The Government has announced that it will take a 2020 GHG emissions reductions target of between 10 and 20%, subject to a set of conditions, to the Copenhagen climate negotiations known as “COP15” in December. This is contrast to the 40% target that many NGOs, including Greenpeace and the Climate Defence Network, have been calling for. This 40% target was strongly supported in the recent public consultations on the issue.
Is it enough?
No. If developed countries collectively set such a weak target, there is little or no hope of developing countries agreeing to take action on climate change. That would mean failure at Copenhagen. Given that the world has (if we’re lucky) about another 10 years before emissions spiral out of control, that would be disastrous.
Is it nearly enough?
No. Not even close. The science says developed countries need to make at least a 40% cut on 1990 levels by 2020 to have a 50:50 chance of staying below a 2% increase in global temperatures on pre-industrial levels. New Zealand is counted as a developed country. We should be going for a 40% cut. This isn’t, ultimately, a matter of economics. It’s a matter of survival: ours, and our children’s.
Is it better than you expected?
I thought they might go for a 20% responsibility target, but the 10-20% range, and in particular the absurdly arrogant list of “conditions” – tremble, world powers, before the might of New Zealand! – both stick in my craw.
Is the target achieveable?
There’s two ways of answering this. The target is what’s called a “responsibility target”, which means that we can pay for some – or, in theory – all of it by paying for emissions reductions to be made elsewhere in the world. For both ethical and practical reasons, however, most of the reductions should be made within New Zealand
OK, is it achievable if we make all the reductions onshore?
Yes. Quick back-of-the-envelope calculations like mine, and far more detailed studies produced by groups such as the Green Party (PDF), say that, with the necessary political will and the right incentives, reductions well in excess of 20% can be made – quite a lot of it at a profit.
So the Government has spoken. Is that the last word?
Absolutely not! Just because the New Zealand government takes a particular target to the negotiations doesn’t mean that’s the target we will end up with. No matter how much John Key might like to strut on the world stage, in the end, he’ll be faced with the choice of either agreeing to a target in line with what other developed countries are adopting, or becoming known as the leader who scuppered the agreement. A little thought about what that might do for New Zealand’s image and trading position should cure him of any temptations in that direction.
I don’t think 10-20% is enough. What should I do?
Keep the pressure on, right up to Copenhagen (and beyond). Contact the Prime Minister, other Ministers, and your nearest MP. October 24 will be massive in the continuing campaign to get New Zealand to take on a realistic target – realistic in the sense that really matters, the survival of a livable ecosystem.