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt Co2-e), compared to 66.7 Mt Co2-e in 1990. Agriculture comprised 48% of total emissions while energy was the second largest sector at 39%.
Business lobby group BusinessNZ said the new target was challenging but achievable with collective effort.
"Business will want to engage with the government over how to deliver these reductions and more," chief executive Phil O'Reilly said.
The Sustainable Business Council said target-setting was the first step in a shift to a low carbon economy, and needs to be followed by a long-term commitment to change.
Executive director Penny Nelson said a 2030 target disconnected from a longer-term carbon pathway risks creating an unpredictable environment for businesses considering large, long-term investments.
"We are already seeing a group of businesses leading action on freight efficiency, energy efficiency, and the Renewables Highway initiative," Nelson said. "These business leaders in New Zealand need certainty, so they can make investments for change and work together on approaches within their own sectors."
The government's public consultation on what the target should be, criticised for being done hastily and without sufficient public notice, drew 17,000 submissions.
A summary of the consultation responses said there was a strong call for an ambitious target and leadership from the government with the most common target suggested by stakeholders being 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 or a target of zero carbon by 2050. A large majority of stakeholders said they wanted any target to be underpinned by a domestic plan.
Agricultural interests submitted that placing greenhouse gas emission costs on farmers would have a high economic impact for New Zealand and suggested the target should be conditional on the availability of new technologies, access to markets, and the actions of other countries.
Federated Farmers climate change spokesman Anders Crofoot said the new target was ambitious but in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which says reducing fossil fuel use will need to be the major focus to achieve this target. However, agriculture will also play its part in the development of technologies that will increase productivity while reducing carbon intensity of primary sector products.
"To date, the amount of carbon released in producing a block of butter in New Zealand here in New Zealand is the lowest in the world," Crofoot said. "It's important to make sure our approach to reducing New Zealand's emissions does not undermine our critical export industries."
The detailed rules and guidelines for national reduction targets are unlikely to be set until after the Paris meeting.