Tuesday, August 11, 2009

NZ Emissions Reduction Policy Slammed By Environmentalists, Experts

By Rich Bowden

Img: Huntly coal-powered thermal station, NZ.

Yesterday's announcement by the New Zealand government that it intends to aim for carbon equivalents emissions reductions of 10 – 20 per cent by 2020 based on 1990 levels has drawn mixed reactions from the country's climate experts and environmental groups.

The agreement, which is conditional on a world agreement being reached which will limit atmospheric CO2 to 450ppm and limit temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius, has been called a "first step" towards effective carbon reduction though is still considered conservative in many quarters.

However the announcement, which is based on the proviso that New Zealand access to world carbon markets, has come in for criticism by environment groups who say the government has neglected to include an unconditional component.

“Crucially, it has not offered up any unconditional target at all, making us virtually the only developed country in the negotiations without one,” said Greenpeace Senior Climate Campaigner Simon Boxer in a press release.

“What the New Zealand Government is saying with its highly conditional range of 10-20% is that unless other countries shoulder New Zealand’s burden, then there’s no deal. This is an incredibly dangerous position to take at such a crucial time," he said.

Barry Coates from aid organisation Oxfam agrees. "The losers here are the people from the developing world who stand to suffer from climate change, including our Pacific neighbours," he was quoted as saying by the ABC.

Elsewhere in the country, research carried out by the Science Media Centre has uncovered a nervous reaction to the announcement of the policy.

Dr Andy Reisinger, Senior Research Fellow at the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute, Victoria University of Wellington told the Centre pointed out there was an increasing gap between short-term targets and long-term goals.

“The emissions reduction range of 10 to 20% below 1990 levels set by the New Zealand government goes in the right direction," he said. "However, there is an increasing gap between short-term targets and the long-term climate change goals that governments say they subscribe to."

“Apart from the concrete 2020 emissions targets, the New Zealand government has set long-term goals of reducing emissions by 50% by 2050, and to stabilise global greenhouse gas concentrations at 450ppm CO2-equivalent."

He continued: "A broad range of international studies indicates that if we want to limit global greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to 450ppm CO2-equivalent, then developed countries collectively have to reduce their emissions by 25 to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80 to 95% by 2050."

"The New Zealand government’s target range of 10 to 20% reductions by 2020 is a move in the right direction but falls well short of this collective goal, Dr Reisinger said.

Another scientist whose opinion was canvassed by the Science Media Centre was Professor Janet F. Bornman, Director, International Global Change Institute at the University of Waikato. Prof Bornman warned carbon emissions reduction policy was in danger of being "compromised" unless the government's strategy met certain criteria.

“At first glance, the government’s target of 10-20% emissions reduction seems very conservative, given that this is not based solely on reducing domestic emissions," she said.

"One wonders how much of the emissions reduction will be offset by the softer options of carbon storage in forests and buying of emission reductions permits from other countries. Unless there is emphasis on the domestic emissions, the pathway to strong commitment will be compromised."

“The real message as to how we live and work lies in the fact that on a per capita basis, New Zealand is rated 11th in the world as an emitter," continued Prof Bornman.

"For the general community, targeted awareness campaigns, and where feasible, further financial contributions, to bring about a change in lifestyle practices are vital for buy-in towards a sustainable and exemplary New Zealand. The co-benefits to quality of life would be remarkable. But we all need to be caught up in this euphoria for a significant result to occur,” she concluded.

New Zealand will set its final emissions reduction target following the all-important climate talks in Copenhagen in December.

Originally published in The Tech Herald.

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