Nick Smith, NZ’s climate change minister, told the Bluegreens forum in Akaroa last weekend that the government was considering gazetting their “50 by 50” target for carbon emissions — a 50 percent cut in emissions by 2050. That target has been National Party policy since before the last election, so the only real news is that the government is considering making it “official”, in the terms of the Climate Change Response Act 2002. Smith continues to represent this target as challenging (which is true), and in line with other countries commitments (which is less so), but where it really falls down is by being completely out of line with what is actually required if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change in the future.
The last time the government considered emissions targets was in the run up to the Copenhagen conference in 2009. At the time, I posted an analysis of global and national emissions targets — The First Cut Is The Deepest. It still remains valid today, made more piquant by the sense of impending changes of climate and the notable extreme weather events that have accumulated since. Here’s my simplified cheat sheet…
- The de facto international target of limiting atmospheric greenhouse gas load to 450 ppm CO2e only gives a 50 per cent chance of staying under 2ºC of warming.
- Limiting warming to 2ºC does not guarantee climate change will not be damaging.
- There’s credible evidence to suggest that we should limit total greenhouse gas load to 350 ppm CO2e if we are to retain a planet with ice at both poles.
- CO2 has just passed 390 ppm.
- International realpolitik implies that accepting an international target of 450 ppm (as the NZ government does) means that developed economies will have to shoot for reductions of 80 to 90 per cent by 2050, in order to give “headroom” to growth in China and India.
- To be internationally (and scientifically) credible, NZ’s targets should be of the order of 80 – 90 per cent by 2050, with a recognition that there is a substantial risk that everyone — every country in the world — will have to cooperate to actively reduce atmospheric carbon levels sooner or later.
- The risks confronting NZ (and the world) are not symmetrical. Doing little or nothing is not a credible option. Some impacts — perhaps severe — are now inevitable. There is a real danger that climate impacts will larger, and happen sooner than expected.
- There is therefore a real risk that the international community will, when confronted by a climate disaster, demand a rapid series of emissions cuts. Wise governments will have enacted policy that makes that easier than continuing with business as usual.
The government is consulting on its “50 by 50” target, and is accepting submissions until the end of this month. I urge all Hot Topic‘s readers to make a submission, to let the government know that their stance on emissions targets is ill-informed, lacklustre and limp-wristed. Smith’s press release does say:
This long-term emissions reduction target cannot be set in stone and will need to be regularly reviewed taking into account the latest scientific advice on climate change, progress made by other nations, and progress made in the development of new technologies that would enable New Zealand to reduce emissions.
I suggest that the first review should be now, that the revised target should be carbon neutrality by 2050, and the government instead of continuously consulting should instead embark on building a national consensus on the construction of a low carbon, sustainable and resilient country.
Submissions can be made to the Ministry for the Environment at email@example.com and close on 28 February 2011.