An Introduction to the Zero Carbon Act

Published on: June 3, 2017

Filed Under: Analysis, The Zero Carbon Act

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The Paris Agreement is a curious one. Ostensibly, it commits to keeping the rise of global temperature well below two degrees. At the same time, it contains little binding international law capable of delivering on its promise.

All Paris demands is that countries make a submission reflecting their intended contribution to the mitigation of climate change and that they permit their progress in achieving this submission to be monitored. This isn’t perfect. Climate Tracker estimates that the current intended contributions will lead to a 3.7 degree increase in global temperature. Even that is assuming that these commitments are met. Again, Paris isn’t perfect and it needs to be improved.

But at the moment Paris is all we have. In this context Deconstruct is going to be publishing a series of articles on how individual nations, namely New Zealand, can legislate for real action on climate change.

The New Zealand government ratified the Paris Agreement in late 2016. They committed to a 30% reduction from 2005 emissions by 2030. The Minister for Climate Change, Paula Bennet, is careful to describe this as ambitious each time it is raised. In reality it involves New Zealand taking a significantly larger share of carbon emissions than what they would be entitled to if carbon was budgeted to meet the two degree target. Again, more needs to be done.

In the climate change space it is easy to get caught up in the scope of the problem. This post intends to introduce a discussion of solutions.

Generation Zero are currently drafting a Zero Carbon Act. It is a piece of legislation designed to achieve net zero carbon by 2050. It seeks to do this by creating an Independent Climate Commission that would be responsible for making five year emissions budgets. It is not about carbon taxation or emissions trading; it is about making a plan and ensuring that the plan is followed.

While the legislation is modelled of the United Kingdom’s Climate Change Act there are a number of problems involved in implementing something similar in New Zealand.

Over the next few months Deconstruct, in tandem with Generation Zero, is going to be publishing a series of discussion pieces that canvass some of the legal problems that need to be overcome. These vary from how best to ensure the Climate Committee’s independence or how to account for emissions from international aviation and shipping to how to give effect to the Treaty of Waitangi within the legislation.

In doing this we hope to highlight that there is no solution to major problems like climate change that do not involve law. More importantly we want to show that legislating to solve climate change is complex but the problems aren’t insoluble.

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