The Parliament of New Zealand has passed a Bill that will establish a framework for the country to achieve zero net carbon emissions by the year 2050. The purpose of the Bill is primarily to meet New Zealand’s obligations under the Paris Agreement, where all countries who signed agreed to pursue efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The main features of the Bill are to establish an independent commission that will provide advice to the government on mitigation and adaption, as well as requiring the Minister for Climate Change to set emissions budgets with the view of meeting the 2050 zero net target.
At the Bill’s final reading in Parliament, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that she felt New Zealand was on the “right side of history” and asserted that, “I absolutely believe and continue to stand by the statement that climate change is the biggest challenge of our time.” The Minister for Climate Change James Shaw added, “We’ve led the world before in nuclear disarmament and in votes for women, now we are leading again.”
The passing of the Zero Carbon Bill comes after months of public debate and scrutiny, although it ultimately passed with near-unanimous support in Parliament. To show why the Bill eventually had such partisanship, it is crucial to look at recent actions within New Zealand civil society. Climate activists have, on several occasions, organized mass public protests in order to demand that the Government take climate action. Turnouts at a recent country-wide protest organized by #SchoolStrike4Climate in September were estimated to be at 170,000 (which is more than 3 percent of New Zealand’s population).
The public demand for change is beginning to be recognized by the Zero Carbon Bill, but some feel it is insufficient for addressing climate change. A local think-tank, The New Zealand Initiative, released a report outlining why the Bill in its current form may not give rise to effective and efficient emissions reductions because of the focus on reducing emissions through domestic means instead of also seeking international cooperation.
Indeed, climate change is a global issue and it is well recognized that all countries will need to play their part in reducing emissions. While the Zero Carbon Bill is a long-overdue political acceptance of the most pressing issue of our time, the next steps are to discover the best means to meet emission reduction goals. Successive governments are going to need to work duly with the people of New Zealand to find the most efficient ways of reducing domestic emissions without being detrimental to the economy, while also seeking international mitigation deals so that emission reduction results can start to be seen globally.