By Gareth Renowden 13/07/2015


TimGroser.jpgClimate Change Minister Tim Groser’s claim that New Zealand is doing its “fair share” of climate action has been blown out of the water by an international analysis [Full policy brief here (pdf)]. Once one removes what the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) calls the “creative accounting” of rules around land use and forestry, New Zealand’s newly announced 2030 target translates into an 11 percent increase by 2030. It’s even possible that we won’t have to lift a finger to cut emissions and yet still meet both our 2020 and 2030 targets.

They say our emissions are projected to head in the opposite direction from the world’s biggest emitters such as China, the United States and the European Union.

The CAT has rated New Zealand’s target “inadequate” – meaning that if everybody else made the same effort as NZ, warming would exceed 3-4ºC. And we’re not on track to reaching our (also rated inadequate) 2050 target. If we were even on the same track as the US’s 2050 goal, we’d have to increase our target to 45% reduction by 2030 below 2005 levels (30% below 1990).

It gets worse: in just ten years, CAT projects that the average New Zealander will have a bigger carbon footprint than a US citizen — worse than some of the most carbon profligate people on the planet.

The analysis also points out one of our biggest secrets: that the only substantial action taken on climate change by the Government since 2008 has been to weaken the ETS.


The main points of the CAT analysis are (from the press release):

  • Based on current policies NZ emissions per capita, while likely to remain stable at around 17 tonnes of CO2e per person (or decrease slightly), are set to surpass those of the US by around 2025. US per capita emissions in 2012 were 20.6 tonnes of CO2e per person and decreasing steadily. This reflects the underlying reality that while the United States is taking action on climate change with a wide range of policies, New Zealand has few policies in place to cut emissions, and has no emissions cap in its domestic Emission Trading System (ETS).
  • If New Zealand applies the rules it is proposing to use after 2020 to account for its Kyoto surplus and forestry credits, its overall agriculture, energy, waste and industrial greenhouse gas emissions could increase to 11% above 1990 levels by 2030;
  • New Zealand’s proposed 2030 INDC target is not on a direct path to its 50% reduction by 2050 goal, unlike other major economies such as the EU and the USA. But New Zealand’s 2050 goal is also insufficient, and would require a 45% reduction by 2030 below 2005 levels (30% below 1990).
  • There are virtually no policies in place to address the fastest-growing sources of emissions in New Zealand from transport and industrial sources, which comprise over 50% of the growth in emissions (excluding forestry) in New Zealand since 1990.
  • While New Zealand has not agreed to accept a legally binding commitment for the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period, it appears to be planning to apply accounting rules that carry over surplus units from the first commitment period. This is something that is available to countries with commitments under the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, but not those without a commitment, like New Zealand. The legal basis upon which New Zealand is seeking to rely upon these accounting rules is therefore unclear.

The CAT analysis of current government policy is damning. Groser’s “fair and reasonable” spin was never credible, as domestic critics have pointed out, but it is now clear that in international policy circles Groser will be rowing against the tide.

When the Key government took office in 2008, it inherited a full suite of climate policies that if left alone would have set NZ on the path to a low-carbon economy. It has since weakened every aspect of emissions policy to the point where the Emissions Trading Scheme is so weak it in effect subsidises agriculture and big emitters. From being a world leader, it appears we now aspire to pariah status – joining the likes of Canada and Australia in the dunces corner. Terrible policy, terrible legacy.

See also:

CAT analyst interviewed on Morning Report.
Radio NZ News report.
NZ Herald.