18 Dec 2019

Climate Change Commission: How it will work and the initial plans

11:12 am on 18 December 2019

The Climate Change Commission head says everyone will have to change, both on a broad and individual scale, if the country wants to achieve climate targets.

White and brown cows in a Dairy Cow Farm.

Photo: 123RF

The commission's chair, Rod Carr, told Morning Report consumer preferences will have to change and the economy will have to be reorganised over time to reach low emissions.

"I think we're all going to have to change; each of us individually, small businesses, big businesses, local government, central government, manufacturers.

"That's a process that we need to gather evidence about, we need to explain what we think we've found in that evidence and then we need to think carefully about the timing and plans to give affect to our international treaty obligations - under the Paris agreement - and also what's in New Zealand's interests as well."

Addressing the ongoing debate and concerns from the farming sector, Dr Carr said the Act makes it clear that concerns around consequences would be taken into account in their plans and advice.

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Climate Change Commission chair Rod Carr. Photo: Supplied

"The leadership of the farming has engaged in making clear that there are real social as well as economic consequences to the pace at which we might change, and there have been concerns about the extent to which carbon offsets through sequestration through forestry might change land use in ways that impact local rural communities."

He said there were a range of pathways to reducing methane.

"[Some of the ways include] changing what our ruminant animals eat, changing the way in which those animals are treated in the pasture or are vaccinated, there are new technologies emerging."

The farming industry has also indicated it wants to be engaged in the process to figure out the right pathways, he said.

What will the commission do?

The Climate Change Commission was established under the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019, which became law in November 2019. It includes a chair, deputy chair, and five commissioners.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw

Greens Party co-leader James Shaw. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

It will pick up the work started by the Interim Climate Change Committee, which was appointed in May last year.

The commission is set to provide the government with independent advice from experts on achieving targets set in the Zero Carbon Act, as well as monitor them.

Having an independent body designated for this would protect climate policy from political mood swings, Minister for Climate Change James Shaw said.

"Looking ahead to a future where we have met our targets and done all we can to solve climate change, it will be in no small part thanks to the Climate Change Commission," Shaw said in a statement.

"Whilst it is an advisory body, I fully expect that the impartial and scientifically rigorous analysis it will provide will help keep future governments' climate policy in check."

The commission has been asked to recommend the first three carbon budgets, out to 2035, by 1 February 2021.

"That is a series of pathways or plans that will be consistent with our objective under the Act to be Net Zero by 2050," Dr Carr said.

"It's a way of saying, are we on track? And what is the plan that would be consistent with that track?"

How will the commission act?

The commission's chair, Rod Carr, told Morning Report the members had a statutory obligation to engage with communities, seek advice and consult before tendering that advice.

"The independence still leaves us as a Crown entity, so we are still accountable to the elected Members of Parliament, we'll still provide annual reports and we'll still be subject to a number of legislative provisions that make sure we conduct ourselves appropriately."

However, the government is not obliged to comply with recommendations but will be required to respond.

"Under the legislation, the government receives our advice and has a statutory period of time in which it can respond," Dr Carr said.

"It can accept the advice, or it can accept part of the advice, it can reject the advice, but if it rejects the advice it's got to say what it will do instead of taking that advice, and there are time constraints on how much dallying can go on."

Who are the commissioners?

Yesterday, Minister for Climate Change James Shaw announced a team of five experts who would take up the commissioner roles.

They come from a range of fields - climate science, adaptation, agriculture, economics, and the Māori-Crown relationship.

The teams consists of:

  • Harry Clark, a New Zealand expert on agricultural greenhouse gas research
  • Judith Lawrence, a thought leader with international expertise in climate change adaptation
  • Catherine Leining, a leading New Zealand economist on climate policy and emissions pricing systems
  • James Renwick, a leading climate scientist and a recipient of the Prime Minister's Science Prize for Communication
  • Nicola Shadbolt, a farmer, company director and academic, with expertise in land use and land use change

Rod Carr, former deputy Reserve Bank governor and University of Canterbury vice-chancellor, was appointed as the chair-designate for the commission in October. While Lisa Tumahai, Ngāi Tahu Kaiwhakahaere, will continue in her role as deputy chair.

What's been the response to the news?

DairyNZ and the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association (PEPANZ) welcomed the news, and the New Zealand First party said it was pleased to see one of the key Coalition commitments come to fruition.

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NZ First leader Winston Peters. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

In a statement, the party's leader said he backed the commission and acknowledged the vast and various experiences the newly appointed members brought with them.

"There are 23,000 stakeholders out in rural New Zealand who need to be assured they can be in front of this change and not be the victims of it," Winston Peters said.

"Climate change is something we can sustainably deal with and that no one will be disadvantaged."

PEPANZ chief executive John Carnegie said the commission's role would be crucial in providing the best possible options to transition to lower emissions.

"The potential costs to New Zealanders are enormous so it's important decisions are made openly and transparently, based on evidence and clearly weighing trade-offs," Carnegie said in a statement.

"It needs to be non-political and collaborative, listening to different views and making careful recommendations."

DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle said he looked forward to engaging with the commission, adding there was a lot of pressure to get it right.

"We will be supporting the Commission with our DairyNZ experts and scientists as they face the complex and important challenges ahead," Mackle said in a statement.

"It's been a huge year for farmers and the development of our national climate change policy. There has been a great deal of debate and now we are focussing on what must be done to deliver on the commitments."

However, he said farmers required clarity on methane targets before recommendations on the first three carbon budgets.

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