Generation Zero wants ‘carbon budgets’, but minister opposes world-leading stance.
A lobby group has challenged the next government to introduce a climate change act that would galvanise promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions and help New Zealand "catch up" with proactive countries such as Denmark.
Climate Change Minister Tim Groser last night congratulated Generation Zero on its proposals, but said it wasn't New Zealand's place to position itself out ahead of where international negotiations were at.
The group's proposed act, called for in a report released today, would set binding periodic "carbon budgets" to ensure progress, and establish an independent Climate Commission.
Generation Zero suggested this commission could be first tasked to review New Zealand's long-term target of reducing emissions by 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050, and conduct a feasibility study for the country to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.
Aside from the 2050 target, New Zealand presently has an unconditional target of cutting emissions to 5 per cent below 1990 levels by the end of this decade, and an unconditional target range of 10 to 20 per cent reduction below 1990 levels by 2020 if there was a comprehensive global agreement.
Generation Zero spokesman Paul Young said New Zealand could be doing much more to play its part in tackling global climate change. "We only have to look at the Government's own projections of what our emissions will do under current policy," he said.
"There's just no plan for even getting emissions trending downwards, let alone meeting the targets that the Government has set."
The 20-page report, titled The Big Ask, looks to Denmark's energy strategy to transition away from fossil fuels by 2050, and Britain's own Climate Change Act, requiring the Government to produce credible plans to meet its targets.
One of these was a binding emissions reduction target of 80 per cent by 2050, and a process to develop five-year "carbon budgets".
That approach was pushed here by the Sustainability Council of New Zealand two years ago, when it drew attention to the large carbon budget deficit the Government was projecting.
"The Government may be expecting its financial accounts to soon come back into the black, but its carbon accounts are relentlessly negative for the next 35 years," the council's executive director Simon Terry said.
"That, ultimately, means big bills for New Zealand unless it can seriously reduce emissions and that requires a carbon budgeting process."
Climate scientists Dr James Renwick, of Victoria University, and Dr Jim Salinger have also backed the report's call for action.
"The kinds of real commitments they are calling for are exactly what's needed to make an actual impact on reining in climate change," Dr Renwick said. "New Zealand is one of the world's biggest emitters, per head of population - if we believe in our clean green image, we need to take decisive action."
Mr Groser, however, believed it wasn't New Zealand's place to be a world leader on climate policy.
"We actually put forward an explicitly different proposition to the New Zealand public in 2008, and it is still the key point to our approach."
He said the concept of developed countries encouraging others by setting an example had been proven to be wrong.
"What it does is avoids putting pressure on the vast bulk of countries which are responsible for the vast bulk of emissions."
Mr Groser said only a global response could address the issue, and New Zealand had a policy that was "waiting for, frankly, the rest of the world to get moving".
New Zealand could play its part at the international negotiating table, and through the science it was developing to reduce agricultural emissions, he said.
Labour climate change spokeswoman Moana Mackey, meanwhile, welcomed the group's report, and said her party would take climate change seriously and commit to a clean energy future.
"It is a transition we will have to make and the longer we leave it the more difficult and expensive it will be," she said.
Green Party climate change spokesman Dr Kennedy Graham felt the report was much aligned with his own party's climate protection plan.
"The gulf between what New Zealand should be doing on climate and what the current Government is actually doing is huge, and this matters for a lot of New Zealanders when they go to the polls."
*An unconditional target of five per cent below New Zealand's 1990 GHG emissions levels by 2020, a long-term target of a 50 per cent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by 2050, and an unconditional target range of 10 to 20 per cent reduction below 1990 GHG emissions levels by 2020 if there is a comprehensive global agreement.
*New Zealand would meet these targets through a mix of domestic emission reductions, the storage of carbon in forests and the purchase of emission reduction units from other countries.
*Maintains the Emissions Trading Scheme, whereby companies have to buy a carbon unit to cover each tonne of pollution they emit, and the Government gives trade exposed businesses up to 90 per cent of their units free of charge.
*90 per cent of New Zealand's electricity will be generated from renewable sources by 2025.
*Will determine the emission reduction targets it will set in Government when it has "access to all the information", but says will adopt more ambitious targets than the present Government.
*Will maintain a climate change strategy that includes strengthening the emissions trading scheme, requiring transparency around carbon pricing, and restricting cheap international units.
*Will retain its commitment to reach at least 90 percent renewable electricity generation by 2025.
*Will begin the transition away to an economy "based on clean energy, green technology, and that is low-carbon".
*Set New Zealand on the path to be carbon neutral by 2050.
*Establish a Climate Commission to provide expert and independent advice to the government on: carbon prices, carbon budgets, and complementary measures to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
*Phase out the Emissions Trading Scheme and set an initial price on carbon: $25 per tonne on CO2 equivalent emissions for all sectors except agriculture. Dairy emissions will pay $12.50 per tonne. Forest carbon sequestration will be credited at $12.50 per tonne; carbon emissions from deforestation charged at the same level.
*Recycle all revenues raised from a carbon charge back to families and businesses through a $2,000 income tax-free band and a one percent company tax cut.
*Introduce a suite of complementary measures to support the rapid transition to a carbon neutral economy.
NEW ZEALAND FIRST
*Continues to oppose the ETS, which the party argues has failed to deliver significant emissions reductions and bring about industry transition.
*Supports the establishment of a formal planning process to develop strategies, plans, research programmes and targets to achieve fossil carbon reduction relevant to New Zealand.
*Supports "net metering" whereby electricity retailers will be required to purchase power generated by customers at the price it is normally sold to the customer, which the party believes would promote electricity generation from renewable sources.
*Abolish the Emissions Trading Scheme and introduce no other measures aimed at reducing emissions.
*Believes imposing taxes or other costs on greenhouse gas emitters will "damage New Zealand's economy while having no effect on global emissions".
*Investigate minimum pricing to ensure the pricing of carbon on the ETS remains at a level high enough to reduce emissions.
*Continue to encourage more riparian planting with a move towards requirements to have river and stream banks planted, in order to act as carbon sinks, limit soil erosion and reduce agricultural runoff.
*Require all new homes to be given a standardised energy efficiency rating based on insulation, double-glazing, heating methods, use of solar energy and other factors.
*Remove regulatory barriers, including legislative barriers to encourage new electricity generation using hydro, geothermal, wind and tide, where economically sustainable.
*Support moves to a more sustainable transport infrastructure.
*Emission reductions to see the country carbon neutral by 2050.
*Establishment of a Climate Commission and adoption of a carbon budget process to properly plan for carbon emission reduction.
*Repeal of the ETS; replace with policies and regulations to reduce carbon emissions in "a fair and just way", and immediately regulate the flow of cheap foreign carbon credits in the mean time.
*Regeneration of native forests.
*Set a target of 100 per cent renewable energy by 2025, with an immediate ban on oil and gas drilling on land and deep sea; work towards a coal-free Aotearoa; investment in widespread small scale sustainable energy generation such as solar, wind and micro-hydro by households and communities and subsidise home installations.
Maori Party: Did not respond