Rod Oram: World leaving us behind on climate ambition [Newsroom, 25/04/21]
Joe Biden’s international climate summit and the UK’s big new commitment to cutting emissions puts the heat on New Zealand to get serious about our climate commitments, writes Rod Oram
The flurry of big new climate commitments by some major countries, particularly the UK and US, is perfectly timed for us. In just five weeks’ time, our Climate Change Commission will deliver its final recommendations to the government.
For the sake of New Zealand’s sustainability and credibility, those must mirror that significant increase in international ambitions. They must be far bolder than the Commission’s draft recommendations in February on carbon budgets, pathways, policies and our pledge to the United Nations on emission reductions.
The UK government upped the pace this week by committing to a 78 percent cut in its emissions by 2035 from 1990 levels. If achieved, this would be consistent with the UK’s ambition to be net zero by 2050. The government accepted the recommendation of the UK’s independent Climate Change Committee, which is the 13-year-old model for our new Commission.
The US has followed suit. President Biden announced a new US goal of a 50-52 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels. He made it at the online climate summit he convened, inviting leaders of some 40 countries, including China, Russia and members of the European Union. It is running Thursday and Friday US time, with our Prime Minister scheduled to speak on a climate finance panel.
By comparison, our existing UN pledge, made at the Paris negotiations in 2015, is for only a 30 percent cut in net emissions by 2030 from a 2005 gross level, equivalent to only an 11 percent reduction from 1990 levels.
Our commission’s draft report had extensive analysis on our UN pledge. This helpfully suggested ways to work through complex issues of, for example, different emissions accounting methods, and how to make decisions about what’s a fair share to contribute to global reductions given we are a high income and a high and long term emitter as a nation.
But it only concluded that our commitment to the UN should be “much more” than a 35 percent reduction – the midpoint of the range in its analysis.
This was deemed seriously inadequate by many submitters on the commission’s draft recommendations. The criticism by Lawyers for Climate Action New Zealand were particularly well-researched and trenchant, as Newsroom reported.
“In our view, the Commission’s draft advice does not comply with the legal requirements [of New Zealand’s 2019 climate legislation],” the lawyers said. “The main reason for this is that the advice is not consistent with what is required to keep global warming to less than 1.5° Celsius – we consider that emissions over the current decade must be capped at 400 Mt, not the 628 Mt proposed by the Commission’s draft budgets. This is a fundamental error that must be fixed before the advice is finalised. Failing this, the advice will be unlawful, in our opinion. Further, Aotearoa New Zealand’s international reputation and brand will be at risk if we fail to adopt budgets and policies consistent with doing our fair share to keep global warming to less than 1.5° Celsius.”
The commission’s final recommendation on our UN pledge must be ambitious and precise, set by science and strongly backed by policies. The government needs this clarity to meet the obligation on all nations to deliver improvements on their 2015 Paris commitments at the next UN climate negotiations, which are scheduled for November 1-12 in Glasgow.