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Environment Minister David Parker appears to have already given up on the country’s ability to meet the 2030 methane goal set in the Zero Carbon Act last year, saying that we’ll need to buy carbon units from other countries to achieve it.
By the end of the decade, the country’s biogenic methane emissions need to be 10 per cent lower than 2017 levels, under the legislation. We’ll also need to be on the path towards zero net carbon emissions by 2050.
Asked during an environmental election panel debate if he supports the 2030 target, the Labour Party minister said he does: “But it’s impossible to meet with New Zealand-only emissions reductions”.
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One economic assessment found it could cost the country $67 million each year to buy international carbon units to cover 20 per cent of our emissions targets, between 2020 and 2050.
Fellow debate participant and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage appeared to agree international units may be required. The Green MP pledged her support for the 2030 goal but added international carbon units should be bought from credible countries, such as Canada.
Her party opposed the purchase of “hot air units from Ukraine and Russia”, she said on Thursday night.
National Party climate spokesperson Scott Simpson, Māori Party co-leader John Tamihere and NZ First candidate David Wilson also supported the 2030 target.
The sole debate participant to oppose the target was ACT’s Simon Court. “ACT does not believe these targets are achievable. In fact, it doesn’t believe these objectives are worthwhile if they ignore the economic harm.”
Under the Zero Carbon Act, by 2030 the country’s biogenic methane needs to be 10 per cent lower than it was in 2017.
The panel also debated the topic of carbon leakage – the idea that businesses would move offshore to escape emissions pricing, resulting in increased imports of high-carbon goods.
Court said carbon leakage will occur if New Zealand moved faster than competing countries, such as Australia and China. “All you’re going to do is outsource our own carbon emissions to countries than have lesser controls.”
In response, Parker said border adjustments could level the playing field for domestic companies, such as aluminium and steel producers. “Where we do impose a price on carbon – is it time to have a debate as to whether there should be border adjustments for imports from countries that undercut our local production by leveraging high-carbon industries in their own countries?”
The EU is considering a carbon border adjustment mechanism, though the idea faces pushback.
Parker also disagreed that decarbonisation causes economic hardship. “I heard the same arguments when we originally priced carbon. The main debate then was what was going to happen in electricity … people said the lights would go out, the price would go up and it would affect us adversely. None of those things have happened.”
Court proposed updating the country’s regulations on genetic engineering, so we can use the technology to cut carbon. “AgResearch in Wellington has developed genetic modification techniques with grasses, which if they’re applied in the New Zealand agricultural environment could potentially reduce our methane emissions from livestock.”
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In another section, the panellists were asked about resource management reform. None believed the current Resource Management Act was fit for purpose.
Labour has promised to axe the Resource Management Act, after an expert panel reviewing the current legislation proposed two new laws, one focused on planning and the other on environmental management, to replace it. The panel also recommended a third law – a Managed Retreat and Climate Change Adaptation Act – to set out how we’ll protect and re-home the owners of properties threatened by the rising tides.
Although the National Party didn’t entirely support the expert panel’s proposals, it agreed the Act should be split into two, Simpson said.
“It’s time to start again,” he said. “Something needs to be better.”
The debate was hosted by the Environmental Defence Society and Resource Management Law Association.