Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ Category

New Zealand’s journey toward a low-emission future: Today’s climate change landscape

Note: Through Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, I have just published two Motu Notes on climate change issues prepared as background papers for Motu’s Low-Emission Future Dialogue. The first in the series presents an overview of the climate change challenges facing New Zealand and the current policy context.  This information is highly relevant because in 2015 New Zealand will need to present its post-2020 emission reduction commitment – referred to as an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution – under a new international climate change agreement currently under negotiation. The paper’s executive summary is provided below.  The full paper is available here.

Motu note v3 300In the coming decades, New Zealand will face important choices shaped by both the risks and opportunities created by climate change. This paper provides an overview of the current climate change landscape from which New Zealand is starting the next stage of its journey toward a global low-emission future. The key findings are:

Climate change science, emission trends and mitigation scenarios The latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reinforce the case for significant reductions to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Under business-as-usual growth in emissions, the global mean surface temperature in 2100 could increase by 3.7oC to 4.8oC compared to pre-industrial levels. A least-cost pathway to limit temperature increases to not more than 2oC above pre-industrial levels would involve reductions of 40–70 percent below 2010 levels by 2050 on the way toward a zero-net-emission global economy. A key objective should be limiting cumulative emissions, and delaying action significantly increases the costs of mitigation. (more…)

“Hot Air”: Searching for the winds of climate policy change

On 2 November 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Synthesis Report 2014 with the headline “Climate change threatens irreversible and dangerous impacts, but options exist to limit its effects.” The report is a sobering reminder that limiting temperature increases below 2° Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels could entail reducing emissions by 40-70 percent of 2010 levels by 2050, and bringing net emissions near or below zero by 2100.  It emphasises the clear benefits of near-term action given the inertia of economic and climate systems.

A White House report issued in July 2014 also highlights the costs of delaying action to reduce emissions.  Two key findings were:

  • Based on a leading aggregate damage estimate in the climate economics literature, a delay that results in warming of 3° Celsius above preindustrial levels, instead of 2°, could increase economic damages by approximately 0.9 percent of global output… The incremental cost of an additional degree of warming beyond 3° Celsius would be even greater. Moreover, these costs are not one-time, but are rather incurred year after year because of the permanent damage caused by increased climate change resulting from the delay.
  • An analysis of research on the cost of delay for hitting a specified climate target (typically, a given concentration of greenhouse gases) suggests that net mitigation costs increase, on average, by approximately 40 percent for each decade of delay. These costs are higher for more aggressive climate goals: each year of delay means more CO2 emissions, so it becomes increasingly difficult, or even infeasible, to hit a climate target that is likely to yield only moderate temperature increases.

The global case for near-term action is clear.  What about the case for near-term action in New Zealand?

This issue has proven challenging for New Zealand so far.  In addition to economic and climate inertia, New Zealand has faced a third important dimension: political inertia.  This was the subject of Alister Barry’s 2014 documentary Hot Air”.  Using archival footage and retrospective interviews, the film traces New Zealand’s successive attempts to price and reduce greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.  Across policy cycles from the government’s initial consideration of emission pricing to the choice of voluntary greenhouse agreements, consideration and abandonment of a carbon tax and agricultural emissions research levy, the monumental passage of legislation for the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS) and the subsequent decisions that reduced its impact, a similar story was repeated.

Attempts to shift New Zealand toward a lower-emission development pathway were resisted effectively by those with powerful interests in maintaining business as usual.  


2013: Climate change year in review

Image from NASA 10 April 2013

With climate change in 2013, the more things changed…

‘Tis the season for retrospective assessment of the past year’s news, and climate change certainly made global headlines in 2013. On the science front, we heard about grim prospects under business as usual for projected temperature increases and associated global impacts on water and food security, human health, polar ice, sea level rise and species loss. When it came to extreme weather events, broken records started to sound like, well, broken records accompanied by human tragedy and economic loss.

…the more they stayed the same.

