Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Youth organisation wants legal push to reduce carbon emissions

Scientists say extreme weather events like ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie are a taste of things to come under climate change projections. Photo / Supplied
Scientists say extreme weather events like ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie are a taste of things to come under climate change projections. Photo / Supplied

Youth organisation Generation Zero has proposed a new climate change law it argues could push New Zealand to zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Its blueprint, based on the UK's Climate Change Act, comes in the wake of a cross-party group's own report into how to cut net emissions to nil.

Generation Zero's proposed Zero Carbon Act would work by requiring future governments to set five year "carbon budgets" on track to a zero carbon target, and then make plans to meet these.

Its suggested act would also create an independent Climate Commission whose role was to provide expert advice on targets and policies and to monitor the Government's progress.

Also included was the requirement of a National Climate Risk Assessment to be updated every five years, a climate change adaptation programme, and transparent planning and reporting on New Zealand's contributions to climate action in other countries.

The convenor of a new campaign built around the proposal, Lisa McLaren, said New Zealand was "a decade behind" countries like the UK, which had cut its carbon pollution by 28 per cent since introducing its 2008 act.

But a key difference from the UK model was the proposed act's introduction of a "two baskets approach" for different greenhouse gases, with a separate target for short-lived gases such as methane which didn't require a zero target.

"In the last few months our country has been battered by storms, droughts and wildfires," McLaren said.

"Climate change is already affecting our own backyard."

Alongside the proposal, the group has launched a petition for parties to work toward passing it, and intends to table it in Parliament after the September election.

The campaign has been backed by groups Oxfam New Zealand, WWF-New Zealand and Forest and Bird.

A recent report, authored by UK consultants Vivid Economics and commissioned by a cross-party group of MPs, posed four bold options to slash emissions by 2100.

Different approaches suggested in the report included cutting stock numbers around 20 to 35 per cent, planting an extra 1.6 million hectares of forest by 2050, and pushing for technological advances that would make transport more efficient and slash methane emissions from pastoral agriculture.

Gareth Morgan's The Opportunities Party last month launched its own proposed policy, which would ban subsidies on fossil fuels, increase the price of carbon and overhaul energy efficiency efforts.

Under the Paris Agreement, the government has pledged to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels and 11 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030, a target that would be achieved mainly through carbon trading mechanisms.

The government is also enacting changes to carbon trading, including phasing out the one-for-two ETS subsidy, which allowed some businesses to pay one emissions unit for every two tonnes of pollution they emit.

The initial 50 per cent unit cost increased to 67 per cent from January 1, and would rise to 83 per cent from January 1, 2018.

All sectors in the ETS would pay the full market price from January 1, 2019.

Alongside the ETS review, the government has established three expert groups to plant more trees, reduce agricultural emissions, and adapt to the environmental impact of climate change, as well as invest $2 billion in public transport, $20 million annually in agricultural greenhouse gas research and $200m for international climate-related support.

New Zealand and climate change

• Under present projections, the sea level around New Zealand is expected to rise between 50cm and 100cm this century, while temperatures could also increase by several degrees by 2100.

• Climate change would bring more floods (about two-thirds of Kiwis live in areas prone to flooding); make our freshwater problems worse and put more pressure on rivers and lakes; acidify our oceans; put even more species at risk and bring problems from the rest of the world.

• Climate change is also expected to result in more large storms compounding the effects of sea level rise.

• New Zealand, which reported a 23 per cent increase in greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2014, has pledged to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels and 11 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030.

- NZ Herald

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