14 Dec 2015

What you need to know about the COP21 climate change deal

12:43 pm on 14 December 2015

New Zealand won't be cutting back on mining, but expect a push for electric cars.

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Photo: RNZ/Alexander Robertson

Delegates from 196 countries at the UN's COP21 climate change conference in Paris have unanimously agreed to a deal. The agreement, which is partly legally binding and partly voluntary, is the first to commit all countries to cut carbon emissions.

The deal calls for global emissions to peak “as soon as possible”, to keep the global temperature increase "well below" 2°C, and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.

Further, wealthy countries have agreed to provide a climate fund worth US$100 billion per year after 2020.



New Zealand's target is to reduce emissions to at least 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 (equivalent to 11 percent below 1990 levels).

Climate Change Minister Tim Groser reckons New Zealand would be able to keep its current target of reducing carbon emissions.

"That in itself is a stretch - there's no doubt about it. Treasury has estimated [the cost at] over $30 billion, about $1350 per household (over 15 years), and that's what we'll do."


Prime Minister John Key says New Zealand won’t be cutting back on the mining of oil, gas and coal, but the Government will be looking to stop subsidies for the consumption of fossil fuels:

"The world's going to continue to consume some of these products and we can't stop that. The question is, can we get them to transition more rapidly to other forms of renewable energy? The answer is yes. But one of the fastest ways to do that is to stop the subsidisation of the consumption of fossil fuels and that's really what the fossil fuel subsidy reform's about.

"New Zealand could, of course, just stop producing oil and gas and coal but realistically if we did that I don't believe it would stop it being consumed. I think the rest of the world would just fill the very small gap we would leave."


To reduce emissions in New Zealand, Key wants to see an increase in the use of renewable energy from 80 percent to 90 percent of total energy used. Based on figures from Treasury, this is going to cost households about $100 per year.

"You will see a push towards electric cars," Key says. "I think you are going to have to see from New Zealand's point of view a scientific solution to our agriculture emissions and frankly more happening in the sort of commercial sector. So there's a lot of changes there. They're all do-able but we'll just need to push hard on those."

He believes New Zealanders will accept paying some cost to reduce the country's emissions. "We'll get New Zealanders to fully support the changes required for climate change when we're seen to be consistent, equitable, fair basically."

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Photo: 123rf


Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the UN, which brokered the deal, calls the agreement “a monumental triumph for people and planet”.

“Climate change is the defining challenge of our time. I have listened to people – the young, the poor, the vulnerable from every corner of the globe. We have heeded their voices, as was our duty.”

But James Hansen, a former Nasa scientist who is considered the father of global awareness about climate change, told the Guardian:  “It’s a fraud really, a fake.”

“It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”

According to Hansen, greenhouse gas emissions need to be taxed across the board in a bid to force them down to avoid more extreme weather events.

Labour climate change spokesperson Megan Woods says the lower temperature target was a real win for small island states"I think it shows that the small island states have worked really carefully and really hard, and really come here and genuinely talked about what climate change means for them."

The Government had not met the emission reduction targets it had so far set, and this needed to change. "We can no longer get by on a wish and a prayer. We must get proper planning such as carbon budgeting in place or we face huge financial risk."

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said the deal was an incredible achievement.

"It is an historic moment. The atmosphere in the plenary hall was completely electric. Getting 196 countries - every country in the world - to agree on anything, let alone a challenge as great as this one, is unprecedented."

Greenpeace New Zealand executive director Russel Norman says: "The policies of the New Zealand government not only don't match the commitments they made at the Paris meeting, but they certainly don't come anywhere near the global goal of only 1.5°C of warming."

Climate scientist Bill Hare says the Government had played a game of "accounting tricks" over its greenhouse gas emissions. 

"It hasn't really addressed the growth of its emissions, whether they're from agriculture, whether they're from industry, simply have not been addressed. At the end of the day, the accounting games and tricks have to end, and governments, not just the New Zealand government, need to put in place real policies."

Dr Hare, chief executive of Berlin-headquartered climate science and policy institute Climate Analytics, says agricultural emissions could be reduced slowly with better management practices, but transport and energy emissions should be urgently addressed.