Hundreds of documents briefing new Government ministers on key policies have been released. Herald journalists have been analysing the Briefings to Incoming Ministers (Bims). Here we look at Climate Change.

New Zealand needs a more proactive plan for adapting to climate change, environment officials say.

In a briefing to incoming Climate Change Minister James Shaw, the Ministry for the Environment said it recommended a deliberate, planned and co-ordinated approach, with all stakeholders on side.

The country needs to take hold of the "window of opportunity" and "increased momentum internationally created by the Paris Agreement last year, they believe.

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Briefings to incoming ministers: The highlights

However, it would not be easy, they warned.

"Climate change is going to require action across many parts of the economy," officials wrote.

"The ministry believes that strengthened arrangements with your colleagues, supported by institutional arrangements in the public sector, will be essential to realise domestic climate change policy opportunities. Due to the nature of New Zealand's emissions, the primary industries, transport, energy and economic development portfolios play a particularly important role."

The Paris Agreement commits all countries to take action on climate change, to adapt to its effects, and to redirect global financial flows towards a low-emissions development pathway. It establishes a goal of reaching net zero emissions in the second half of the century, to keep temperature increases within a 2C degrees limit.

New Zealand has adopted a target of reducing emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 as its first nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement.

Officials said New Zealand could plan to meet those targets by:

• Setting a clear direction for New Zealand's action on climate change, by outlining a plan for meeting New Zealand's 2030 Paris target and a long-term pathway for transitioning to a low emissions economy

• Reviewing the role of agriculture in climate change, including consideration of the full range of policy options for reducing agricultural methane and nitrous oxide emissions

• Implementing improvements to the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS) to make it a more effective and credible tool for incentivising emission reductions

• Taking opportunities to improve the transparency, predictability and long-term accountability for how New Zealand sets and achieves its climate change goals

• Taking more focused, co-ordinated action on climate change adaptation.

Green Party leader James Shaw is the new climate change minister. Photo/File
Green Party leader James Shaw is the new climate change minister. Photo/File

New Zealand had a unique emissions profile among developed countries, as about half of emissions stemmed from the agricultural sector. The other key sectors were energy and transport, which combined contribute a further 40 per cent of national emissions.

Since 1990, New Zealand's gross emissions had increased 24 per cent, on the back of strong economic and population growth, and per person New Zealand now has the fifth highest emissions in the OECD and twentieth highest in the world.

Net emissions (taking into account emissions and removals from forestry) have increased 64 per cent, due to the combined effects of increased gross emissions and higher forest harvesting rates in recent years.

The economy has grown faster than emissions have increased, however, with a 36 per cent decrease in emissions intensity per unit of GDP since 1990.

The Paris Agreement lays out countries' obligations with regards to climate change. Photo/File
The Paris Agreement lays out countries' obligations with regards to climate change. Photo/File

One option for addressing concerns around accountability and transparency was to establish an independent Climate Commission to advise the government on climate change policy, as recommended by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) and other stakeholders, officials said.

However, that needed a degree of political consensus to minimise risks of such initiatives being overturned or sidelined in future, and a high degree of institutional capability.

The ministry's advice was that a collaborative way of working was required. It recommended an approach that focuses on specific issues where collective action would make the biggest difference, and where all those involved could agree specific targets and shared outcomes, and be held accountable for achieving them.

Why should New Zealand care about climate change?

The sum total of small actors' emissions is significant - countries that individually contribute less than 1 per cent of global emissions together make up over a quarter of global emissions

The impacts of climate change in New Zealand are already evident, and greater effects are expected in the future – New Zealand's climate has warmed by around 1C over the last century. This has contributed to recent droughts, floods and increased risk of coastal hazards. The financial and social costs of all of these are likely to continue to increase

Some large sectors of New Zealand's economy, including primary industries, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change - there are also potential risks to New Zealand's brand and reputation in international markets, given the relatively high emissions per person and relative to the size of the economy

There are opportunities in transitioning New Zealand to a low-emissions economy - reducing reliance on imported fossil fuels and reducing exposure to potentially high future carbon prices will help New Zealand manage costs and build resilience in the economy. A Productivity Commission inquiry is under way, due to report in mid-2018, to assess how New Zealand can maximise the opportunities and minimise the costs and risks of transitioning.

Source: Ministry for the Environment Briefing to Incoming Minister 2017