Carbon neutral by 2050! The government recently announced that New Zealand would become the first nation in the world to reduce our net carbon emissions to zero… Oh wait, no, that was Helen Clark in 2007. John Key’s government, instead, is thinking about announcing a 50% cut by 2050. They put out a consultation asking what NZ thought. Thus I’ve spent the last little while sitting down with assorted NZ climate scientists, putting together the Royal Society’s response.
If we’re after avoiding the worst of climate change, then that means limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius*. That implies global emissions cuts of 50-85% by 2050. John Key, you’ll notice is proposing to scrape us in with a bare minimum 50% cut.**
Now, that assumes every nation in the world makes the same cuts. However, this brings up a question of what is a fair distribution of cuts? You could argue that it’s a common burden, so all nations should make the same cuts, rich and poor. You could also argue that rich nations have been industrialised for over a hundred years, have already had many decades of high emissions, and that rich nations emissions have caused the majority of the problem so far, so rich nations should make bigger cuts than poor nations. Of course, rich nations are arguing that we should all make equal cuts, poor nations are arguing that you caused it, you fix it. No surprise there, and that’s one of the major sticking points in getting an international agreement to fix the problem.
Anyway, back to NZ’s target. Hot Topic called it “inadequate”. The Royal Society, and my professional opinion, is that: “We hope to see a new target for substantial reductions”.
My personal opinion is that our emissions have risen 23% since 1990, then all this talk about targets is nice, but pretty disconnected from what’s happening right now, which is that the polices we have are not reducing our emissions.***
* Well, that’s actually for the 2.0-2.4 Celsius band, so this target is weaker than it appears.
** Now, all of this depends upon exactly how the climate responds and there’s some variability here, so a 50% cut doesn’t guarantee that we’ll avoid dangerous climate change. It looks like we’ll have a 55-90% chance of this working. Err… depending on the breaks. So this target is even weaker than that.
*** For bonus points, the Government’s position paper says that the emissions target provides certainty to business and investors about the direction of of climate change policy in NZ. Yeah, but NZ has had some kind of climate change policy for the last 15 years. What businesses need is not certainty about the direction, but a certainty about what the costs will be.