Monday, May 27, 2019

Climate Change: Will NZ meet its 2030 target?

At the Paris climate conference in 2015, New Zealand committed to a target of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 30% (from 2005) by 2030 - or an 11% cut from 1990 levels, in real units. But an article from NZ Energy and Environment Business Week points out that the Zero Carbon Bill RIS suggests we may not meet that target:

Officials have told ministers NZ is not on track to meet is current commitments under the Paris Agreement.


In the climate change legislation Regulatory Impact Assessment, Officials said: “NZ cannot rely on afforestation to deliver the necessary offsets over the next twelve years to meet its NDC, or on major innovations being market-ready and adopted (such as a methane vaccine or widespread adoption of electric or autonomous vehicles).

“Based on what we know from high-level indications of abatement potential, NZ’s transition pathway is highly likely to start more gradually – as opposed to continuing in a straight line from now to 2050 – and could accelerate in later decades if innovations come to fruition, likely bolstered if there are strong domestic signals that support transition.”


Despite there being some ways to reduce emissions, “these are expected on best estimates to be less than the abatement required to meet our NDC, leaving a gap between domestic budgets and our NDC in 2030”.

As a result, the advisers pushed for the ability to weaken targets to something that could be met. Whereas what it should result in is stronger policy so that we meet our commitments. Because obviously, how much we reduce emissions by depends on the policies we set, and those policies are not set in stone. If we exclude major polluters from the ETS, cap the price, and give away millions of tons of free credits, pretty obviously incentives to reduce emissions are lower than if we include all polluters, cap the number of credits at a level appropriate to our targets, and let the price rise. Likewise, if we let people import any shitty old car, no matter how dirty, and subsidise them through general taxation paying for roads (as opposed to making rail users pay for the tracks), then we will have higher emissions than if we set emissions standards for vehicles and fund rail fairly. And so on. You can tell similar stories around electricity (where fossil fuels are effectively subsidised by the ETS price cap), industrial emissions (where the inability of councils to consider climate change in resource consent decisions means they are effectively unregulated), and most obviously, agriculture. But if we change those policies, we change the incentives, and ultimately our emissions.

The Zero Carbon Bill isn't the bill to do that - its about setting a framework for budgets and accountability, not direct emissions reductions. But the government has mentioned an upcoming ETS bill, and hopefully this will make the required changes to properly set us on a downward path.