Inevitable criticism of Zero Carbon Bill

The Zero carbon Bill proposals were never going to please everyone. The more radical it was, the more strident the criticism was likely to be.

Some want more radical change, while others won’t less or no efforts made address climate change. Some of the opposition is ideological, some is due to potential effects on business and the economy.

Newsroom – Zero Carbon Bill lives or dies on politics

The long-awaited Zero Carbon Bill is essentially non-binding, sets targets for long-lived and short-lived gases differently (good news for farmers), and an ultimate zero-net carbon emissions target for 2050.

It’s pretty good, but also pretty much what was expected. The immediate aftermath was anger on both the left and the right – Greenpeace called it “toothless”, Federated Farmers called it “frustratingly cruel”. I would call it “predictable”.

RNZ:  Government’s Zero Carbon Bill already facing heavy criticism

The government’s plan for combating climate change is already being condemned as toothless.

The plan is in line with New Zealand’s commitments under the Paris Agreement but there are questions about how it will be enforced. Courts cannot impose legal sanctions on those who drag their feet, they can only issue a determination.

Greenpeace New Zealand chief executive Russel Norman, a former Green Party co-leader, said the bill was toothless.

“What we’ve got here is a reasonably ambitious piece of legislation that’s then had the teeth ripped out of it. There’s bark, but there’s no bite,” he said.

The Green Party won’t be happy with this attack on their flagship policy proposals.

“The bill sends some good signals, until you get to the section at the end that negates everything else you’ve just read. This section states there is no remedy or relief for failure to meet the 2050 target, meaning there’s no legal compulsion for anyone to take any notice.

“The most anyone can do is get a court to make a ‘declaration’ that the government isn’t achieving its climate goals, but this declaration doesn’t make the government actually do anything.”

James Young-Drew from youth-led climate change group Generation Zero said that needed to change. He will be pressing for amendments at the select committee.

“That includes giving the courts the power to impose legal sanctions. The carbon budgets and the targets that we are signing onto, absolutely must be legally enforceable,” he said.

Farmers are on the other side of the fence.

Federated Farmers said the legislation sent the message New Zealand was willing to abandon pastoral farming.

Spokesperson Andrew Hoggard said the provisions calling for the sector to reduce biological methane emissions was “frustratingly cruel”.

Fonterra’s director of sustainability Carolyn Mortland said much more research was required.

“There needs to be significant investment in innovation and research. We have jointly partnered with the government and will continue to do so, but we will be looking for continued and significant investment from the government,” she said.

RNZ – Climate change plan: ‘Setting the bar so low’

Bronwyn Hayward was New Zealand’s lead author on last year’s major Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report which said limiting warming to 1.5 degrees is necessary to ensure a more sustainable and equitable society.

She said the bill is hopeful, but troubling. “The hopeful part is that this is really the framework that we have to get into law in order to make the really big changes… that said I find it quite troubling that we’ve had to set the bar so low, especially around things like our near-term methane targets in order to get everybody on board.”

The deputy director of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, Andy Reisinger said the move is consistent with the science and the targets in the IPCC report and with the global effort needed on agriculture.

He said it would not have been unreasonable to ask for a net zero methane level, but it would have changed farming in this country fundamentally.

“You can’t take methane out of the atmosphere faster than it decays naturally, so to get to zero methane, you basically have to have zero livestock, and that transformation is presumably stronger than people could imagine for now,” Dr Reisinger said.

Newsroom – Methane target: too soft, too hard or just right?

Unlike many lay submitters, and unlike the scientific case for CO2, climate scientists generally agree that methane need not fall to zero to keep the climate reasonably habitable, or even fall too close to zero. But there are various policy and scientific arguments for how much or little to shrink it.

Methane mostly disappears from the atmosphere within a decade or two, although it leaves some lingering effects. That makes its lifetime short compared to carbon dioxide, which is basically immortal. But while methane remains in the atmosphere, it’s very potent.

Meanwhile, climate scientists internationally are puzzling over an unexplained spike in methane, which might be more farms in the tropics, or rice paddies, or gas leaks – or maybe a sign the world’s self-cleaning process for methane is breaking down.

Agriculture is New Zealand’s largest emitting single industry, contributing 48.1 per cent of emissions as New Zealand currently reports internationally. Methane makes up about 35 percent, with the rest coming from nitrous oxide.

According to a recently published Greenhouse Gas Inventory report, New Zealand’s net emissions rose by 23 percent since 1990, with the biggest recent increases coming from transport. The Government has noted cutting carbon is its biggest and most urgent priority.

Newsroom – Zero Carbon Bill lives or dies on politics

If the bill succeeds, it will vindicate the ability of our complicated, imperfect democracy to solve the great problems of our age.

If it fails, it will prove the opposite: that our democracy isn’t up to handling the great problems of our age.