Jacinda Ardern 'can't give a date' when New Zealand's rising emissions will decrease

Climate change is an issue Jacinda Ardern has spoken about on the world stage, but the Prime Minister cannot disclose when New Zealand's emissions will finally begin to decrease.  

"Right now I can't give you a date, other than to say we have to start turning the dial in the other direction," Ms Ardern told The AM Show on Tuesday.

The Prime Minister discussed New Zealand's efforts to thwart climate change, in light of a new climate change report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
that says Earth's average global warming must stay below 1.5degC. 

Ms Ardern listed the Government's pro-environment initiatives, such as the One Billion trees programme, and the move to bring in independent experts to help the Government in its budgeting to meet its goal of zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

But she was unable to give a specific date as to when New Zealand's carbon emissions will finally begin to drop. The country's CO2 emissions are increasing, according to the Ministry of Environment, and predictions point to New Zealand not being able to meet its 2030 and 2050 targets. 

"If you're asking me to get down New Zealand's emissions profile, the best way I can do that right now is by focusing on what we're doing around food production, and what we're doing around energy security," the Prime Minister said. 

She admits that the pricing point for electric vehicles in New Zealand is "too high", but would not give any specific details about what incentives the Government will give to Kiwis looking to purchase an electric vehicle. 

New Zealand is one of only a handful of developed countries without vehicle emission standards, and the Productivity Commission has pointed to the risk of New Zealand becoming a dumping ground for heavy, polluting vehicles that other countries won't buy. 

Nevertheless, Ms Ardern said New Zealand is thriving in other areas of environmental protection. For example, she highlighted that on electricity generation "we're pretty good," adding that New Zealand "should be able to get 100 percent renewable electricity generation by 2035".

Tackling a 'big challenge'

The report paints a picture of a "really big challenge," says Rhonwyn Hayward, lead author of the IPCC climate change report. She says the IPCC is a conservative body and that its purpose is to provide information to governments.

"The report itself says that overall globally we need to reduce methane [such as emissions by the farming industry] by 35 percent or more, so that's really a big challenge," she told The AM Show.

"We have only got about 10 years and I think that's been quite a shock to a lot of governments."

The technologies built to suck carbon emissions out of the atmosphere "just aren't there for the scale that we need them," Ms Hayward said, adding that governments will need to look at reducing emissions instead.

"We have to take action now to give ourselves some time to look after people and communities and businesses in the big shift."

A 'model' for sustainable farm practice

The Prime Minister told The AM Show roughly half of New Zealand's emissions come from agriculture. She said the Government is looking at research and development that "means we can continue to be a food producer but in a sustainable way".

"We've been talking about what will happen to agricultural emissions down the track, and the conversation we've been having is the fact that this can be an opportunity for us," she said. 

"We have a tool called Overseer [software] which means that even down at an individual farm level, we can demonstrate some of that sustainable practice and the impact that it's having."

"If we take that to the world stage and say, 'Here is some solutions,' that continues to lift our brand, continues to lift the value of our product, and I think will demonstrate to the world what's possible."

The Prime Minister addressed the United Nations in September on the topic of climate change, challenging world leaders to meet the requirements laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement. New Zealand plans to spend $14 billion to meet the targets. 

US President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the agreement in June last year, putting the world superpower at odds with almost every other country on the planet. He pointed at China and India saying it wasn't fair they had more lenient restrictions.

Greenpeace hopes the new climate report will "shock the world" into immediate action. But Professor James Renwick from Victoria University of Wellington says the report makes for "sobering reading".