The New Zealand government has announced it will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, but has been criticised for not aiming high enough.
The announcement, made on Tuesday, is in preparation for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Paris in December, where a new international agreement is expected to be signed. It follows a public consultation in May where residents were invited to share their views on an appropriate target.
“This is a significant increase on our current target of five per cent below 1990 emission levels by 2020,” NZ climate change issues minister Tim Groser said.
Based on 1990 levels, the new commitment would equate to a reduction of 11 per cent.
Dr Adrian Macey, senior associate for the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, said the commitment was “the minimum credible target”.
“A reduction of 11 per cent below 1990 by 2030 will not put New Zealand on a pathway to meet the gazetted 50 per cent reduction (from 1990) by 2050 target,” he said.
”New Zealand, along with other countries will face pressure to increase the ambition of its target at and after this year’s Paris climate change conference.”
Professor David Frame, director of the Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University Wellington, however, said the cuts were reasonable.
“It should be conditional, too, since in this sort of problem a country’s best course of action depends on what others are prepared to do, too: if they do more, we can do more at the same price – if Japan drives its motor industry to produce affordable hybrids and electric vehicles, then New Zealand gains additional ability to reduce its emissions in the transport sector,” he said.
NZ faces unique challenges
Climate scientist Jim Salinger said the target erred on the side of the challenges New Zealand faced in reducing carbon emissions.
Mr Groser said 80 per cent of NZ’s electricity was already renewable, and half of emissions came from agriculture, for which cost-effective emissions reduction technologies were not yet available.
“However, I’m optimistic about the future. Our investment in agricultural research is beginning to bear fruit and the cost of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles continues to fall,” he said.
No excuse for weak action
Professor James Renwick from the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington said New Zealand’s dependence on agriculture and high levels of renewables were no excuse for strong action.
“If all countries followed New Zealand’s lead, we would be in for very significant climate change impacts and catastrophic damage to the New Zealand and global economy,” he said.
Catherine Leining, policy fellow at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, said what was missing in New Zealand’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions submission was a firm commitment backed by policy to decarbonise the economy in line with the global effort to limit global temperature rises to 2°C.
“The submission suggests heavy reliance on carbon markets until technology improvements in agriculture and transport become more widely available sometime after 2030,” she said.
“Hopefully this INDC submission can be used as the launching point for a more in-depth, cross-stakeholder process to shift New Zealand strategically toward a low-emission economy.”