Political heat goes on climate legislation

: The Environment Select Committee hearing submissions on the Zero Carbon Bill
 

The Prime Minister is clearing the legislative decks so she can make major climate change announcements at APEC in Chile in just over three weeks.

Parliament's Environment Select Committee took the unusual step for a Select Committee of meeting on a Monday to put the final touches to its report on the Zero Carbon Bill which is expected back in the House this week.

That would pave the way for the Bill to be passed by the time she leaves for Chile around November 14.

And the Prime Minister has signalled there will be a significant climate change announcement this Thursday which is thought to be the outcome of the lengthy talks between the Government and the agriculture sector over moving agriculture into the Emissions Trading Scheme for a five year transition period.

The Government appears to have NZ First support for the Zero Carbon Bill which means it will be able to pass.

There was, apparently, a last-minute hiccup with NZ First seeking further assurances on the primacy of Parliament over the Independent Climate Change Commission.

That assurance was provided on Friday and the suggestion being made by senior party figures at the NZ First conference at the weekend was that they expected to be able to agree to the Bill.

National’s position is more difficult to discern.

They have issued a Minority Report which is attached to the Select Committee report which was published last night.

And out of that the party's s Climate Change spokesperson, Scott Simpson, has set out seven conditions the party wants the Bill to meet.

Significantly these do not include changing the post-2030 methane targets which currently are a range from 24 to 47 per cent even though there has been almost universal opposition from within the agriculture sector to the 47 per cent figure.

Instead, like New Zealand First, National is focusing on the role to be played by the Independent Climate Change Commission.

Simpson's first--- and probably fundamental requirement is that the methane reduction target be recommended by the Independent Climate Change Commission.

In many ways, this is a semantic distinction between what is in the Bill and the ultimate National objective, which is that the Government should only set the target after it has received recommendations from the ICCC.

The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, yesterday defended the prescription of the target in the Bill.

“Essentially you would assume that the Interim Climate Commission or the Climate Commission would use the same, evidence base that we used to put in that range, which was the International Panel On Climate Change (IPCC); that's what the range is based on,” she said.

But it wasn’t quite as straightforward as that.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw told POLITIK two months ago that there was confusion about the scientific advice on the targets when he was preparing his Cabinet paper proposing them.

However, the IPCC had set out four pathways to limit temperature rise to two degrees by 2050, and he simply took the lowest and highest of the methane figures in the pathways to give a target range for New Zealand.

But the Zero Carbon Bill; provides for a mandatory review of the target.

Simpson’s objection is really political; National always opposed the Government imposing a target.

What underlines the political point-making nature of their objection is that the Zero Carbon Bill provides for a mandatory review by the IPCC of the target and the Select Committee broadened the criteria which the IPCC must take into account when undertaking that review.

These new factors are “the principal risks and uncertainties associated with emissions reductions and removals” and “social, cultural, environmental, and ecological circumstances.”

It looks likely that National will now seek during the Committee stages of the Bill to include within the criteria tighter wording requiring the target not to threaten food production and that the IPCC must consider the economic impact of their decisions.

It is unclear how far National will take its objections.

Simpson said the changes the party was seeking would ensure incentives drove the right long-term change and that the wider impact on economy, jobs and incomes were fully factored in. 

“We need to protect everyday New Zealanders as our emissions reduce,” he said. 

The party is conducting regular focus groups, and POLITIK understands they have produced feedback suggesting the party could lose centre votes if it opposes the legislation.

But the caucus is divided.

That was clear with a Facebook post from Papakura MP, Judith Collins, which said she couldn’t  accept the proposal “we are expected to just never question any legislation that has the aim of reducing emissions, no matter what the cost, simply for moral reasons.”

“How can politicians defend signing NZ up to an emissions target that has almost zero chance of being achieved, both here or abroad?”

The time is now running out for National to dodge its own internal tensions on this; it will have to make some decisions this week.

Meanwhile, there appears to be agreement on the other climate change issue; whether agriculture should go into the Emissions Trading Scheme for a five year transition period while systems are devised to measure methane emissions on a farm by farm basis and a levy and rebate scheme can be introduced.

A group of agriculture organisations have produced an alternative to the Government's proposal that the whole sector goes into the ETS. Instead, they have proposed that who had agreed environmental plans could avoid the ETS but would be forced in if they failed to meet the targets in their plans.

Ardern seemed to hint yesterday that the Government might agree to the alternative proposal when giving a list of the government's achievements for its second anniversary she said it had made progress on “farm by farm”emissions reduction through farm environmental plans.

Chile President Sebastian Pinera and the Prime Minister in Auckland last November

Chile President Sebastian Pinera and the Prime Minister in Auckland last November

Ardern will be at the APEC summit in Santiago on November 17, and Chile President Sebastian Pinera has set four goals for the meeting; one is " take charge of one of the greatest problems facing humanity today: climate change and global warming.”

Pinera visited New Zealand a year ago, and the communique issued after talks with Ardernin Auckland highlighted climate change.

They undertook to work together to achieve clear rules and procedures for the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

“Chile and New Zealand share a common interest in collaborating to develop better climate policies, including carbon pricing mechanisms and developing national legal frameworks that address the specific needs of each country,” the communique said.

The Zero Carbon Bill and the agreement with the agriculture sector fit very neatly into those ambitions, which is why some urgency is now being applied to developing the legal frameworks.

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