Editorial: Few outliers remain to climate change consensus

EDITORIAL:

When it comes to tackling climate change and New Zealand’s emissions reduction targets, the arguments for and against can be extreme.

Critics and sceptics say the country can’t afford the pathway proposed by the Climate Change Commission – with emphasis on New Zealand’s relatively insignificant contribution to global emissions.

The default supportive stance is along the lines of “but what’s the cost of destroying the Earth”?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has described the challenge as her generation’s “nuclear-free moment”.

The release of the commission’s final report has opened up the debate further and it was interesting to see the emergence of stronger cross-party support, from National at least, and a bit more buy-in from industry.

The report focuses on how New Zealand can reach net zero emissions of long-lived greenhouse gases by 2050 and reduce biogenic methane emissions between 24-47 per cent by 2050.

A range of recommendations include phasing out internal combustion engine cars by 2035, banning LPG connections and policies that would lead to livestock reducing by 15 per cent.

Among the seven key changes to the earlier draft advice was some refined economic forecasts – namely, a bigger impact on economic growth.

The draft report estimated the transition would knock off less than 1 per cent of annual GDP by 2050. The final report estimates it will cut .5 per cent by 2035 and 1.2 per cent in 2050.

However, this would be half the impact of not making any changes – 2.3 per cent by 2050, the commission warned.

The report is radical and has lots of people worried. But it was well signalled.

The political reaction has been varied with the National Party generally supporting the pathway, with the budgets now included. However, National’s Climate Change spokesperson Stuart Smith said lowering emissions by 8 per cent in four years would be a tough ask and it is too early to say how realistic that is.

The Act Party disagrees with the budgets and says the report should be binned. Leader David Seymour says New Zealand should instead set a cap to reduce emissions in line with its trading partners. If the rest of the world wanted to decarbonise, Seymour says, then New Zealand should track other countries rather than try to lead the way.

The industry response was more cautious.

Dairy NZ said it was pleased the goalposts haven’t shifted from the Zero Carbon Act, meaning farmers now have the certainty to make long-term investment decisions. It will be incredibly challenging to reduce biogenic methane emissions by 10 per cent, and farmers are concerned they are doing the heavy lifting.

Other groups such as Business NZ called for greater consultation with industry.

“Business will be heartened that the CCC’s final advice contains more discussion of the need for policymakers to work closely with business to ensure the policies do least economic damage,” said chief executive Kirk Hope.

Generally, there appears growing acceptance from the business community, albeit with some reluctance, about working towards the goal.

For those who still can’t see how or why it should be done, their best advocate is Seymour.

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