Government Seeks Public Input On Climate Change Policy Choices

  • Simon Upton

New Zealand faces important decisions on how best to meet its climate change commitments, the Minister for the Environment, Simon Upton said today. Mr Upton said, "our commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2008-2012 will not be achieved without changes to our business-as-usual way of doing things. Climate change policy will affect all New Zealanders".

The Climate Change Domestic Policy Options Statement, released today, outlines the range of domestic policy measures that are being considered by the Government. New Zealand's proposed long-term policy package is based around emissions trading.

Under the Kyoto Protocol countries' greenhouse gas targets can be met both with domestic action to reduce emissions and with buying and selling emissions in an international market (currently being developed). The extent of domestic action is likely to depend on the world price of CO2 emission permits.

The document sets out three options for further consideration which vary mainly in the timing of measures and the extent to which a low-level carbon charge should supplement domestic emissions trading in the transitional period (prior to 2008). The document also considers a range of other measures which complement emissions trading.

There will be a 10 week period of public consultation - ending Friday 16 April. The Ministry for the Environment is seeking opportunities to work with groups who are interested to do so as an input to preparing their submissions. The Government expects to take decisions in the second half of 1999.

"This is the chance for interested New Zealanders to contribute to the debate on exactly how domestic policies should be shaped and now soon we should take action," Mr Upton concluded.


The risks of climate change

The risk of climate change stems from increasing concentrations in the atmosphere of greenhouse gas emissions due to human activities (such as the use of fossil fuels). The consequences of warming are likely to include changes in sea level, rainfall and soil moisture, and an increase in some regions in the incidence of high temperature events, floods and droughts, with consequences for fires, pest outbreaks, and ecosystem composition, structure and function, including primary productivity.

International efforts to address climate change

There is considerable international effort to address the risks of climate change and to mitigate emissions of greenhouse gases. Late in 1997, the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted the Kyoto Protocol. The Protocol contains legally binding commitments to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (the 'big three'- carbon dioxide, methane nitrous oxide, and three minor classes of gases - sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)). Once it is ratified, the Kyoto Protocol will require New Zealand not to exceed 1990 emissions levels, on average, during 2008-2012. An international emissions trading regime is expected to be operating by 2008 emissions trading is expected to substantially reduce the costs to New Zealand of meeting its target.

Recent Related Publications on Emissions Trading and Climate Change

In August 1998, the Ministry published a working paper on Technical design issues for a domestic emissions trading regime for greenhouse gases to promote further discussion of domestic policy options. The working paper aims to explore some of the key technical issues for a comprehensive emissions trading regime and does not propose a particular policy approach. As such, it provides additional technical information to support public discussion of the Domestic Policy Options Statement.

The key technical issues explored in the working paper are: the definition of the unit of trade (a certificate which allows a set quantity of greenhouse gases to be emitted); the nature of the obligation on participating sources and sinks of greenhouse gases and where in the economy these obligations could be placed; the method by which certificates could be allocated and the pros and cons of the various options; and the administrative and market functions required for the efficient and effective operation of the regime.

The working paper complements a Treasury working paper on The design of a possible low-level carbon charge for New Zealand published in April 1997. Further information on greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide can be found in 'Climate Change: More than just carbon dioxide. Significance, sources and solutions for non-CO(subscript: 2) greenhouse gases in New Zealand'. The document: provides emissions data for methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, perfluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons; a brief description of technical options for managing these emissions; and identifies relevant current research and research needs.