16 Dec 2018

Climate agreement 'a big breakthrough' - James Shaw

9:31 pm on 16 December 2018

Climate Change Minister James Shaw says momentum will start to build now that the Paris climate accord has been agreed.

15 December 2018, Poland, Katowice: Participants of the climate summit

Photo: AFP

Nearly 200 nations agreed to the accord during marathon talks in the Polish city of Katowice.

It will seek to limit global temperature rises to below two degrees Celsius.

Mr Shaw was in Poland for the negotiations, and said it is a big step to have the accord agreed.

"The Paris Agreement said what we wanted to do, it didn't say a great deal about how we wanted to do it," Mr Shaw said.

"Now that we've got this, and that it applies to everyone in the world, it should increase momentum.

"You know, we've got a deadline of 2020 to increase the commitments that all countries are making and I think this is quite a big breakthrough in terms of ensuring that we get the momentum towards that."

Mr Shaw said New Zealand played a big part.

"I think that New Zealand is quite high profile here," Mr Shaw said.

"We are part of a group of countries called the high ambition coalition who are really committed to that 1.5 degree temperature goal and doing everything that we can domestically in order to live within that temperature boundary. I think that is significant."

Of particular interest to Mr Shaw was what the deal meant for New Zealand's Pacific Island neighbours.

"This is a major breakthrough for them because this really starts to operationalise the Paris Agreement," Mr Shaw said.

"If countries do what they say they're going to do - and I know that is a big if - that basically ensures the survival of the most vulnerable Pacific islands and countries in the world, so I think it's a significant win for them."

Not everyone is sold on the agreement, however.

Russel Norman, the former Green Party leader and now executive director of Greenpeace New Zealand, said it was positive that the rulebook governing the agreement had been put in place.

But he said "the downside out of the talks is that there's no increase in ambition in terms of cutting emissions".

"We're still on track to increase global temperature 3 to 4 degrees, which would be a global catastrophe."

Mr Norman said there was no commitment from nations to significantly cut their emissions.

"I mean, it was great that Donald Trump and co didn't manage to completely destroy the Paris Agreement, but if we don't actually cut our emissions it does just remain a set of rules on a book."

Mr Shaw remained positive about the agreement, but did admit that it's now up to individual countries to deliver.

"Does it go far enough? Really that's up to individual countries because the nature of the Paris Agreement is collectively we're committed to this 1.5 to 2 degree temperature goal, and then essentially countries say what they think that they can do in order to support that," Mr Shaw said.

"The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report that came out a few months ago clearly said that no, countries are not doing enough and we've seriously got to lift our ambition and actually we don't have 30 years, we've got about 10 to undertake the most significant changes."

The IPCC report, commissioned by the United Nations, said keeping the Earth's temperature rise to 1.5C would need "unprecedented changes" in every aspect of society.

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