Climate change conference 2021: What does NZ’s new pledge mean for Kiwis?

New Zealand just setting a new climate change target is one thing, but meeting it is another. So what can Kiwis expect? Jamie Morton explains.

What have we just pledged?

Over the weekend, the Government upgraded its previous Paris Agreement pledge of cutting gross greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, to 41 per cent.

While the Government has referred to a 50 per cent cut on gross 2005 levels, that’s when using a new and different methodology to that used in setting the earlier target.

The new target has already been criticised as being not ambitious enough in the face of a global climate crisis.

Niwa climate scientist Dr Sam Dean, however, pointed out that it marked a big change when considered in net terms – or what our emissions worked out to after taking off-setting actions like forestry and land use change out of the equation.

“The latest commitment by the Government requires a decrease in net-emissions in 2030 of about 27 per cent relative to 2005 and will be viewed more favourably as a result,” Dean said.

“This is a significant shift from our original position that allowed the possibility of net emissions increasing, worsening our contribution to climate change, to one that requires net emissions to decrease meaningfully.”

What does this new target mean for the average Kiwi?

“The new target won’t have a direct impact on your average New Zealander, because it’s an international responsibility target,” climate change campaigner David Tong explained.

“What will affect us all, is how we choose to get there.”

That said, it’s already clear that much of the new obligation would be met not through our own cuts, but those made elsewhere.

Government modelling has indicated that around two thirds of the target would be achieved through buying international carbon credits, which essentially represent reductions made offshore.

The real question for Kiwis, Tong said, would be what the Government locked into our first Emissions Reduction Plan, due to be released in May, and setting three five-year carbon budgets out to 2035.

“Will we do more domestically? Will we unlock a greener future? Or instead, will we rely more and more on overseas credits?”

Whatever the case, we can expect to see more climate policies that tackle our own emissions, given the framework of the Zero Carbon Act – unanimously voted in two years ago – is built around domestic action.

What will that domestic action look like?

While we don’t know what’s in its masterplan yet, the Government has just given us a glimpse.

Last month, it released a series of proposed targets and policy suggestions that show how much it wants to cut emissions by, and how it aims to get there.

Many of those ideas – such as a ban on new gas connections in buildings from 2025 – are ones similar to those the Climate Change Commission has recommended to cut emissions by a third within 14 years.

But the most significant are in transport – the sector that accounts for around 21 per cent of all the emissions we produce, and which has also been the fastest-growing source of them.

The Government has suggested 2035 targets of 20 per cent less car use and 30 per cent more zero-emissions vehicles, along with a scheme that would help low-income earners scrap their petrol car for an EV.

As many as 107,400 motorists can already expect to be hit with charges of up to $5175 next year under an already-announced scheme to encourage drivers to switch to electric vehicles and hybrids.

Other proposed ideas include rolling out Government incentives to make new biofuels and hydrogen fuels, reducing organic waste to landfill, and installing technology at landfills to capture the emissions created when rubbish decomposes.

As for agriculture, where nearly half our emissions come from, much of the work would happen through a new emissions pricing system the industry is co-leading.

Shaw earlier told the Herald the transition to a greener future would be increasingly noticeable to Kiwis.

“In the immediate sense, life will continue as normal – but I think over coming years, as you’re walking around your neighbourhood, you’ll see probably a pretty dramatic increase in the amount of rooftop solar panels.

“You’ll see a pretty dramatic increase in the uptake of electric vehicles on the roads and you’ll also see changes to the way that roads are laid out, so that they’re much more friendly for cyclists and pedestrians.

“I’d anticipate you’ll be seeing, at the very least, more buses, in our cities as well.

“If you’re travelling between cities, you’ll see more wind turbines around the landscape. If you’re driving through farmland, you’ll see a lot more riparian planting, or farms that have got unproductive land planted up with natives.”

Sustainable energy expert Emeritus Professor Ralph Sims said that, as forest sinks could only buy us time, and that buying international credits were still to be agreed upon by countries, it remained to be seen whether Kiwis would support tough measures.

“The negative response to the ‘ute tax’ feebate scheme for new vehicles; the ever-growing demands for powerful SUVs; the difficulties for agriculture to reduce emissions; and a recent EECA survey showing – amazingly – that 20 per cent of the population still don’t believe in climate change and 60 per cent reckon they can not reduce their carbon footprint, all exemplify that the transition to a lower-carbon economy will not be easy.”

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