Submission on Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill 2019

16 July 2019

Submission by Cliff Mason

The Pacific Institute of Resource Management (PIRM) welcomes the opportunity to comment on this Bill. PIRM is a long-established organisation dedicated to promoting the sustainable use of the earth’s resources. It publishes the occasional journal Pacific Ecologist. We have made frequent submissions to government on Climate Change issues over the last 20 years including submissions on New Zealand’s Climate Change Target (3rd June 2015 and 31st July 2009) and Emissions Trading (26th February 2009 and 28th May 2007). These and other Submissions are available on our website (www.pirm.org.nz).

The Institute is pleased to see the progress of this Bill which will embed the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius in our legislation. This is an important acknowledgement of the immediate threat of Climate Change and an endorsement of the science that informs the IPCC Reports.

The Bill is also commendable for including both robust targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions and a framework for five-yearly emission budgets. The establishment of an independent Climate Change Commissioner is a provision of great value.

The Institute has some reservations about the Bill (referred to below by the shorthand ‘Zero Carbon Bill’) relating to its legislative context and the strength of its provisions as presently worded. These are addressed in the following numbered paragraphs.

1. Status as an Amendment to the Climate Change Response Act 2002

The ability of the Zero Carbon Bill to effect the required reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is compromised by the practical shortcomings of the underlying Act. The Act prescribes the structure and functioning of the Emissions Trading Scheme. This Scheme has conspicuously failed to result in emissions reductions in real terms and remains critically compromised by its focus on accounting technicalities and by erroneous assumptions of equivalence between fossil carbon emissions and biological carbon sequestration that provide its rationale. These have been shamefully exploited in our national greenhouse gas accounts.

The lack of equivalence between fossil carbon and biologically sequestered carbon has been clearly recognised in the report by the Commissioner for the Environment “Farms, forests and fossil fuels: The next great landscape transformation?” released in March this year. This report identified the hazards for effective climate change mitigation that result from assumptions of equivalence and recommended a limitation of forestry offsets to biological emissions only. These critical matters in the Commissioner’s report are in agreement with long held opinions of PIRM as stated in past Submissions. They need to be urgently addressed by more thoroughgoing amendment of the Climate Change Response Act which is now in glaring discordance with the Commissioner’s report.

2. Relationship with other legislation that incorporates Climate Change provisions or negations

Of most significance in this regard are the parts of the Resource Management Act and the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act which expressly forbid the inclusion of climate change matters in decision making. The relevant clauses — RMA 70A and 104E; RMA (Environment and Climate Change) Amendment Act 2004 S3(b)(ii) and EEZ S59(2B)(5)(b) — must be removed, amended or specified as overridden by the provisions of the Bill to prevent important measures on climate change mitigation from being thwarted.

3. The wording of the Bill is insufficiently strong in several of its key clauses.

The amended Purpose S3(1)(aa) mentions only that the Zero Climate Act would “contribute to” global efforts to reduce emissions. This wording is insufficiently stringent. As a developed nation with high per-capita emissions it is incumbent upon us to at least do our fair share by way of reductions and preferably to be exemplary by going beyond the reductions required for decency. Such a ‘fair share’ has been well established by such as Climate Action Tracker where New Zealand’s current commitment and action are both assessed as insufficient. The phrase “at least a fair share” should be substituted.

In Section 5ZL the Minister is required to provide guidance to elements of the state sector but without any stringency or reporting requirements. This needs to be strengthened so that policies and activities across the sector and in all aspects of Government are in accord with climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Similarly, in Section 5ZK the 2050 target and emission budgets are specified as ‘permissive’ rather than prescriptive. In combination with the exclusions from liability that are presented in Section 5ZJ, the strength of the Zero Carbon Bill is greatly compromised. While failure to achieve the targets or budgets may result from a lack of technical capacity or ‘runaway’ changes in the climate, these should not be anticipated in such a manner in the legislation. The wording of 5ZK should state that the targets and budgets are mandatory.

In addition, and as a consequence of the distinction between fossil carbon and short-term biological carbon, PIRM does not entirely support the proposed biological methane budget. As forestry and other types of biological carbon sequestration can legitimately and in real world terms act as offsets for biological greenhouse gas emissions, there does not seem to be an imperative for reduction if such offsets are used. Although there would be an additive benefit from absolute reduction in biological methane by reducing the number of ruminant animals, this offset opportunity could instead be used as an incentive for afforestation and other carbon sequestration measures. Culling cattle could be reserved for possible future use.

PIRM wishes to appear at any hearing into the Bill to clarify and enlarge upon points made in this submission.

Yours sincerely,

Cliff Mason
PIRM
PO Box 12125
Wellington

PIRM was founded in 1984, by Wellington architect George Porter. PIRM is an organisation dedicated to sustainable use of the earth’s resources. PIRM is concerned about the deterioration of global ecosystems, the rapid depletion of natural resources and degradation of the environment, examples being climate change, loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, pollution of water systems and natural habitats. Our objectives are to advocate respect for natural processes; conservation of physical resources and integrity of all life forms. We contribute to the establishment of New Zealand as a strong, independent authority promoting a world conservation strategy. PIRM works for the improvement of human communities worldwide living in harmony with the natural world.

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