From a New Zealand perspective in 2013, the more the climate changed, the more climate change policy stayed the same. However, action is emerging in other ways, especially from the nation’s youth who are concerned about their future, local governments that want to future-proof urban development, and businesses that recognise the value of positioning New Zealand to compete under carbon constraints in the longer term.

You can download a free Silver Lining report New Zealand and Climate Change in 2013 with selected climate change news highlights from 2013, links to useful resources and some reflections on the coming year.


Getting New Zealand back on target

IMG_2227 crop1In late 2012, New Zealand declined a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol and opted for a non-binding emission reduction target for 2020 under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. On 16 August 2013, the Government finally named its 2020 target: a 5% reduction below 1990 levels.

Not only is the 2020 target weaker than the previous conditional pledge of a 10-20% reduction, but it applies only to a single year, leaving unspecified the responsibility for emissions from 2013 through 2019. The Government has not yet explained how the country will meet this target, how it will count surplus units from the previous period, or whether the Treasury will record target compliance as a financial obligation, as was the case under the Kyoto Protocol. Without this information, it is hard to know what the target actually means. Legally, the only check on New Zealand’s performance will be international reporting and the power of public opinion.  Time will tell.

According to its media release, the Government believes it has “carefully balanced the cost to New Zealand households and businesses against taking ambitious action to tackle climate change.”  Climate Change Minister Tim Groser was quoted separately in the media as saying, “Unless we get a serious international effort, anything we do with the ETS or subsequent to it is a complete waste of time.”



Insights from New Zealand’s unexpected journey on climate change

Lakes for web v2The unexpected journey

As “The Hobbit” premiered in late 2012, New Zealand’s worthy climate change negotiators journeyed from Wellington, the Middle of Middle-earth, to Doha seeking the hidden treasure of an ambitious global climate change agreement. Guarding that treasure was the dragon of national self-interest, fuelled by the global fear of economic disadvantage.

Before the assembly, New Zealand declined a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, opting instead to take a yet-undecided and non-binding 2020 target under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. New Zealand was not alone; it joined major emitters including the US, Canada, Japan and the Russian Federation.

For “clean, green” New Zealand, this was a break from precedent and a surprise to many observers. Environmentally, the impact will depend on the government’s ultimate 2020 target. We are still waiting for that announcement. Legally, the only check on New Zealand’s performance will be international reporting and the power of public opinion. Time will tell. (more…)

Meeting the Challenge: A strategy for a New Zealand Climate Policy

NZ ParliamentOn 7 June 2013, the New Zealand Green Party convened a conference in the Legislative Council Chamber called “Meeting the Challenge: A strategy for a New Zealand Climate Policy.” It featured an outstanding series of presentations and constructive conversations covering science, policy and the role of business and civil society. Below is an elaboration of my contribution to the session on “Policy Mechanisms: Market, fiscal and complementary measures – optimal mix?”

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I am speaking from my experience having moved to New Zealand to work on the carbon tax and then helping to design the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme. Where we are today is certainly not where we thought we would be back in 2008 when the scheme entered into law. I would like to offer seven points to contribute to the discussion. (more…)

New Zealand’s Climate Reality: My speech in Town Hall in April 2013

Climate Reality Logo Small 3On 29 April 2013, I gave a public Climate Reality presentation in the Council Chambers in Wellington Town Hall.  The presentation was supported by Wellington City Council, Greater Wellington Regional Council and Sustainability Trust.  Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown opened the presentation, and Dr James Renwick from Victoria University contributed his technical expertise to the session on questions and answers.  I am very grateful for everyone’s support.

Below are the speech notes that were my personal contribution to the core presentation designed by former Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore under The Climate Reality Project.

I see a need for us to start a conversation. This conversation is a courageous conversation. It is a conversation about how we can meet the needs of New Zealanders by taking action on climate change. I believe that if we pass up the opportunities that are in front of us today, we will seriously regret that loss. After nearly 20 years of working on these issues, I have never been more concerned than I am today about the choices that we are making without being conscious of their true cost. I have also never been more certain – or more excited – about how much we stand to gain by seizing these opportunities and how important it is for us to do more now. (more…)

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