As I write Climate Minister Shaw is likely packing his bags to head to Glasgow to represent NZ at the crucial international negotiations on stepping up global response to climate change.

In terms of a NZ contribution to that objective, unfortunately the Minister will be packing light but carrying a heavy load.

The heavy load involves defending New Zealand’s lack of progress in emission reductions since the signing the Paris Agreement in 2015. 

And the light side reflects NZ’s failure to date to update its own targets for future reductions and plans for accomplishing these, let alone achieving reductions on the scale needed to reflect what science says must be done to avert a climate tipping point.

Since 1990 emissions from our two key sectors have risen – almost doubling from transportation and up 17% from agriculture. Our emissions are now expected to peak in 2027 (under BAU assumptions) at which point they will be 17% higher than 2005. Cars/trucks and cows are our problem.

Overall, our per capita emissions are 5th highest in the OECD (8th highest with forestry offsets factored in). Breaking that down, our CO2 emissions are relatively low (18th highest in the OECD), because our electricity is largely fueled by renewables, while our methane emissions are highest per capita in the developed world.

NZ Climate Commission pathways

The NZ Climate Commission noted that even the mitigation plans it recommended would not be sufficient to put the nation on a path that would meet the existing Paris targets NZ committed to, let alone any more rigorous targets likely to be set in Glasgow. NZ is supposed to be on a path that would reduce emissions by 30% (from 2005 levels) by 2030; we would need to reduce by more than 36% to meet the Paris target.

The UN says the existing Paris commitments, if even these were honoured, would result in emissions increasing by 16% on 2010 levels by 2030 … with a resulting temperature rise of about 2.7C by 2100. To meet a 1.5C target would require global emissions to reduce about 8% every year consistently for 30 years. That’s not going to happen short of global economic collapse – e.g., Covid is ‘credited’ with reducing global CO2 emissions by 6% worldwide.

The Government is pondering the Commission’s recommendations, and recently issued its own discussion paper seeking more public input on potential reduction measures, but excluding agriculture. Shaw insists that the Government will come to terms with the agriculture sector in the first half of next year via a separate collaborative process. Then all will be marvelously joined together with the Government’s budgeting process.

Meantime, we Kiwis and the rest of the world gathering in Glasgow sweat it out.

Given our tiny carbon footprint in the global context, whether New Zealand makes a leadership – or at least responsible – contribution to averting a climate tipping point is more a matter of national pride, morality and reputation management (which is crucial to our export success) than impact on the planet’s thermometer.

The NZ Climate Commission kicked this question to touch. It’s up to the Government to resolve the pride, moral and economic issues.

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  1. It’s more than pride and moral issues. Expect tariff penalties against New Zealand if we do not make our targets.

  2. Thanks Tom for this excellent assessment of where we are at. This will give many people the facts to keep this conversation, and the goal of 1.5 degrees, alive.

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