Climate Change Minister James Shaw will be in Dunedin tomorrow to speak at the Zero Carbon Bill public meeting as part of a nationwide series of consultation meetings. The Otago Daily Times' Business editor Dene Mackenzie outlines the issue.

The Government's proposed Zero Carbon Bill lays out how it plans to move New Zealand to a low-emission economy by 2050.

The public consultation process on the Bill opened on June 7. The discussion document asks people what they think the 2050 emissions targets should be.

Each target has different implications for New Zealand's climate and the economy.

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The options are:

• net-zero carbon dioxide only;

• net-zero long-lived gases (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide) and stabilised short-lived gases like methane;

• net-zero emissions for all greenhouse gases.

Mr Shaw welcomed WWF-New Zealand's open letter offering its congratulations on the Government's goal of getting the country to net zero emissions by 2050.

The letter was signed by more than 200 people, including business leaders from Z Energy, Les Mills gyms, DB Breweries, the Body Shop and Meridian Energy, as well as the mayors of Wellington, Whanganui, Christchurch, Gisborne and Auckland. Four of the five mayoral signatories have strong ties to the Labour Party.

"The support we're seeing for action on climate change shows that Kiwis don't shy away from tackling the hard problems.

"We all know that making a plan for climate action now will pay off in the long term," Mr Shaw said.

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Communities, businesses, farmers, iwi and ordinary New Zealanders up and down the country were already doing what they could to reduce emissions or were ready to get on board and help draw up a plan to reduce New Zealand's impact on the climate, he said.

The plan was about "doing our bit" to ensure a stable climate for future generations and acting together with other countries to get climate change under control.

"We will succeed through the efforts of all New Zealanders."

Associate Prof Ivan Diaz-Rainey, co-director of the Otago Energy Research Centre at the University of Otago, said the Bill would be an important stepping stone and provided context that should allow for the enactment of new climate policies or alterations of existing policy instruments such as the emissions trading scheme (ETS).

New Zealand is behind many other countries in addressing climate change, says Associate Prof Ivan Diaz-Rainey. Photo / Supplied
New Zealand is behind many other countries in addressing climate change, says Associate Prof Ivan Diaz-Rainey. Photo / Supplied

However, it did not guarantee the policies needed would be enacted. It also came a decade after the United Kingdom enacted a similar piece of legislation and two decades since the Kyoto protocol was signed.

"We are still talking about how New Zealand should respond to climate change, whereas many countries have had strong policies in place for well over a decade."

The options in the consultation for the Bill underlined the problem. They were consulting on whether to replace the "current target of 50% reduction below 1990 levels by 2050".

They were fundamentally very different options and at the heart of those differences was how "short-lived" agricultural emissions should be treated, Prof Diaz-Rainey said.

"There is no question agricultural emissions are challenging, both in terms of measurement and in terms of mitigation."

The first option, where agricultural methane or nitrous oxide emissions were effectively excluded could not be regarded as a realistic or equitable option.

The approach was somewhere between options two and three, which left some emphasis on reducing methane but placed greater emphasis on carbon dioxide, he said.

"This is probably the right answer and it will require major changes to the ETS, so more policy uncertainty. But overall, it feels like we are still standing at the starting line asking where and how far we should run to shed some kilos. Many others have been running, and running hard, for quite some time.

"Could we not at least jog and have policies that start to reduce carbon dioxide through incentives for electric vehicles and domestic energy efficiency, while we continue to figure out exactly what we are going to do with agriculture," Prof Diaz-Rainey said.

The National Party has belatedly come to the party on climate change and leader Simon Bridges has written to Mr Shaw offering to work with him and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to establish an independent, non-political climate change commission.

The commission would support emissions reductions by both advising on carbon budgets and publishing progress reports on emissions.

Long-lasting change required broad and enduring support and Mr Bridges said he wanted to work with the Government to make meaningful bipartisan progress on climate change.

Mr Bridges picked the 2018 Agricultural Fieldays to make his announcement, before an audience of farmers who are unlikely to need to be part of any immediate change in the reduction of methane emissions.

Not surprisingly, Federated Farmers president Katie Milne welcomed the involvement of Mr Bridges, mainly, it appears, because his five principles align with those of the federation.

National's core principles are:

• taking a pragmatic, science-based approach;

• utilising innovation and technology;

• getting the incentives right to drive long-term change rather than short-term shocks;

• acting as part of a global response;

• considering the wider impacts on the economy, jobs and income.

National had nine years in Government to do some or all of those and was slow to act.

Mrs Milne was delighted the Government, and National, had both signalled their recognition there was a good case for treating short-lived greenhouse gases, such as methane, and long-lived carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide differently.

"Further than that, Simon Bridges also noted the impracticality and unfairness of putting agriculture into the ETS."

There were exciting potential livestock emission and mitigation processes and technology coming, she said.

Although only at concept stage and yet to be trialled, if some of them came to fruition, farmers would quickly add them to the measures they already employed to lessen their environmental footprint, Mrs Milne said.

BusinessNZ also welcomed National's intention to work with the Government on climate change. Climate change was an intergenerational issue like no other, BusinessNZ executive director energy and infrastructure John Carnegie said.

It would require long-term stable and durable policy settings to unlock the change needed.

"We have consistently called for a bipartisan approach as a necessary condition for effective change. Business needs a clear direction and predictable policy settings in order to invest and create jobs with confidence as we reach towards increasingly stringent climate change targets."

The key question parties needed to address with business as the primary solution provider was how effort could best be harnessed across the economy to achieve the necessary transformation, while balancing risks such as investment and carbon leakage, he said.

Mr Shaw will be speaking at the Forsyth Barr Stadium tomorrow from 5pm to 7pm.