Landmark climate change bill goes to Parliament

  • Hon James Shaw
Climate Change

In March this year, tens of thousands of New Zealand school students went on strike to protest a lack of decisive action on climate change. We are acting now.

The Zero Carbon Bill outlines our plan over the next 30 years to safeguard the future that those school students will inherit.

Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time – perhaps the greatest challenge of all time. Stopping climate change is going to take all of us and it’s going to take everything we’ve got; across communities, businesses, iwi, and government.

Last year the United Nations published an incredibly sobering report into what the likely consequences if we allow global temperatures to rise more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The results would be catastrophic. 

The critical thing is for us to do everything we can over the next 30 years to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

This Bill makes that a legally binding objective. As far as we’re aware, we’re one of the first countries in the world to embed that requirement in our climate change legislation.

I would like to acknowledge that this Bill has come about through the combined efforts of many people and organisations. In particular, the youth climate organisation, Generation Zero, which first coined the term, Zero Carbon Bill, and popularised it before the 2017 election.

Environmental NGOs, businesses and business organisations, farmers and farming industry bodies, iwi and Māori organisations all over the country have worked constructively with us to develop a Bill that meets the scientific goal of staying within 1.5 degrees of global warming and also represents the broadest possible consensus across New Zealand about how to get there.

We’re delighted that the three Government partners have reached an agreement over a complex piece of legislation after lengthy consultation.

The Green Party campaigned strongly for this in 2017 and it’s at the top of our Confidence & Supply Agreement with the Labour Party.

I want to thank the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister for their personal engagement and efforts in getting us to this point.

I also want to acknowledge National Party leader, Simon Bridges, and National’s Climate Change spokesperson, Todd Muller, for conducting negotiations in good faith. They have had many opportunities, over the past year, when they could have tried to make political mileage out of this and they have chosen not to. I want to thank them for setting politics to one side whilst we’ve worked through the Bill.

The fact that, across Parliament, all parties have engaged constructively in this process signals mutual interest in creating enduring climate change legislation and a long-lasting commitment to action on climate change for future generations.

The Bill includes a target to reduce all of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions to ‘net-zero’ by 2050, except biological methane. That is consistent with the Bill’s commitment to live within the 1.5 degrees limit.

This split target approach is informed by science and acknowledges that biological methane doesn’t contribute the same long-term warming as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.

The target for biological methane is for a 10 per cent reduction by 2030, with a provisional range of between 24 and 47 per cent further out to 2050.

The science tells us that as long as we still continue to emit long-lived gases into the atmosphere, we won’t be able to stay within the 1.5 degree limit, unless we bring methane emissions down also.

Last year’s IPCC report suggests a range for what needs to happen with global emissions of methane, but the scientific and economic consensus for what that means for New Zealand doesn’t yet exist. So we’ve included in the Bill a provision for the new, independent Climate Change Commission to give us a more definitive proposal by 2024.

Of course, we can’t wait until 2024 to get started, which is why the priority right now is to reduce emissions by one percent a year, on average, until 2030.

The question of what the emissions target should be, and how effort to get to 1.5 degrees should be shared across the economy, is by far the most contentious part of this Bill.

There are industries which, by their nature, have a higher emissions profile or make up a larger portion of our country’s emissions than others.

It’s imperative that we treat all gases and sectors as equitably as possible in terms of the effect they have on our collective ability to stay within 1.5 degrees.

That means that we, collectively, have a moral duty to support those sectors that do face significant change, through that transition.

And we also need to realise that this is a truly collective effort in which we all have our part to play. It is patently unfair for those of us who live in cities to ask the farmers we depend on for our food, to go through a steeper transition if we choose to continue to drive round in fossil fuelled cars when we could switch to cleaner options.

Because this has always been so fraught, and has tended to set industrial emitters against agricultural emitters, farmers versus townies, it is critical that the Bill establishes an expert, independent, politically neutral Climate Change Commission to support our transition to a low-carbon economy. It will provide advice, guidance, and regular five-yearly ‘emissions budgets’.

Climate change is a volatile, shifting force.  We are going to need flexibility, which is why the Commission will review targets when advising on those regularly “emissions budgets”, or if the Government requests a review.

Such reviews may only be requested under certain conditions, like significant changes in global circumstances, science and technology developments, or New Zealand’s economic conditions.

The Bill also creates a legal obligation on the Government to plan for how it will support New Zealand towns and cities, businesses, farmers, and the public to adapt to the increasingly severe storms, floods, fires and droughts we are experiencing as a result of climate change.

The impacts of our changing climate will not affect everyone in the same way and the Bill recognises the need to support different groups & communities and iwi differently as adaptation plans are created.

Today’s introduction of the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill to Parliament is not the end of the journey.

I call on New Zealanders to stay engaged through the select committee process as the Bill is scrutinised and New Zealanders get a final opportunity to have their say on the shape of the legislation.