Let Sanity Prevail

Matt Burgess
Insights Newsletter
18 October, 2019

Imagine, for a moment, the government were about to pass a Zero Carbon bill that takes the most direct path to success on our emissions targets. What would it look like?

The centrepiece of this alternative Zero Carbon bill would be a world-leading system for verifying the integrity of domestic and offshore emissions reduction schemes.

Thanks to this system, New Zealand businesses would be able to search the world for the most effective ways to reduce emissions. They could partner with or fund schemes, confident in their integrity and that their investment would be recognised as helping to meet their emissions obligations.

We don’t know what opportunities this alternative bill could unlock. Currently, the world’s most effective way to reduce emissions might be Amazon rainforest restoration. On some estimates, these schemes can take a tonne of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere for as little as NZ$2. These schemes might not bear scrutiny. But if they do, New Zealand could reach net zero for $120 million per year, just 0.04% of GDP. Even better opportunities may exist elsewhere.

If emissions reduction can be made affordable, then why stop at net zero? New Zealand could keep going without breaking a sweat.

The authors of this alternative bill understand it does not matter where emissions are reduced. What matters is that schemes have integrity. Had the Zero Carbon bill been designed to do what works, New Zealand could have been in a position to secure affordable emissions reductions for decades. We could have met our emissions targets sooner. We could have showed the world how to curb emissions without crippling the economy.

But we’re not doing that. The Zero Carbon bill that was tabled in Parliament has no verification system. And it bans the use of offshore emissions reduction. New Zealanders must reduce emissions domestically “as far as possible,” says the bill, regardless of the opportunities offshore. That could add $300 billion to the cost of reaching net zero, and reduce GDP by nearly 6% in 2050, according to analysis commissioned by the Ministry for the Environment.

Rather than reduce emissions by re-planting the Amazon, better to deliver the same cut in emissions by closing New Zealand’s farms and businesses, and perhaps whole industries. This is madness.

The Environment Committee will shortly report back to Parliament with changes to the Zero Carbon bill. Let us hope sanity prevails.

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