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Government coy on proposed Climate Change Commission to enforce carbon targets

Thursday 27th July 2017

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The Labour and Green parties are embracing a recommendation from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment recommending the creation of an independent Crown entity, the Climate Change Commission, to set a national 'carbon budget' and see to its enforcement.

But Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett isn't committing the government or the National Party to the proposal to form a UK-style climate change commission - which has been the subject of prolonged lobbying by expert climate change policy advocates and groups.

"It's quite interesting," said Bennett. "We're very different from the UK both in our emissions profile, also in what we use and how we use it and our projections further out.

"I don't think that setting up an independent climate change body would work for us at the moment but I think that it might be something worth looking at in the future."

Today's report is the last by the long-serving PCE, Dr Jan Wright, and is a call to action on climate change and appeals to emerging cross-parliamentary engagement on climate change policy to create a legal framework for achieving national carbon reduction targets.

"There has been a lot of debate about what our targets should be, but I'm much more interested in how we are actually going to achieve them," she said in a statement.

Her report recommends New Zealand adopt a modified version of the United Kingdom's approach to legislate for national carbon targets to make their achievement legally enforceable rather than simply national 'commitments' to act according to targets set out in contributions offered for the period 2021 to 2030 by signatories to the global climate change accord agreed in Paris in 2015.

An influential group of climate change experts, including former diplomat and senior global climate change negotiator Adrian Macey, the Environmental Defence Society and others lobbied in support of both new legislation to sit atop existing climate change law and an independent commission of expert advisers to direct the response to climate change against national targets.

Wright recommends establishing the climate commission on the same independent basis as the Productivity Commission or Children's Commissioner.

Commission members would be experts, but not drawn for their sectoral representation but because of their "deep understanding of the different sources of greenhouse gases in New Zealand – transport, industry, electricity, agriculture, and so on", with required expertise spelled out in legislation.

Members would be appointed by the Governor-General and the Minister for Climate Change Issues would have to consult other political party leaders in making recommendations.

The Insurance Council of New Zealand said the report failed to go far enough in its recommendations.

"It is puzzling why Dr Wright did not also recommend that legislating, as the UK does, for five-yearly adaptation assessments by an independent expert group," said the council director Tim Grafton.  "Instead, she has taken the weaker stance of recommending that officials who report to Ministers carry out the work and that the current Minister’s Adaptation Working group examines what the UK does.”

This was in spite of her warning that destructive sea level rise is becoming inevitable.

"While the Commissioner is willing to push the boat out to recommend similar legislation to reduce New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, she pulls up short in making a recommendation to legislate such long-term planning for how New Zealand adapts to climate change” he said.

“This means no matter what New Zealand does about greenhouse gas emissions, it faces inevitable challenges in adapting to climate change and sea-level rise.  Adaptation means reducing and managing the risk of losses which will be essential to keep insurance available and affordable if losses become unsustainable.”

Wright says in her report that New Zealand didn't need to "do everything at once, but what is urgently required is an overall plan that gets us to net zero emissions that considers evolving technologies, inter-sector equity, practicality and affordability".  

“If we take action too late we may not get there. Unplanned transition will likely have negative cost implications. “We need a carbon budget that demonstrably works and then monitor progress against interim targets.  That role is best handled by a dedicated entity overseen by experts."

Federated Farmers said it gave the proposal "qualified support", while Dairy New Zealand welcomed the fact it would bring certainty to the future for carbon targets to be met.

Meanwhile, foresters warned that Bennett's announcements yesterday on the next phase of developments for the country's emissions trading scheme could lead to less forest planting "just when it needs to increase".

Decisions on the accounting treatment for carbon locked up in forests and wood products are still up to 18 months away following yesterday's decisions.

"The government should simply say nobody is going to be disadvantaged by the outcome of the ETS review if they decide to plant now,” said the chair of the pan-industry organisation WoodCo, Brian Stanley.

Carbon traders OMF noted in their daily commentary that the price of New Zealand Units of carbon had jumped 10 cents to $17.85 a tonne.

"Get used to much higher carbon prices in the coming years," OMF's Nigel Brunel said.


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