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NZ seeks credibility in the rush for early climate change pact ratification

Thursday 18th August 2016

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New Zealand is seeking a place at the negotiating table by ratifying by the end of November the global climate change accord agreed in Paris last year, fearing loss of influence over crucial rule-making if it doesn’t do so.

“New Zealand needs international credibility to influence rules that relate to the agreement but are yet to be negotiated,” says a National Interest Analysis tabled in Parliament following Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett's announcement of the intended ratification timetable.

Prepared by the Ministry for the Environment and destined for select committee scrutiny along with legislation required to ratify the agreement, the NIA says: “Some of these rules may have economic impacts on New Zealand. New Zealand’s ratification of the agreement will provide certainty that New Zealand’s interests can be protected in the negotiations.”

Key among these are accounting rules governing plantation forestry carbon ‘sinks’, one of the biggest ways New Zealand intends to meet its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Opposition parties say that level is unambitious, but the government continues to insist it will be difficult to meet because New Zealand has a high proportion of agricultural GHG emissions, whereas most developed economies’ main source of emissions is from fossil fuels for transport, energy and industrial processing.

The government also announced the establishment in coming weeks of three technical consulting groups to work on what contribution agriculture can make to reducing emissions by 2030, the role of forestry in reducing GHG emissions, and New Zealand’s exposure to the infrastructural and economic impacts of climate change.

The ratification timing is earlier than was originally intended, reflecting leadership from major signatories to the Paris agreement, including the US and China, which will see complex negotiations on the rules governing the new regime get under way sooner rather than later.

New Zealand also wants to regain access to international carbon markets, from which it has been excluded since deciding not to enter the so-called Second Commitment Period of the Kyoto Protocol, the global climate change deal that the Paris agreement will replace.

“New Zealand’s selected forestry and other land use sector accounting approaches are also important in the context of domestic policy, particularly forestry’s role and implementation in the New Zealand emissions trading scheme,” the NIA says, noting also that New Zealand needs to take an interest in the fact that there will not be a single global carbon market in the future.

The Paris agreement “does not limit international carbon markets to a single top-down market”, although a centralised market is expected at some stage, the NIA says.

“When and how the centralised market mechanism will be operationalised is unclear, and it may not provide a timely and sufficient supply of emission reductions to be economically practical for New Zealand’s use. This means that New Zealand will likely need to build future international markets from the bottom up in cooperation with other willing participants. “

The NIA’s publication coincides with the revival of a campaign by the Morgan Foundation, a philanthropic think tank, accusing the government and major industrial emitters of “carbon cheating” under the Kyoto Protocol by allowing the heavy use of low quality, low-cost carbon credits sourced from the former Soviet Union.

“Some of the main determinants of New Zealand’s ability to purchase sufficient international emission reductions include the strength of guidance governing environmental integrity, other countries’ willingness to participate in international carbon markets, and the level of demand created by other countries and emitters within those countries,” the NIA says.

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