Saturday, December 4

COP26: Time for New Zealand to Show Regional Leadership on Climate Change


By Nathan Cooper of The conversation

The conversation

When the UN climate summit in Glasgow begins on Sunday, it marks the deadline for countries to make more ambitious commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Banners for COP26 hang from street lamps in Glasgow on October 29, 2021 before the start of the climate summit.  (Photo by Andy Buchanan / AFP)

Signs for Cop26 are visible throughout the host city, Glasgow.
Photo: AFP

The meeting is the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and is heralded as the last best chance to prevent a devastating rise in temperature that would endanger billions of people. and it would disrupt the life support systems of the planet.

New Zealand will be represented by the climate minister and co-leader of the Green Party, James Shaw, along with a small team of diplomats. Shaw, who described climate change as “the most significant threat we face in the coming decades,” will participate in negotiations aimed at achieving global net zero, protecting communities and natural habitats, and mobilizing funds to adequately respond to the climate crisis. .

This is the time for New Zealand to commit to doing its fair share of what is necessary to prevent runaway global warming.

To understand why COP26 is so important, we must look back to a previous summit, COP21 in 2015, which resulted in the Paris Agreement. The countries agreed to work together to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius and aim for no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

In a protest against the climate strike, a small child holds up a banner towards the hive that says

A child holds a sign outside Beehive during a protest over the climate strike in 2019.
Photo: © VNP / Phil Smith

They also agreed to publish plans to show how much they would cut emissions and update these commitments every five years, which is what should be happening at the Glasgow summit. Taken together, current climate promises (known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs) continue to fall far short of limiting global warming to 1.5 ° C.

Many countries have not delivered on what they promised their climate commitments. The window to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 ° C is closing rapidly.

Time to increase climate ambition

On our current trajectory, global temperature is likely to rise well above the 2 ° C upper limit of the Paris Agreement, according to a UN report released last week.

New Zealand has agreed to take ambitious action to reach the 1.5 ° C target. But its current commitment – bringing emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 – will not achieve this.

If all countries followed New Zealand’s current commitments, global warming would reach 3 ° C. The government has pledged to increase New Zealand’s NDC, after receiving advice from the Climate Change Commission that its current commitment it is not consistent with the 1.5C target, but has not yet drawn a figure.

The effects of the growing climate crisis are already present in our corner of the world. Aotearoa is becoming familiar with extreme weather events, floods and prolonged droughts.

Flooding in the Ashburton Forks area and damage to the bridge approach over the South Branch of the Ashburton River

Mid Canterbury suffered from flooding in June.
Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Many of our Pacific lowland neighbors are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Some are already waiting for New Zealand to take stronger regional leadership on climate change.

The perception of New Zealand as a potential safe haven and “Pacific lifeboat” reminds us of the next challenge for climate refugees, should global warming exceed a safe upper limit.

More work to do

New Zealand’s emissions have continued to rise since the Paris summit, but our track record for climate action has some positives. The Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act, enacted in 2019, requires greenhouse gas emissions (in addition to biogenic methane) to reach net zero by 2050. Only a handful of other countries have enshrined such a goal in the law.

The law also established the Climate Change Commission, which has already provided independent advice to the government on emissions budgets and an emissions reduction plan for 2022-2025. But much more needs to be done, and quickly, if we are to meet our international commitments and our national goals.

Recommendations from the Commission on Climate Change around the rapid adoption of electric vehicles, reducing animal loads, and shifting land use towards forestry and horticulture provide some key places to focus.

As COP26 begins, New Zealand should announce a more ambitious climate commitment, one stringent enough to meet the 1.5 ° C target. Announcing a bold enough NDC at COP26 will provide much-needed leadership and encouragement for other countries follow suit.

It will also act as a clear signal of what our national emissions policies are targeting, when and why. But no matter what New Zealand’s revised NDC says, there will be a lot of work to do to ensure that we meet our commitments and give the climate crisis the attention it requires.

*Nathan Cooper is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Waikato.


www.rnz.co.nz

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