Government urged to think decades ahead on climate change

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright is urging the Government to think decades ahead in its approach to climate change.

Dr Wright urges all political parties to unite and pass legislation that binds all future Governments to efforts that reduce New Zealand's emissions. 

"There has been a lot of debate around what our targets should be," Dr Wright says. "But I'm much more interested in how we are actually going to achieve them."

She wants the Government to put emissions targets into law, set carbon budgets that allocate the amount of carbon that can be emitted in a particular timeframe, and set up an independent climate change expert group.

"Reaching the Paris targets, and the targets that will no doubt follow, is not solely the responsibility of the current Government - it is a responsibility that stretches across many Governments into the future," Dr Wright says in her latest report.

Dr Wright also recommends that the Minister for Climate Change prepare five-yearly risk assessments on the impact of climate change to New Zealand.

The Stepping stones to Paris and beyond report models its recommendations on the United Kingdom's Climate Change Act.

The Environment Commissioner says New Zealand businesses will welcome the move. "Many businesses are keen to take advantage of the opportunities of moving to a low-carbon economy, but they need more predictability before they invest."

Climate Change Minister to consider some of the recommendations

Climate Change Issues Minister Paula Bennett didn't think it was necessary to set up an independent climate change body at the moment, but it could be worth looking at in the future.

She supported some climate change policy being cross-party, but didn't think carbon budgets could be introduced yet in New Zealand. "I think we've just got a bit of work to do before we got to that stage," she said.

Ms Bennett welcomed the report and said she wanted to see what recommendations she could act on. "I think that more people doing stuff in this area matters a lot and I take it seriously so I'll take some time to reflect. I'm sure there's some that I can pull out and progress."

When asked if National would adopt a zero carbon by 2050 policy, which the Young Nats support, Ms Bennett said "I get it and I would love to see zero carbon, I'm just not sure on the timeline being realistic and I think we've got a lot more work to do before I would feel confident in locking it in."  

Labour, Greens back the recommendations

Labour climate change spokesperson Megan Woods says the report is "crucial" and the Labour party is a strong advocate of Dr Wright's recommendations.

"A long term plan for a transition to a net zero carbon economy is now critical. At the moment for all the empty Government rhetoric we simply have no plans to make this happen.

"It's now time for National to act. Today the climate change clock is ticking even faster," Ms Woods says.

Green MP Kennedy Graham said "It's clear the current approach isn't working, with climate pollution increasing almost 20 percent in the last nine years and expected to keep rising.

"We have a responsibility to pass on a safe, stable climate to the next generation and that requires us to work together, across political lines and successive governments. This law would help us do exactly that."