Speech to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group on Land

  • Hon James Shaw
Climate Change

Kia tau te rangimārie o te Rangi e tū nei

o Papatūānuku e takoto nei

o te Taiao e awhi nei

ki runga I a tātou.

Tīhei mauri ora!

Ki nga kaumatua o Ngāi Tuāhuriri, tēnā koutou.

 Ki nga rangitira o te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha, tēnā koutou.

Me ki nga manuhiri I konei mai i te IPCC, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

To the 120 scientists and experts, from 59 countries, who are gathered here, welcome to Aotearoa New Zealand and welcome to Christchurch

The work you are doing on climate change and land is obviously of critical and even existential importance to our common future.

But from my perspective, as New Zealand’s Minister for Climate Change, your timing couldn’t be better.

Because the questions around the relationship between climate change and land use, forestry and agriculture are central to the work you are doing here right now.


The Paris Agreement obliges every country on Earth to achieve net zero emissions in the second half of this Century.

Our new Government has made the commitment that we here in New Zealand will hit this target by the very beginning of the second half of the Century, in the year 2050.

Across Government we are setting targets for different sectors consistent with this commitment.

For example, we aim to be producing 100 percent renewable electricity generation by 2035, or sooner.

We’re almost there now at 80 to 85 percent generation from hydro, geothermal, wind and solar, but we can go further.

Over the coming months we hope to make other announcements about transport emissions, electric vehicle uptake, and so on.

It’s an ambitious programme. It has to be.

We live in a part of the world where sea-level rise, coastal erosion, cyclones, and droughts are happening with the kind of increasing frequency and force that hasn’t been seen before.

One recent estimate suggests that $19 billion of assets are at risk from sea level rise and flooding events – including 5 airports, 50 kilometres of rail, 2,000 kilometres of road and 40,000 homes.

Another report estimates that “the costs of weather events to New Zealand’s land transport network alone have increased in the last 10 years from $20 million a year to over $90 million annually.”

Flooding in 2011 in the upper South Island – about 5 hours north of here – cost nearly $17 million.

And there have just been two more major storms in that general area over the past month, by the way, which will add millions more to the region’s bill.

Then there was one of the worst droughts on record in New Zealand in 2012-2013.

It affected the entire North Island and the west coast of the South Island, and is estimated to have cost the country $1-and-a-half BILLION in lost agricultural exports.

Quite literally – we cannot afford to ignore climate change and do nothing about reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

That government report (Climate Change Adaptation Technical Working Group) I released last year explains why, because, the report says, “Overall, the cost to New Zealand of climate change impacts and adapting to them are expected to be higher than the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” 

In other words, it’s more cost-effective to transition to a net zero emissions economy than pay for the repairs and clean ups.

So we plan to lock that commitment into law with the Zero Carbon Act.

In addition to putting net zero by 2050 into law, the Act will establish an independent Climate Change Commission, roughly modeled along the lines of Britain’s Climate Committee but suited to New Zealand’s needs.

We’ll be leading a major programme of engagement with the public and with experts on the design of the Act in June/July this year and introducing it to Parliament in October.

We’re also in the process of revising our Emissions Trading Scheme.

Simply put, the scheme as currently designed hasn’t worked. In the decade or so since it was introduced New Zealand’s emissions have increased, rather than decreased, and more forests have been cut down than planted.


Which brings me to land use.

Specifically agriculture.

We are a small country with a big reliance on agriculture.

It means that unlike – say – the United Kingdom, almost half of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture.  47.9 percent.

That presents challenges.  Should agriculture be included in an emissions trading scheme? And how, or how much?

No other countries include agriculture in their emissions schemes so we’re considering largely uncharted territory here.

But when I was at COP23 in Bonn last November, a number of countries, who are starting to realise they’ll also have to deal with agricultural emissions soon, asked me what we’re planning.

Just as the Dutch are now exporting their expertise in urban adaptation to sea level rise, developed over centuries, so New Zealand has the opportunity to develop and export our expertise in net zero emissions agriculture.

Given New Zealand has such significant agricultural emissions, and given we have a long history of agricultural innovation and adaptability, we need to look at the issue and look at it as quickly as possible if we want to catch the crest of that particular wave.

So, we will establish an interim Climate Change Committee to begin work on the agricultural emissions question until we’ve established the full Commission under the Zero Carbon Act around the latter half of next year.

The Interim Committee would pass on its advice and recommendations to the Climate Change Commission to follow through on.

Land is a critical part of the climate change puzzle for so many countries – as this IPCC Working Group well knows.

For us in New Zealand land is the point where the majority of environmental pressures are borne.


Which is why a massive and ambitious key initiative in the New Zealand Government’s action plan on climate change is trees.

We intend to see one billion trees planted over the next 10 years.

Part of the challenge – beyond the issue of such large scale planting -  is making the right choices about which are the right types of trees to plant in the right places at the right time.

It’s about getting the right mix of slow-growing indigenous tree plantations combined with much faster growing exotic species.

The right mix and locations will bring a number of benefits:

  • There’s carbon sequestration. NZ indigenous trees are incredibly efficient as carbon sinks, but they’re slow to get there.
  • Another benefit is restoring biodiversity with the right planting in the right areas.
  • Water quality can be improved and sedimentation run-off controlled.
  • And forestry can stabilise erosion-prone land. Currently we lose 200 million tonnes of soil to the sea every year.
  • Plus, it promises a lot of jobs in parts of New Zealand that need them.

 The work underway now is to map out land, both government-owned and private holdings, where forestry will be a good option.


New Zealand is embarking on the kind of reform and transformation we haven’t seen for more than 30 years.

Choices around our land and how we use it will be critical in our overall climate change strategy.

Everyone gathered here today knows the severity of the challenge we face as a global community.

As Minister for Climate Change, I am proud that New Zealand is hosting you, and I am proud of the work New Zealanders do in the IPCC and other international climate forums.

30 years ago New Zealand took a moral stand against nuclear weapons and has worked internationally since then for international non-proliferation and disarmament.

Our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called climate change the nuclear free moment of this generation.

If we want to help lead the world towards meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, we must create a moral mandate underpinned by decisive action at home to reduce our own emissions.

And, as a country, we must contribute our best and brightest people to the IPCC and UNFCCC prrocesses.

The science and evidence base that you people in this room build, and the very important work you do to communicate it to policy-makers is fundamental to what I and my political colleagues must do.

When I first grasped the enormity of the climate challenge about 20 years ago, I was working at Pricewaterhouse in London and I read an insurance industry report that said that the global insurance industry itself was going to collapse by 2050 under the weight of climate change related claims.

Almost every discussion about climate change then degenerated into arguments where people questioned the science.

I am so pleased that, in most discussions now, that no longer happens.

The science is settled; largely thanks to the work of the IPCC; both in collating the evidence and in communicating it.

It is now up to politicians, business leaders and communities to make the hard decisions about what to do to reduce emissions and to adapt to the changing climate.

Our decisions should always be underpinned by the evidence that the IPCC brings to the table.

And that evidence should always be updated and re-assessed when new data becomes available.

As the IPCC marks its 30th Anniversary, it feels like we have reached a time of new realisation and new resolve around climate change.

As chair, Hoesung Lee, noted in his address at celebrations in Paris a couple of weeks ago:

“30 years of IPCC assessments have concluded that anthropogenic climate change is real, its threats will increase, and we have the means to stop it cost effectively.”

I agree with him, and I am grateful for his organisation’s vision and commitment.

To you all here today, for the work you do collectively, I also say thank you.

 No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tatou katoa.