9 Nov 2022

Climate Change Minister says COP 'nightmare' decision-making process needs to change

10:06 am on 9 November 2022
James Shaw

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Ahead of his departure to COP27, Climate Change Minister James Shaw discussed the "nightmare" that is the negotiations, why the summit needs to evolve and why he thinks New Zealand is now on the "right side of history".

He spoke with RNZ's climate reporter Hamish Cardwell.

Does NZ go to COP27 with mana?

Shaw said with major planks of policy coming into place - a 'comprehensive' plan to reduce emissions, progress on work to adapt to climate change, RMA reform - it means New Zealand is now on "the right side of history".

"But we've got a lot of catching up to do, because we've essentially delayed action for the better part of three decades," he added.

What are NZ's priorities?

Shaw said supporting the Pacific and making progress on loss and damage were priorities.

He and Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta this morning announced New Zealand would be joining just a handful of other countries and is kicking in $20 million on the issue.

The money has been ring-fenced from an already announced funding pot which is filled up from revenue generated by the emissions trading scheme.

Loss and damage has been controversial and only made it onto the docket for official discussion for the first time this COP.

"We're putting our money where our mouth is and ... again ... we are trying to amplify the Pacific priorities," Shaw said.

"I'm pleased that we're actually now at least able to start talking about it. But ... it's going to be really contentious and really difficult to make progress."

Rich countries do not want to be made to pay huge sums in reparations for the massive damage they are overwhelmingly responsible for over hundreds of years of climate emissions.

Shaw said he also wanted to see countries follow through on their promises, and increase their ambition.

Meanwhile, Shaw is yet to confirm if he will co-chair a negotiation as he did last year.

Given the need to crack on and actually make emissions cuts, are COPs still relevant?

Shaw said the COP needed to evolve.

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP27, is the being in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Photo: Supplied

Last year's COP finalised the rule book from the 2015 Paris agreement, and while there are issues that needed to be resolved, like loss and damage and finance, COP needed to shift away from negotiations to delivering on commitments made.

"Frankly, the decision-making process [at COP] is a nightmare.

"It's so sclerotic, it's so slow when any one country can effectively exercise the veto. That is going to have to change if we're going to pick up the pace."

He said COP would always have a role in providing a level of accountability for countries.

"But my attention is almost entirely on the domestic economy."

Countries were asked to come to COP27 with strengthen pledges, why didn't New Zealand?

Shaw said the main reason was we were still waiting for a outcome of a court case which, if the Crown loses, could have significantly impact on decisions and policy around emissions.

He said New Zealand significantly increased its pledge ahead of COP last year. This National Determined Contribution (NDC) involves halve emissions by 2030.

Critics say if you look under the hood at the calculations it's actually less than that. He said this goal was still roughly as much as Aotearoa could manage.

COP is a feat of endurance, is he getting some down time in preparation?

Nope, there lots of pressure on right now to clear the decks on domestic programmes before the end of the year, he said.

"We basically have to just kind of make it work."

How's his optimism level for COP27?

Shaw said his expectations for this COP were reasonably low, but he hoped there could be progress on loss and damage, and that wealthy countries finally delivered on their pledge for $100 billion a year of financial assistance.

COP27 was moving into the implementation phase - getting countries to deliver on what they committed to under the Paris agreement in 2015, Shaw told Morning Report.

"There is a huge gap between what countries have said that they're going to do and what they are actually are doing."

How climate change loss and damage was paid for, and the level of support from wealthoer countries to other nations, were issues of paramount importance, he said.

"The fact that wealthier countries haven't collectively delivered on our committments to this point has meant that progress has been very slow."

Shaw flies out on Friday.

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