Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill - speech at first reading

  • Hon James Shaw
Climate Change

Hon Shaw:  I move, that the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill be now read a first time.

I nominate the Environment Committee to consider the bill.

At the appropriate time, I intend to move that the bill be reported to the House by 21 October 2019.

Our Changing Climate

Madam Speaker, today we begin the task of amending the Climate Change Response Act [2002], to fulfil the commitment that we have made, as a country, to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Together with the rest of the world, New Zealand faces unprecedented challenges from the effects of a changing climate.

It will be ongoing and at times, unyielding.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, it may be punctuated by more severe flooding and drought, coastal erosion and storm surges than we have ever seen before.

Globally, climate change will increase existing risks, including the spread of pests and disease, threats to food security and social disruption.

These hazards will impact whole communities, severely strain critical public infrastructure and result in unprecedented social, ecological and economic losses.

When these crises occur – whether it’s flooding in Whanganui, fires in Tasman, coastal washout in Greymouth, storm damage in Coromandel, droughts in Northland – we declare an emergency and we marshal the resources to respond.

Madam Speaker, it is not alarmism to suggest that climate change is itself an emergency – it is the causal force driving up the frequency and severity of each of these other crises.

We ought to call it what it is.

We cannot say we did not know, or that we were not told.

The world is on fire.

The climate emergency we are now facing will change the way we live.

Where we live.

How we travel and how we work, how we raise our children.

Our response, outlined in this Bill, needs to be appropriate to the scale of the challenge.

Outline of the Bill

The Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill before you today, Madam Speaker, has as its purpose, to provide a framework by which New Zealand can contribute to the collective global effort to limit the increase in global average temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as set out in Article 2 of the Paris Agreement, thereby significantly reducing the impacts and risks of climate change.

As far as we are aware, we are the first country in the world to locate that commitment, to hold global warming to no more than 1.5 °C, in primary legislation.

This ensures that, whatever else we choose to do, it must further that critical outcome – and nothing we do should undermine it.

This Bill will establish a Climate Change Commission, an independent Crown entity, to provide expert advice on the transition to a low‑emissions and climate resilient New Zealand.

This Bill outlines an emissions reduction target for New Zealand, in line with keeping global warming to under 1.5 degrees. The target has two components.

It will seek to reduce our emissions of all greenhouse gases, except biogenic methane, to net zero by 2050. 

It will also seek to reduce our gross emissions of biogenic methane within the range of 24-47 per cent below 2017 levels by 2050, and will include an interim requirement to reduce gross emissions of biogenic methane by 10 percent below 2017 levels by 2030.

Emissions budgets will act as stepping stones towards the long-term target. Each budget will state the quantity of emissions that will be permitted in a five-year period, and will be supported by a plan to achieve those reductions.

Taken together, successive emissions budgets should define an optimal pathway towards our long-term climate objectives.

Finally, Madam Speaker, this Bill will require the Government to have a plan for how we adapt to the effects of climate change.

The Commission will conduct a National Climate Change Risk Assessment every six years and, in response to each Risk Assessment, the Bill requires the responsible Minister to produce a National Adaptation Plan.

The Bill also gives the government power to require appropriate organisations to report information for inclusion in the National Climate Change Risk Assessments.

Critique of the Bill

Madam Speaker, since I introduced the Bill to the House, a number of concerns have been raised about the Bill at hui and workshops, and in the media:

First, should there be a limit on the extent to which the Bill permeates across government. Should it instead be able to affect the interpretation of other statutes, as happens with our human rights and privacy legislation?

Second, should the level of legal liability be proscribed or should the Bill be silent on this, allowing common law norms to develop as public expectations evolve?

Third, should the Commission be advisory only, or should it have some level of decision making powers as some have suggested?

Fourth, are the proposed emissions reduction targets too ambitious or too conservative, given our commitment to stay within 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming?

Fifth, should the Bill exclude international aviation and shipping as currently proposed for consistency with the Paris Agreement, or should we bring them within our domestic framework, as has been done in France and as is being considered by the UK?

Finally, does the Bill adequately address the Crown’s duties under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, to protect land and water, and to consult and engage with Iwi/Maori?

The feedback I have received so far suggests that these issues warrant thorough consideration by the Select Committee, although I have to say, Madam Speaker, the Bill reflects nearly 18 months of consultation and negotiations between political parties and with farming leaders, environmental NGOs, businesses and Iwi/Maori organisations.

So I wish the Select Committee the very best of luck.

The Transition

Madam Speaker, the world around us is changing.

Eighteen countries have already consistently reduced their emissions over the past decade, whilst their economies have continued to grow and develop.

Joining those countries in the transition will ensure that New Zealand maintains and enhances our competitive advantage in a low emissions world, compared to those countries that do too little, too late.

Climate change policy does not need to be a trade-off between economic development and reducing emissions – in fact, evidence so far suggests a correlation between reducing emissions and increasing productivity and wealth creation.

The challenge of living in an emissions-constrained world is the most powerful driver of innovation I can think of, creating new technologies, new industries, new jobs.

It is, I believe, the greatest economic opportunity in at least a generation.

My greatest fear is that we let it pass us by and allow that opportunity to accrue to other, bolder nations.

Acknowledgements & Conclusion

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the 15,000 organisations and members of the public who responded to our public consultation.

In particular I would like to acknowledge the leadership shown by our nation’s young people, in bringing the Bill to Parliament and in seeking to hold us accountable for decisions that will shape their futures.

I want to thank the Prime Minister for her personal leadership in this, the nuclear-free moment of our generation, and the Deputy Prime Minister for his efforts in getting us to this point.

I would also like to extend my gratitude to National Party leader, Simon Bridges, and National’s Climate Change spokesperson, Todd Muller, who put politics to one side and worked with us in good faith to try and shape a Bill that could be supported across the House.

Madam Speaker, this Bill has a thirty year time horizon – it must survive multiple changes of Government in that time.

The pressures will be even greater in the future than they are today.

But businesses, investors, communities and iwi need the predictability and stable policy environment this Bill is intended to provide.

The genuine attempt at consensus-building during the process has shown that all sides recognise all sides that climate change is too important for petty partisanship and politics.

For, as was said in a different time, about a different but equally existential threat, “in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.”

Madam Speaker, I commend this Bill to the House.