Covid-19 and the "rise of authoritarian regimes" derailed global climate action, but a summit at the end of the month offers a chance to get back on track, Climate Change Minister James Shaw says.
COP26, a key climate conference that starts in Glasgow on October 31, has been billed by many, including Shaw, as a critical stage in averting catastrophic impacts of climate change.
It comes after the historic Paris Agreement in 2015 which saw nations commit to keeping global warming below 2C, and preferably 1.5C, compared to pre-industrial levels.
Countries were supposed to bring revised nationally-determined contributions - pledges to reduce emissions - to reaching that target at last year's summit, but it was postponed due to the pandemic.
Shaw said at Glasgow New Zealand would announce a more ambitious target than the initial 30 per cent reduction by 2030 on 2005 levels, and hoped other countries would also aim higher.
COP26 (so-called because it's the 26th UN "conference of the parties") was also a crucial point for wealthier countries to front up on their commitment to provide $100 billion a year to help poorer countries transition to cleaner energy, Shaw said.
As part of that pledge, in 2018 New Zealand had committed to providing $300m over a four-year period, ending in June 2022. Shaw said New Zealand was on track to surpass that, providing closer to $500m.
However, in a global sense New Zealand was still far off contributing its fair share - Oxfam calculates it should range between $301.5m and $540m per year.
Shaw said a major problem was while countries committed to that overall figure there was no conversation about how to fairly "divvy up the pie".
On a world stage Shaw said COP26 was a chance to get momentum back.
"There's been a real loss of momentum over the last couple of years with Covid-19, and the Trump administration in the United States and rise of authoritarian regimes in parts of the country, fraying of the consensus around the Paris Agreement."
But more recently there had been a "massive increase in ambition".
Shaw cited moves by China to set a carbon-zero target for 2050, and a re-energised approach from the United States, under the Biden administration, including halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 on 2005 levels.
"The Paris Agreement really came about because China and the US got on the same page.
"And I think both countries are quite proud of the role that they played.
"There's a huge amount of tension between them at the moment, but I think that climate change is possibly the one area where they actually do have some common ground."
Many other countries had also increased ambition on their nationally-determined contributions.
"That's improved the outlook, but it hasn't yet got us to within that kind of 1.5 degree temperature goals. So there's a big push on that," Shaw said.
Meanwhile, some critics say New Zealand has not done enough at home to reduce emissions.
New Zealand is one of the few industrialised nations whose gross emissions have increased between 1990 and 2019 - by 26 per cent - despite our high share of renewable electricity.
New Zealand also has one of the highest rates of emissions per capita (however this can vary based on how agriculture emissions are counted).
While the Government has promised the country will become carbon-neutral by 2050 and established a Climate Commission to guide that path, emissions are still rising, and over the past year the country has been burning record amounts of coal for electricity due to low hydro lake levels.
Shaw said he agreed more needed to be done and fast, saying the country was "going through a transition".
"Emissions need to come down not just in one year, but every year on a sustained pathway until we hit net zero.
"I think it's not until we can see that trend that we'll be able to say that we're on the right path.
"But it's a real uphill battle, because for almost 30 years, we've made very little progress at all. And so we're making up for a lot of lost ground."
An important aspect would also be advocating for New Zealand's low-lying Pacific island neighbours who were already impacted from effects of climate change from severe cyclones to rising sea levels, Shaw said.
At COP26 Shaw said settling disputes around carbon markets and transparency around targets would also be high on the agenda.
"If you don't have good rules around that, then it's really hard to tell whether people are actually kind of doing their bit."
National Party climate change spokesperson Stuart Smith was invited to join the delegation, a convention for Opposition climate change spokespeople, but declined.
He told the Herald with MIQ spaces in hot demand he didn't want to take places of Kiwis who needed them. However he didn't disagree with Shaw's attendance, just the size of the delegation (about nine staff from New Zealand are attending).
Smith said it was crucial for New Zealand to push a split-gas approach at COP26, which would factor in the different warming ability of agricultural gases like methane, compared to CO2.
New Zealand also needed to push for partnerships for international carbon markets, which would allow carbon credits to be purchased overseas rather than solely in New Zealand.
The current approach had led to adverse impacts like a surge in converting farmland to forestry due to the high carbon price here, he said.
On New Zealand's international contribution, Smith said New Zealand was already doing its share and any commitment needed to be realistic.
"The Government is not doing well on commitments made in Paris. (It) declared a climate emergency last year and since then has done anything but act like an emergency, delaying reports."
Given the difference in warming ability of methane, Smith said the Government should push to lower the emissions required for agriculture.
Victoria University climate expert Dr Adrian Macey said there were a lot of "misconceptions" New Zealand was slacking off in terms of its climate change commitments.
"A lot of the time comparisons are made on what countries are doing, in terms of reducing as a percentage, rather than where they started from."
On that basis, Macey said New Zealand was actually doing more in a global sense to reduce warming than the United Kingdom.
"It is not about announcing dramatic goals but more what we are doing domestically, and that is where New Zealand has not been brilliant, especially in terms of cutting emissions in transport."
Macey, who has previously been a climate change ambassador for New Zealand, said the country was greatly respected internationally for its work in the agriculture sector and developing tools for measuring methane.
It was favourable to push a split-gas approach, he said, as it would provide a more accurate picture of true warming impacts of gases, but there was much resistance to this internationally.
Overall, Macey said there was always a "lot of build up" to these conferences, and often countries were not ready to announce anything too dramatic.
"What is more important in the end is what happens domestically."