Thursday, November 12, 2020

Climate Change: The first test

Last year, Parliament passed the Zero Carbon Act, a framework which effectively outsourced climate change policy to an independent commission, in a shame-based model designed to ensure the government did what was recommended. The Commission will be making recommendations on New Zealand's Paris target, the methane target, and the first budget cycle in February. And Climate Change Minister James Shaw thinks they're going to be pretty tough:

Speaking at the EDS Climate Change and Business conference in Auckland, Shaw said that, based on what he knew of the science, it seemed likely the commission would recommend changing the target, which currently gives the country a total allowance of 600 million tonnes of greenhouse gases between now and 2030.


As well as advising the Government on its 2030 Paris target, the climate change commission will recommend a series of domestic emissions budgets.

Shaw said he anticipated the commission’s reports would be “pretty shocking to a lot of people. The constraints will be extraordinary, when you think about what is required to stay inside 1.5C.”

For its third big recommendation, the commission will suggest a firmer 2050 target for methane.

All of this is good, but the question is, will the government listen? Shaw says he is "absolutely committed" to following the Commission's advice. But is Labour? On the one hand, they may be eager for an excuse to increase their ambition on climate change, especially after lowballing it in their election campaign. But OTOH, real action is going to mean disrupting their precious status quo, and threaten the re-election chances of their new backbenchers in rural seats. And while their cooperation agreement with the Greens commits them to "achieving the purpose and goals of the Zero Carbon Act", as we saw last term these promises are effectively meaningless, and the Greens have no way of enforcing them without leverage in the House.

Which means that the Commission's recommendations are going to be the first real test of Labour-Green cooperation. Hopefully Labour will do the right thing. But if they don't, then the "cooperation agreement" will be a dead letter not six months after it was signed, and the Greens will need to decide whether to continue with a farce.