This guest post is by Paul Young of Generation Zero.
Last Thursday Generation Zero released our new report, The Big Ask. This was the follow-up to our earlier report A Challenge to Our Leaders, released in May. While we’re calling it the Big Ask, it shouldn’t actually be a big deal. All we’re really asking for is a plan to do what the Government has promised to do.
Challenge laid out a fundamental problem with New Zealand’s current climate change response: we might have some nice-sounding targets for reducing our carbon emissions, but we have no credible plan for how we will achieve them. Politicians and policy-makers carry on as if the targets don’t exist; as if business as usual is still a viable option.
The simplest way to demonstrate this is by the Government’s official emissions projections, which Challenge unearthed and shone a light on. Under current policies, NZ’s emissions are expected to continue growing on every possible measure. In fact, the Government’s own figures show the current response is virtually indistinguishable from business as usual (read: doing absolutely nothing).
The national targets established by the current Government are to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions (including forestry) in 2020 to 5% below what gross emissions were in 1990, and 50% below this by 2050. These latest projections say net emissions in 2020 will be 26% above the 1990 gross emissions level and rising.
Jargon and accounting vaguaries aside, this is an epic fail.
The problem is two-fold: not only is there no plan to meet our current targets, these targets are also too weak for the global goal of keeping warming under 2°C. In Challenge we argue from IPCC science that NZ should aim for zero fossil carbon emissions in 2050 alongside reductions in agricultural emissions.
The Big Ask
The Big Ask is a proposal to solve at least the former problem, and start New Zealand on the path to solving the latter.
We’re calling for a new law that will hold our Government to its promises and ensure New Zealand has a credible plan for climate action: a Climate Change Act modelled on the one in the UK.
What would such a Climate Change Act do?
- It would enshrine a 2050 emissions target in domestic law so that the Government has a legal obligation to meet it (in the UK it’s 80% below 1990 levels) .
- It would require the Government to set binding periodic ‘carbon budgets’ (5-yearly in the UK) to ensure steady progress towards the long-term goal, and produce plans to meet them.
- It would set up an independent Climate Commission to conduct expert analysis, advise the Government on carbon budgets and policies required to meet them, and hold the Government publicly accountable.
Altogether, the Act would mean that – rather than being able to hide behind a veil of rhetoric and twisted numbers – the Government would be accountable to produce transparent plans for how it will deliver on its climate promises. This carbon budgeting process – first proposed for New Zealand by the Sustainability Council – is a vital legislative solution to deliver a coherent Government response with certainty on New Zealand’s direction towards a low carbon economy.
In The Big Ask report we also take a closer look at our favourite role model country of Denmark. The Danish experience shows another element of importance to the Climate Commission: establishing an expert body like this was a key step in their journey towards a world-leading energy strategy to achieve 100% renewable energy (including transport, heating and industry) by 2050.
From 2008-10, the Danish Commission on Climate Change Policy conducted an extensive study on if and how Denmark could achieve fossil fuel independence by 2050. They found it was both feasible and affordable with known technologies, with an estimated cost of just 0.5% of GDP by 2050 (by which time GDP would be more than double what it is today).
We in Generation Zero have little doubt that the same is achievable in New Zealand, and once a Climate Commission is established it can be tasked with proving it.
So, what do the politicians think?
The NZ Herald ran a great two-page feature on The Big Ask and went to political parties for comment.
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.
“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”.
Suffice to say, Mr Groser seems to have largely missed our actual point. Oh and by the way – had anyone else heard that the quaint old concept of leadership by example has now been proven wrong?
On a more positive note, several other parties are already very favourable to the idea. Our goal is to build on that support and see this implemented by the next government, whoever’s in charge.
Again, all we’re really calling for is a plan.
We’d love to have the support of Hot Topic readers by helping us spread the word and talk to politicians to put this high on the agenda for all political parties. And if you haven’t already, sign on as a Climate Voter to show that you want action on climate change and you’re prepared to use your vote to get it.