31 May 2021

Climate Change Commission sends final report to government

9:51 am on 31 May 2021

The plan to slash emissions to tackle climate change is being given to the government today.

Canterbury region farms

Dairy herd numbers need to halve, not just the 15 percent drop the commission suggests, says environmental scientist Mike Joy. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

More than 15,000 public submissions were made on the Climate Change Commission's draft advice released at the end of January.

That feedback has been incorporated in the commission's final report, which today goes to the government.

The public will get to see it when it is tabled in Parliament - something the government must do within 10 working days.

The report is the roadmap for the country to become carbon neutral by 2050.

It outlines a shake-up of society, and includes phasing out fossil fuel cars, a ban on gas hobs in new houses, and increases in renewable energy.

But Dr Paul Winton from the 1Point5 Project said the draft proposal to cut emissions 20 percent by 2030 needed to be ramped up to three times that in the final blueprint.

He said this was what the science showed was necessary, and what international obligations required.

"[It needs to be done] to actually move New Zealand to the point where we can at least hold our head up and say, 'look, we're at least doing the global average over the next decade'.

"Because if countries like New Zealand can't do the global average, then globally it's really not looking good for us."

Greenpeace climate change campaigner Amanda Larsson said the commission was being far too soft on agriculture - the source of about half of emissions.

In the final report, she wanted imported synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and palm kernel products banned by 2024, and agriculture brought into the emissions trading scheme.

"The commission has taken a really bold approach to some sectors like energy and transport.

"They've recommended a ban on new diesel and petrol vehicles, they've recommended a ban on new coal boilers, but they've been incredibly timid on agriculture."

Environmental scientist Mike Joy said dairy herd numbers needed to halve in just a few years, compared with the 15 percent drop the commission suggested could be needed.

He said suggestions like switching to electric cars or renewable solar energy had their own environmental issues and there needed to be a fundamental reduction in human consumption.

"If this report is going to be all about how we can just transition and keep on living the way we do, then it's doomed to fail."

Dr Joy said if the commission gave the government a weak plan, and it then went and watered it down further to avoid political problems, the whole process would have been pointless.

Charging an electric vehicle. EV. Electric car.

Electric cars also cause some environmental problems, Dr Mike Joy says. Photo: Unsplash / Andrew Roberts

Agriculture already under pressure - sector boss

But DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle said the commission's draft was already pushing it to the limit.

He said it set a methane reduction target of 13 percent by 2030 - three points higher than what was in the Zero Carbon Act - increasing to 17 percent by 2035.

"Which is very steep ... we believe the Zero Carbon Act is very ambitious in itself and we would not like the government to go further than that.

"We've got a big job to be done right now and we need technology to go further."

Generation Zero spokesperson Pranaya Thaker said the final report needed to introduce large investment in mass public transport as soon as possible - with real emissions reductions to be felt quickly once it was in place.

"We do need a dramatic push into mode shift - getting people out of private vehicles, getting them into public transport, getting them into active transport.

"The way you do that is infrastructure, active transport infrastructure, public transport infrastructure."

Tangata whenua excluded so far

Thaker said changes must be co-designed with Māori - something missing from the draft report.

Iwi Chairs Forum climate spokesperson Mike Smith said the tight timeframe for consultation and feedback had excluded tangata whenua.

He said another absence in the draft report was the role of oceans in climate change - with new research showing vast carbon stores locked up in the sea floor were being disturbed by bottom trawling fishers.

"We're calling [for an] end to bottom trawling and seabed mining or anything that disturbs that carbon sequestration on the bottom of the ocean."

Climate change iwi leaders group chair Mike Smith, Ngā Puhi and Ngāti Kuri.

Climate change iwi leaders group chair Mike Smith, Ngā Puhi and Ngāti Kuri. Photo: NZ Herald / File

Economist Matt Burgess, from right-wing think tank the New Zealand Initiative, said current policies - including the emissions trading scheme - would get Aotearoa to net zero by 2050 anyway.

He said deeper cuts and changes were unnecessary, and over time could force up prices for average New Zealanders.

"I just think we have to be absolutely clear what it means to pay many times more than we need to to cut emissions.

"It really does mean higher electricity prices, higher cost of transport, higher costs for bread and milk, higher costs for flights."

The government has until the end of the year to respond to the commission's climate roadmap with its own set of carbon reduction plans.

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