Environmental Commissioner Simon Upton makes recommendations for Zero Carbon Act

Environmental Commissioner Simon Upton makes recommendations for Zero Carbon Act
Photo credit: Getty.

The Government is being urged to get cross-party support for its zero-carbon goals, in a new report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

Simon Upton wants to see climate policies developed that will remain consistent over multiple electoral cycles: "A long-term reorientation of the economy away from fossil fuel dependency requires policy stability decoupled from the short term ebb and flow of politics."

"This new Government has a once-in-a-generation opportunity and a clear mandate and now needs to set out a timetable for action and implement it," says Canterbury University political science expert Bronwyn Hayward.

The report, released on Wednesday, details the commissioner's recommendations for establishing an Independent Climate Commission and a UK-style Zero Carbon Act.

"The report is clear, thorough and compelling, and in my view all nine recommendations make sense and should be supported by the Government and Parliament," says Professor Jonathan Boston, of Victoria University's School of Government.

Mr Upton says the UK's 2008 Climate Act provides a good basis for New Zealand's own legislation, but that there are important differences in our economies and emissions profiles that must be taken into account.

He also says all sectors need to play their part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions - including agriculture.

According to the commissioner, a new Climate Commission should consider setting separate targets for the different greenhouse gases.

He says the Zero Carbon Act should put in place a process for meeting carbon budgets and targets, including the use of policy tools like the Emissions Trading Scheme and Electric Vehicle Policy.

Mr Upton says he supports the intent of the UK's approach, but notes its long-term effectiveness has yet to be measured. He advises that any implementation of a Zero Carbon Act must hold governments accountable for reaching the targets set, and points out the UK model "outlines a process without any enforcement mechanism".

The nine recommendations made in the report are:

  1. That Parliament should tackle the issue of the target in a staged way so that it can request and consider advice from the new Climate Commission.

  2. That the Zero Carbon Act should specify the expertise required on the Climate Commission and a process that ensures some level of cross-party consensus in the appointment of the Commissioners.

  3. That if the Minister for Climate Change Issues establishes an interim Climate Committee to make early progress, he should follow the same appointment process recommended for inclusion in the Zero Carbon Act.

  4. That the Government should broaden the remit of the Transition Hub as a team that works across departments to ensure coordination on climate policy, and that this "hub" be resourced accordingly

  5. That the Zero Carbon Act should give the Climate Commission an advisory role, and that responsibility for bringing a budget to Parliament for enactment and implementing the policies needed to achieve that budget should lie with the elected government of the day.

  6. That the Zero Carbon Act should require the Commission, in advising on carbon budgets, to include advice on the extent to which emissions reductions should be effected domestically as distinct from secured through the purchase of international credits.

  7. That the Zero Carbon Act should:
    A: Lay out an explicit time frame – possibly six months – within which the Government must publish a report detailing the policies it intends to implement in response to a newly enacted carbon budget.
    B: Require Ministers to publish an assessment that quantifies the impact (positive or negative) on future carbon budgets or targets of any proposed policy changes.

  8. That the Zero Carbon Act should provide for carbon budgets to be developed and adopted every six years, together with the requirement for an interim update and review of policy implementation by the Government three years after each budget is adopted.

  9. That the Zero Carbon Act should include a process for carrying out regular national-level risk assessments and national adaptation strategy planning (whether or not these are to be conducted by the Climate Commission).

Read the report in full here.

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