1 Nov 2021

Shaw wary of climate conference, defends govt emissions plan

2:19 pm on 1 November 2021

Climate Minister James Shaw is not looking forward to attending the massive UN climate conference where he will have to do battle with the large polluting countries.

James Shaw

Climate Minister James Shaw says efforts to transition to a zero-carbon economy in New Zealand are well underway. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Tens of thousands of people are at the COP26 summit in Glasgow, which has just got underway.

Shaw, who heads there at the end of the week, told Morning Report the prospect of the long hours and the fight ahead is wearying.

He also defended the government's commitments to playing its role to tackling the climate crisis, saying it was doing all that was practically possible.

The government yesterday pledged to halve its net emissions by the end of the decade, but two thirds of reductions will have to be bought from other countries.

Shaw said it was confident New Zealand would met its commitment, after four years of work to put in place architecture to transition the economic to a more sustainable model.

"We are starting to see, for example, significant new windfarms getting built around the country after almost 15 years of building no significant new renewables," he said.

"There are energy companies starting to expand that."

He said it wouldn't be without it challenges as it was estimated the country would need an additional 70 percent increase in energy supplies in the future. Reform of the Resource Management Act would facilitate the speedy construction of renewable forms of energy, he added.

"If you look at the work David Parker is doing reforming the RMA that should provide us with a pathway to be able to do that," Shaw said. Everyone in the industry I talk to say that will be challenging but it is doable.

"On average it takes about seven years from concept to getting it operational and the whole point of the RMA is to cut down the amount of time the we spend on things like the consenting process by putting it up front in the planning process.

"One of the things that we've had with energy is because it's a market-based system and each individual player does its own projects we haven't had terribly good national-wide co-ordination and so the new legislation that David's planning should make it simpler."

He said the Climate Commission's report in May mapped out a feasible programme of work industries like forestry, agriculture, as well as the transport sector could do to transition. The uptake of electric vehicles and cutting down the need to drive in main urban centres, using public transport and bike, formed part of those plans.

Reliance on burning coal was also being address, he said, pointing out Genesis intended to take coal burners offline at the Huntly site, replacing these with other options within decade.

Shaw argued there was evidence of a shift in investment practices by other companies in New Zealand as well.

"We are starting to see companies start to make some fairly significant investments.

"The Climate Leaders Coalition, who are a group of about 100 of our largest companies around the country who have committed themselves to reducing emissions, I think they have said the other day that they were planning on spending about something like $7 billion to $9 billion in the coming years in decarbonising their own companies."

Earlier Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed country will need to buy two thirds of its reductions from other nations as part of its strengthened pledge to halve net emissions by 2030.

"It completely incentivises all the decision-making around first and foremost you do everything within your power to reduce it at a domestic level because it makes the most sense," she said.

"It makes the most sense financially, it makes the most sense in terms of long term reductions and so that is where all of our efforts and energies will go.

"But of course then over and above that what you're unable to achieve domestically, yes, then you make a commitment to see that offset elsewhere.

"Our priority is if that is the case, if we do find ourselves in that position, that we're looking to do that alongside the developing world for instance ... but our first and foremost the incentive and priority now is do that domestic."

Shaw defended the government's position, arguing the Climate Commission set out what it said were feasible options for reduction, so that the government had to plug the gap. Technology and innovative domestically would also play a key role.

"When Cabinet made the decision on this last Monday they did said that the priority for how we meet this target is through investment in our domestic economy and in our transition hear at some and that we'll do everything that we think we'll be able to do in order to make that transition happen, primarily domestically."

Shaw acknowledged changes in agriculture hadn't happened fast enough and that farmers who had changed their practices had done so profitably.

More than 20,000 people have converged in Scotland for the global meeting.

It comes after a UN climate report in August confirmed unequivocally that humans are driving climate change, and that the effects will be catastrophic if emissions are not slashed.

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