The Government this afternoon announced it will seek a 2020 carbon equivalents emissions reduction target range of 10 – 20 per cent on 1990 levels. The range is conditional on the following:
– Effective rules on forestry
– New Zealand having access to international carbon markets.
A Q&A on the target is published here.
The Science Media Centre approached scientists for their reaction to the emissions reduction target range decided on by the Government.
Dr Andy Reisinger, Senior Research Fellow at the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute, Victoria University of Wellington comments:
“The emissions reduction range of 10 to 20% below 1990 levels set by the New Zealand government goes in the right direction. However, there is an increasing gap between short-term targets and the long-term climate change goals that governments say they subscribe to.
“Apart from the concrete 2020 emissions targets, the New Zealand government has set long-term goals of reducing emissions by 50% by 2050, and to stabilise global greenhouse gas concentrations at 450ppm CO2-equivalent. A broad range of international studies indicates that if we want to limit global greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to 450ppm CO2-equivalent, then developed countries collectively have to reduce their emissions by 25 to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80 to 95% by 2050. The New Zealand government’s target range of 10 to 20% reductions by 2020 is a move in the right direction but falls well short of this collective goal.
“It is also difficult to see how a reduction of only 10% below 1990 levels by 2020 could still enable a reduction of 50% below 1990 levels by 2050. Unless very clear and comprehensive policies to decarbonise the New Zealand economy are set in place urgently, investments in carbon-intensive capital infrastructure in the energy, transport and building sector could make emissions reductions of 50% or more over the next few decades impossible.
“The New Zealand government also subscribes to the goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius, but stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations at 450ppm CO2-equivalent still leaves about a 50% chance of exceeding this temperature. Stabilising concentrations at 450ppm in the hope to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius is akin to a taxi driver who takes his passengers to their desired destination only half the time, and the other half drops them in some dodgy and dangerous suburbs that they never wanted to go to. I am sure the taxi driver’s licence would be revoked very quickly, and yet we seem to be happy to accept it as a strategy to navigate the planet’s future.”
Professor Janet F. Bornman, Director, International Global Change Institute, University of Waikato comments:
“At first glance, the government’s target of 10-20% emissions reduction seems very conservative, given that this is not based solely on reducing domestic emissions. One wonders how much of the emissions reduction will be offset by the softer options of carbon storage in forests and buying of emission reductions permits from other countries. Unless there is emphasis on the domestic emissions, the pathway to strong commitment will be compromised.
“The real message as to how we live and work lies in the fact that on a per capita basis, New Zealand is rated 11th in the world as an emitter. For the general community, targeted awareness campaigns, and where feasible, further financial contributions, to bring about a change in lifestyle practices are vital for buy-in towards a sustainable and exemplary New Zealand. The co-benefits to quality of life would be remarkable. But we all need to be caught up in this euphoria for a significant result to occur.”
Professor Jonathan Boston, Director, Institute of Policy Studies, Victoria University of Wellington comments:
“The 2020 emissions targets announced today by the New Zealand government represented a useful first step in the current international negotiations for a post-2012 climate change agreement. But New Zealand and many other developed countries will need take responsibility for reductions in emissions by 2020 of more than 20% if there is to be a reasonable chance of avoiding the mean global surface temperature increasing by more than 2 degrees C (above pre-industrial levels). It is to be hoped that the 10-20% target range is not the government’s final position.”
Professor Allan Rae, Director of the Centre for Agricultural Policy Studies, Massey University:
The target announced strikes me as a sensible balance between NZ’s obligations to the international agreement and our economic ability to shoulder a realistic share of the global burden of attacking climate change. Of course actual emissions dont have to be reduced by the target amount – firms will mitigate emissions to the point where the marginal cost of doing so equals the international carbon price. What the announed target determines is the quantity and cost of purchasing permits from the international market, and therefore the welfare of New Zealanders. To counter potential loss of international competitiveness, it is important that NZ’s approach(the ETS) should be aligned (sectoral coverage , timing, etc) with approaches taken in our competitor countries.
Dr Jim Renwick, climate scientist at NIWA, chair of the climate change committee of the Royal Society of New Zealand:
“It’s good to see such a target (or target range) set for emissions reductions by 2020. To ensure we begin to deal with the threat of climate change, we must work hard to meet the targets that have been set today, and set even more ambitious targets for the future. We must act, because if global warming is allowed to continue unchecked, some very damaging and irreversible changes are likely to come our way.”
Dr Euan Mason, Associate Professor, School of Forestry, University of Canterbury comments:
“A rough calculation suggests that if we established 50,000 ha/year on our eroding lands, by 2020 we would have an extra 15,000 k t of CO2 equivalent sequestered each year by these new forests. This a very significant proportion of the net emissions cut that the government is seeking, but we need to make provision for harvesting of forests that were planted during the 1990s. Much of this harvesting is likely to occur during the decade from 2020 to 2030. If this planting rate continued, by 2030 we could have 30,000 k t of CO2 equivalent sequestered each year by these new forests, which would more than account for the large projected increase in our net emissions that would otherwise occur as a result of harvesting plantations planted during the 1990s. Such a programme would cost roughly $40-50 M/year for plantation establishment, while the annual worth of credits in 2020 would be, conservatively, $375 M (assuming a low value of NZ$25/t). It is easy to show that such a programme is financially viable, but much harder to identify how to implement it.
“The ETS, if fully implemented across all sectors, would provide a powerful incentive for the private sector to engage in such planting, but fully implementing the ETS would impose large changes in relative values of our activities, and therefore has both economic and political risks. An alternative that we might consider would be to establish a plantation establishment agency to assist with establishment of carbon forests on private lands, with carbon forests set up as joint ventures between the state and private land owners. Typically joint ventures for wood production involve a 2 to 1 ownership of the wood between funders and land owners. The terms might be similar for the state and land owners, but this would require some further analysis. Assuming that the international carbon market persisted and that we had continuing carbon treaty obligations, taxpayers would be richly rewarded for this investment. At worst we would have secured some of our eroding lands and reduced the need for state assistance such as that provided to the Wairarapa after the last flood.
“If we can advance a programme of carbon forest establishment at such a rate for the next century or so, then this will provide some extra time for New Zealanders to make necessary, but potentially destabilising changes to our behaviours while still meeting very ambitious targets for reductions in net emissions. Towards the end of the century we would have established forest on all our erosion-prone land.”