The New Zealand Initiative says the Zero Carbon Bill fails the climate:
. . .the Bill is so seriously flawed that it could raise emissions.
The report, Real action, not empty words says New Zealand can reduce global emissions by far more than we contribute by working with whoever can do the most to reduce emissions, wherever they are.
“The Zero Carbon Bill will prevent New Zealanders from accessing the world’s most effective ways to reduce emissions by insisting all emissions are reduced domestically, as far as possible,” says the report’s author Matt Burgess, a Research Fellow at The New Zealand Initiative.
“While there are exciting ways to cut emissions within New Zealand, offshore opportunities appear extraordinary,” says Mr Burgess.
Research commissioned by the Ministry for the Environment suggests forcing emissions to be reduced domestically could add $300 billion to the cost of reducing emissions to net zero, lift carbon prices to $2,000/tonne, and lower national income in 2050 by 6%.
“These huge costs reflect the scale of opportunities offshore. We should be extremely reluctant to close the door given what is possible.”
If climate change is a global problem it is sensible to look globally for solutions.
The Government has said its goal is to reduce emissions by transforming the economy.
“Transformation is a very expensive way to reduce emissions, and as advice from officials makes clear it is totally unnecessary,” says Mr Burgess.
“The Ministry for the Environment advised the Government could cut far more emissions, at much less cost, and reach net zero earlier than 2050 if it allowed emissions reduction through the most effective channels, including offshore.”
“The Government’s decision to pursue transformation is not only unnecessary, it is contrary to a goal of lower emissions and all-but guarantees failure to achieve our emissions targets.”
The report’s other main concern with the Zero Carbon Bill is the use of central planning to reduce emissions.
Sections 5ZD and 5ZF of the Bill say the Minister for Climate Change must plan how and where emissions are reduced. Plans can cover all parts of the economy, at whatever level of detail the Minister decides, and can be changed any time.
“We have serious concerns with the Bill’s rules around planning, which are so poorly drafted that almost anything could go into the Minister’s plan. History tells us poor legislation can lead to unintended outcomes, in this case higher emissions.”
The New Zealand Initiative recommends three simple changes to fix the Zero Carbon Bill:
- Require effective action on emissions by introducing an overarching objective for both the Minister and the Commission that requires exercising their powers for “effective and efficient” emissions reductions and removals.
- Remove section 5W to eliminate the domestic preference, allowing emissions reduction through the most effective combination of domestic and offshore mitigation.
- Remove sections 5ZD–5ZF to eliminate the requirement that the Minister for Climate Change plan emissions reduction. The Minister will be free to prepare plans, and give effect to them by way of Acts of Parliament, the appropriate level of scrutiny for such far-reaching powers. . .
Federated Farmers says the government missed the opportunity to make the Bill work:
The government failed to take on board common sense suggestions for the improvement of the Zero Carbon Bill yesterday.
“They had a golden opportunity to pass a Bill that was fit for purpose, and could have taken a bipartisan approach to climate change, and could have taken farmers along as well,” Federated Farmers vice president Andrew Hoggard says.
Just last Friday the primary sector put a proposal to government which would have achieved the Zero Carbon Bill’s aims and built on the good faith established by the industry-government climate change commitment, He Waka Eke Noa.
“This was a sad day for common sense as our coalition government not only walked away from an important part of our commitment to the 2015 Paris Agreement, which requires all its signatories not to forsake food production for climate goals, but also relinquished the opportunity to be true leaders and adopt targets for methane which truly reflect its actual warming impact.”
Federated Farmers was deeply worried by a comment made during the debate on Wednesday by Labour MP and former head of the Environment Select Committee, Deborah Russell, who questioned the usefulness of New Zealand’s ability to produce food.
“I’m not sure that we have a responsibility to feed as many people as possible. We certainly want to ensure that we produce food – it’s one of the things that we export – but it’s not clear to me that we need to continue producing food at that level.”
If we don’t continue producing food at the current level, what will replace it that can make the same important contribution to New Zealand’s economic and social wellbeing?
The Paris Agreement specifically recognises the “fundamental priority of safeguarding food security” and says policies to address climate change should “not threaten food production”.
How many times do we have to say that if food isn’t produced here it will be produced elsewhere by farmers who don’t do it nearly as efficiently as we do? That would come at a huge economic cost to New Zealand and increase global emissions.
A major focus of the United Nations is its Sustainable Development Goals, and whilst climate change is one of those, so too is zero hunger.
“Cutting food production in New Zealand does not stop people eating, it merely hands production and jobs to international competitors, such as the heavily subsidised European Union’s farmers, who will produce the same amount of product, only less efficiently and with higher greenhouse gas emissions,” Andrew says.
The unfit-for-purpose biogenic methane reduction targets outlined in the Bill remain unchanged.
“The 2050 24-47% reduction target for biogenic methane remains eye-wateringly hard for farmers to achieve and correspondingly dire for our economy to withstand,” Andrew says.
With the current tools in the farmer’s tool box, the only way to meet the top end of the target (47%) is to halve the size of our livestock sector. Even if some of those tools become available they are not universally going to fit into all farming systems.
This sector contributes $28 billion in export earnings to our economy.
“New Zealand farmers are proud to be the most carbon efficient farmers in the world. Forcing them to reduce production is not only going to make New Zealand poorer, but will likely increase global emissions, so we will effectively be shooting ourselves in both feet.”
National proposed several amendments that would have made the legislation much better but they were opposed by New Zealand First. That party’s claims to be on the side of rural New Zealand fell victim to petty politicking.
However, National has committed to making several improvements to the legislation should it be in government next year:
“National proposed a series of changes that would have ensured the Bill is in line with National’s climate change principles of taking a pragmatic and science-based approach, but unfortunately the coalition Government voted down all of our amendments.
The changes we proposed were:
- That the target for biological methane reduction be recommended by the independent Climate Change Commission.
- That the Bill makes clear the stated aim of the Paris Agreement is for greenhouse gas reduction to occur in a manner that does not threaten food production.
- To strengthen provisions that consider the level of action being taken by other countries and allow targets to be adjusted to ensure we remain in step with the international community.
- To strengthen provisions for the Commission to consider economic impacts when providing advice on targets and emissions reductions.
- That the Bill ensures the Commission considers the appropriate use of forestry offsets, and has regard for the carbon sink represented by crops, riparian planting, and other farm biomass.
- That emissions budgets be split between biogenic methane and carbon dioxide as recommended by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.
- That the Bill includes a greater commitment to investment in innovation and research and development to find new solutions for reducing emissions.
Investment and innovation are the best ways to make a positive difference to the environment without the high social and economic costs other measures would impose on the country.
“We have taken a bipartisan approach to climate change but we will continue to fight for the changes we think will make the law better.
“Should National earn the right to govern in 2020 we will make these changes in our first 100 days in office. We will ensure the Bill drives the right long-term changes and factors in the wider impacts on New Zealand’s economy, jobs and incomes.”
Economic and social wellbeing must be balanced with environmental gains.
The current legislation is stronger on intention than impact. If National leads the next government it will make much-needed improvements and those should include the ones suggested by the NZ Initiative.