Paris climate talks: NZ to rely on carbon credits to meet emissions pledge

NZ could miss its 2030 emissions target if international carbon credits dry up, Climate Change Minister Tim Groser cautions.
KENT BLECHYNDEN/FAIRFAX NZ

NZ could miss its 2030 emissions target if international carbon credits dry up, Climate Change Minister Tim Groser cautions.

There is a degree of unreality about the commitments countries are going to make to cut greenhouse gas emissions, Climate Change Minister Tim Groser says.

In comments that are likely to dismay environmental activists, Groser insisted there was "no low hanging fruit" when it came to reducing New Zealand's domestic greenhouse gas emissions, and the country would need to rely heavily on buying its way out of the problem by purchasing carbon credits from other countries.

"We are a government that believes you have got to walk and chew gum at the same time," he said.  

Growing trees will be a big part of NZ's plans. Kerry Mead is lifting pinus radiata pine seedlings at ArborGen Nursery.

Growing trees will be a big part of NZ's plans. Kerry Mead is lifting pinus radiata pine seedlings at ArborGen Nursery.

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That meant it was not prepared to take steps that put "huge costs on consumers and businesses" and that crippled the economy.

More than 160 countries are expected to pledge to reduce their carbon emissions at the World Climate Change conference which starts in Paris on November 30.

There are high hopes the Paris meeting will represent a breakthrough in the battle against climate change and New Zealand plans to commit to cut carbon emissions by 30 per cent from their 2005 levels by 2030.

But Greenpeace executive director Russel Norman said New Zealand's commitment would be undermined both by the fact that it would not be binding and because the Government had not been clear about how the cut would be achieved.

Groser said countries would probably not be measured on how they had lived up to the commitments they made in Paris until 2032 or 2033.

"Believe it or not, only in the next few months is New Zealand going to formally report on what it said it would achieve by 2012 under the Kyoto protocol."

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He agreed that whatever the climate situation facing policy-makers in the 2030s, the question of whether the Paris promises had been upheld might not then be front of mind.

Groser said there was "to some extent a certain degree of unreality" about all countries' proposed commitments on carbon emissions for that reason.

But he said that did not mean the Paris commitments would be unimportant.

"They will be backed up by a series of legally binding commitments – or this is what I hope – that you will have to have policy systems in place to deliver on this, and you have to be prepared to come back and report what you are doing.

"You will have to use metrics that are internationally credible and that have environmental integrity. There is a principle of 'no backsliding'."

Groser expected New Zealand would try to meet its target by reducing domestic emissions, planting forests, and by purchasing international carbon credits, which the country could use to offset its emissions.

He could not be sure about the split but believed New Zealand would rely "a lot" on buying carbon credits, some of which Norman contended were fraudulently generated and "environmentally worthless".  

Groser acknowledged it was possible that New Zealand might miss its target to reduce emissions if the price of carbon credits was driven up by the demand that would be created by the promises made in Paris.

But he said he was encouraged to learn earlier this week that Germany would take a lead in developing carbon markets through the G7 and "had invited New Zealand and a group of smaller countries" to work with it on that over the next 10 to 15 years.

"Unless we are prepared to drive our economy into a hole just to achieve a smaller number, we are going to always have to rely on trees and buying our way out of the problem because 70 per cent of our emissions are from agriculture and transport," he said.

Norman said there were "huge opportunities" and the Government's emission reduction target was far too low.

"If you compare it to the Kyoto 1990 baseline it is very a modest cut at 11 per cent and they are proposing to achieve most of it by not doing anything domestically."

Instead, it should be targeting a 40 per cent cut from 1990 levels without relying on carbon credits, he said.

Groser said the Government could "look at a goal" for converting New Zealand's vehicle fleet to electric power, noting that electricity generators had consents for enough renewable power to increase total electricity generation by 40 per cent.

But he said any such goal would have to be "aspirational".

"No government is going to force you or me to buy an 'EV'. You could do that but I don't think we are into that space philosophically.

"We will not sit down and dictate to New Zealanders 'from 2025 onwards you will not be allowed to buy an internal combustion engine'.

"The price of EVs is going decrease dramatically and I think this will just be a logical thing," he added.

Groser, who was appointed Climate Change Minister seven years ago, said he had gradually become convinced of the importance of global warming. "The more I have studied it, the more I have come around to a very strong view that this is a fundamental problem.

"I don't say ever the science is finished. I am aware a number of scientists have got questions around the existing use of metrics which could have major implications for the way in which we prioritise action on climate change.

"But is [man-made] greenhouse gas warming real and should governments treat this very seriously? Unqualified 'yes' and the more I understand about it, the more convinced I am of that," he said.

Groser was convinced China was now serious about climate change, saying that was "a massive shift" from the time of the last major climate change negotiations which broke down in Copenhagen in 2009.

"On the political level the 'denier' voice is now very, very small," he said.

 

 - Stuff

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