Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Climate Change: What happens next?

Now the Zero Carbon Bill is law, what's next? Obviously, the ETS changes currently before select committee are going to be the next battleground. But we're also going to get a good idea of where we're going, and if the progress the Zero Carbon Act promises is good enough, during the Act's first budget process next year.

Under the Act (s5U), the Minister must ensure there are emissions budgets for the 2022-25, 2025-30, and 2031-35 periods in place by 31 December 2021. But they don't get to just make them up: the Climate Change Commission must advise the Minister on the budgets in advance, with a legislated deadline of 2021 (they must also provide advice on the first emissions reduction plan, basicly what they recommend doing to achieve the targets in the budget). And before they do that, they must make their advice public, and run a public submissions process on it. Meaning that we are likely to be seeing those preliminary budgets sometime around the middle of next year (unless they go early to try and get it all in before the election).

So, before the middle of next year we are going to find out how the Commission thinks we should get to a net-zero by 2050 target: whether it will allow business as usual to continue for "just a little bit" (inviting failure), whether it will recommend immediately going for a straight linear cut (which basicly means slicing ~17% off net emissions every five years), or whether it will aim for going harder so as to make it easier to meet a stronger target if we need to. We'll also see whether that pathway is consistent with the government's (weak) international promise of a 30% cut by 2030 (which isn't enough to meet the 1.5 degree Paris target). And we'll see from its methane targets where in the (again, weak) 24 - 47% target range it is aiming for.

And more importantly, when the report lands on the Minister's desk, we'll see whether any of it means shit. There's an election between now and then, and National has already promised to gut the Act if they win; I doubt they'll be willing to accept strong budgets and plans. And even if the current government stays in power, there's the danger that NZ First will refuse to accept the outcome of the scheme they have supposedly signed up for, and demand any budgets and plan be watered down to protect polluters. Of course, there's the prospect of judicial review, but that's not guaranteed to force a Minister to accept the expert advice.

All of which is a long way of saying that we will have no idea whether this thing will work until 2022. In the interim, we should assume it won't, that the politicians will continue to drag their feet just like they always have, and keep up the pressure.