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The Zero Carbon Bill Has Arrived

May 31, 2019

 

Finally, the long awaited Proposed Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill has been tabled at parliament. 

 

Yes, it's a bit of a mouthful to say... 

 

So we'll just refer to it as the 'Zero Carbon Bill' to keep things brief. 

 

Why Zero Carbon?

 

Addressing Climate Change has been a topic that has been largely ignored by previous governments and mainstream media for 3 decades now. 

 

Thankfully, this government has chosen to address climate change, and media coverage of the issue has increased.

 

The former was initiated as part of the Green Party Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Labour Party, which set to establish an independent Climate Commission and introduce a Zero Carbon Bill to parliament. We cover more of the background of the bill here.

 

The latter has been the product of international and local protests pressuring governments to act on climate change and is also due to an increase in climate change induced disasters worldwide.

 

However, the target of zero carbon comes from what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says is required in order to meet the global target, set under the Paris Agreement to limit warming to 1.5C. 

 

The target in the Zero Carbon Bill is to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 and biogenic methane by 24%-47% from 2017 levels by 2050, in line with the latest IPCC report.

 

This was further reinforced by public support as the majority of the 15,000 New Zealanders and organisations who made submissions during the public consultation process were in favor of a net zero carbon target. 

 

What's in the bill?

 

There are four main sections of the bill that can be summarised as follows:

  • The creation of Climate Change Commission: designed to provide independent expert advice and hold the Government to account

  • 2050 emissions reduction target: to signal an economy-wide transition

  • Emissions budgets: stepping stones to low-emissions New Zealand

  • Adaptation: measures to increase New Zealand’s resilience to changing climate

 

If you're interested in some of the nitty gritty details we'll cover some of them here:

 

Part 1: The Creation of the Climate Change Commission (CCC)

 

The bill sets out the establishment of a new, independent Climate Change Commission to provide expert advice and monitoring to help keep successive governments on track to meeting long-term goals.

 

The bill states that the CCC will "provide a framework by which New Zealand can develop and implement clear and stable climate change policies that contribute to the global effort under the Paris Agreement to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels."

 

However, it's not yet clear whether that commission would be purely advisory or have some statutory power.

 

Winston Peters stated in a press release "The Climate Change Commission will not be granted statutory independence in the manner of the Reserve Bank". 

 

So how the CCC will function in practice remains to be seen.

 

Part 1B, Subpart 1: The 2050 Emission Reductions Target

 

The target in the Zero Carbon Bill follows a split gas approach. 

 

“Carbon dioxide is the most important thing we need to tackle – that’s why we’ve taken a net zero carbon approach" said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

 

“Agriculture is incredibly important to New Zealand, but it also needs to be part of the solution. That is why we have listened to the science and also heard the industry and created a specific target for biogenic methane."

 

"The split gases approach we’ve agreed on is consistent with that commitment."

 

The legislation states the Zero Carbon Bill (the Bill) will set a new greenhouse gas emissions reduction target to reduce all greenhouse gases (except biogenic methane) to net zero by 2050 and reduce emissions of biogenic methane within the range of 24–47 per cent below 2017 levels by 2050 including to 10 per cent below 2017 levels by 2030.

 

The split gas approach is inline with latest IPCC report, although the reference year stated in the IPCC report is 2010 and not 2017.

 

This approach would limit warming to 1.5C with no or limited overshoot. 

 

In order to mandate action towards the 2030 and 2050 targets the government will set 5 yearly emissions budgets.

 

Part 1B, Subpart 2 : Setting Emissions Budgets

 

The purpose of this subpart is to require the Minister to set a series of emissions budgets—
with a view to meeting and maintaining the 2050 target and provide greater predictability for all those affected, including households, businesses, and investors, by giving advance information on the emissions reductions and removals that will be required.

 

From 31 December 2021, there must be 3 consecutive Emissions Budgets, 1 current and 2 prospective, in place at any one time.

 

The Bill states that Emissions Budgets must be met, as far as possible, through domestic emissions reductions and domestic removals. However, this does not rule out the use of international credits so we will see whether they will remain an option.

 

Part 1C: Adaptation

 

 

A national climate change risk assessment must assess the risks to New Zealand’s economy, society, environment, and ecology from the current and future effects of climate change; and
identify the most significant risks to New Zealand, based on the nature of the risks, their severity, and the need for co-ordinated steps to respond to those risks in the next 6-year period.

 

Additionally it states that the government of the day must consider New Zealand’s relevant obligations under international agreements, ie. The Paris Agreement.

 

What this section does is create a legal mandate for the government to act upon the scientific recommendations of the IPCC reports and look out for New Zealanders when sea levels start rising.

 

If you want to go even deeper you can read the Bill for yourself here.