Climate crisis is ‘life or death’ for New Zealand, says Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand has committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050

Charlene Rodrigues
Thursday 10 June 2021 03:37
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<p>New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said more needs to be done</p>

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said more needs to be done

The New Zealand government on Wednesday welcomed the release of the Climate Commission’s report outlining wide-ranging reforms aimed at reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The 400-page document by the Climate Change Commission - an independent entity advising the New Zealand government on climate reform - tracked the country’s progress and detailed a roadmap for reducing its carbon footprint.

New Zealand Prime Minister endorsed the Commission’s findings saying that the report makes clear for the first time that delaying action will only hurt the economy in the long run.

Calling it an “achievable blueprint” for change, both Ardern and climate minister James Shaw said they are yet to reveal their formal policy in response, and at the same time stressed more needs to be done.

“It predicts that not taking action now will cost us 2.3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2050, almost double the cost to our economy of acting now, “ Ardern said.

The proposed vision for the government to stay within the emission budgets sets out the use of improved farming practices, a combination of waste reduction and diversion from landfills, a switch to electric vehicles, as well as more walking, cycling and public transport use, and working from home, where possible, to reduce travel.

Other initiatives include replacing fossil fuels with low-emissions electricity, switching from coal, diesel and fossil gas to electricity and biomass, and increased use of exotic forestry before native forestry can scale up. Exotic trees, species from overseas, are faster and easier to grow than native trees.

In November 2019, New Zealand passed a law to make the country almost carbon neutral by 2050 after its net emissions rose by 57 per cent between 1990 and 2018, placing it among the worst performers in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

Agriculture is still currently the largest source of biogenic methane, with the remainder from waste. In 2019, gross greenhouse gas emissions in the island country were about 48.6 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide and 1.35 metric tonnes of biogenic methane. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.

Road vehicles are yet another key source of carbon emissions in the country. From 1990 to 2019 emissions from road transport increased by 96.2 per cent.

Commission chair Dr Rod Carr said reducing emissions as quickly as possible to limit warming to 1.5°C in an “equitable, ambitious and achievable” manner would be challenging.

Shaw said the country has done more to fight the climate crisis in the last three and a half years than the combined efforts of governments over the last three and a half decades.

The report, warns that without new technologies, meeting the more ambitious end of the target range would require lower agricultural production from livestock and more land use.

The reforms, although carrying vast benefits in the long term, could still hurt certain communities and regions in varying degrees.

Regardless of the level at which emissions budgets are set, there are specific challenges for Māori-collectives and Māori in the workforce that the Government will need to address, the report says. Equally vulnerable, are the elderly, people with disabilities, and those on low incomes, as well as small businesses.

In general, the report says the living costs of New Zealanders’ will be unchanged. Some changes as to how people travel or heat their homes, will save money. Emissions from international aviation and shipping are not currently part of the 2050 targets. Air New Zealand is one of the country's largest climate polluters, emitting more than 3.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.

The next step is for the government to prepare an emissions reduction plan which will be published before the end of the year, Ardern said.

The timing for the release of the report couldn’t be more significant as the world’s major democracies gather for the G7 summit in Cornwall, where tackling climate change is likely to be on the agenda.

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