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New Zealand’s climate target “trickery”

New Zealand’s pledge to halve greenhouse carbon emissions by the end of this decade is set to fail its own “fair share” deal under the Paris agreement.

New Zealand’s pollution control and ability to cut greenhouse carbon emissions questioned. Picture: NZ Energy Resources

The government made headlines this week after revising a previous commitment from its 2005 gross emission levels.

The 50 per cent reduction was an upgrade on initial targets six years earlier of cutting gases by close to 40 per cent before 2030 to ensure that global temperature rise remains under 1.5C for the next three decades.

But figures of the country’s nationally determined contribution, which is a non-binding plan that the United Nations framework convention on climate change first struck in 2015 for the accord, does not stack up after assessing emissions over the decades of this century.

Climate Analytics, a partner organisation to Climate Action Tracker, said: “New Zealand isn’t doing its fair share to fight climate change”.

Bill Hare, from Climate Analytics, told The Guardian that New Zealand’s target is employing “various accounting tricks”.

Its target was also “inadequate”, according to Climate Action Tracker.

Robert MacLachlan, a professor of Applied Mathematics at Massey University in New Zealand, also added that “this looks good on the surface”.

New Zealand’s actual emissions from 2010 until 2019 has been 701 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

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The carbon budget for this decade is 675m tonnes after the old pledge was, in reality, 623m tonnes.

The climate change commission’s advice was for “much less than” 593m tonnes, while the new nationally determined contribution is 571 tonnes.

“Yes, the new pledge meets the commission’s advice and is a step up on the old, but it still does not meet our fair share under the Paris agreement,” Prof MacLachlan wrote in The Conversation.

Prof MacLachlan says it’s also a stretch to call the new nationally determined contribution consistent with the goal of keeping global temperature rise under 1.5C that would require a 50 per cent drop in fossil fuel burning over the next decade, while the current plan is just for 25 per cent.

New Zealand’s initial target for net emissions in 2030 was set to be 30 per cent below its gross 2005 emissions until that figure was changed to reflect the ambition of the 2019 zero carbon act to keep warming below 1.5C.

But plans for tree planting, buying offshore carbon credits, an ability to increase the burning of fossil fuels and delays to alter the climate strategy involving carbon budgets have combined to make the ambitious nationally determined contribution “particularly difficult”, he said.

“Only about a third of New Zealand’s pledged emissions cuts will come from within the country and the rest will have to be purchased as carbon credits from offshore mitigation.”

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern had requested to the commission for a revised nationally determined contribution.

But Prof MacLachlan accused the recommendations of giving no direction on how to best reach the levels set in the Paris agreement.

“With only two months to go until 2022 and the official start of the carbon budgets, there is no plan how to meet them,” he said.

Minister for Climate Change James Shaw admitted that the government “should be doing a whole lot more”, but it did not want to commit to “something that we can’t deliver on”.

Lawyers for Climate Action New Zealand have challenged the advice of commission to the minister, with the judicial review to be heard in February 2022.

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