Climate activists say the government’s promise to cut emissions in half by 2030 vastly overstates the effect it will actually have.
It has reinforced its international commitment to the Paris Agreement, or Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), to cut emissions by 30 percent ahead of the massive UN climate meeting.
To get there, it will have to buy two-thirds of its cuts from other nations at a cost of about $ 1 billion a year.
The promise equates to a 41 percent reduction in real terms due to the way emissions are accounted for.
David Tong was a citizen member of the government delegate to the 2018 UN climate negotiations and is a spokesperson for Oil Change International.
He acknowledged that the updated promise goes in the right direction.
But he said messy government accounting meant the actual downfall was less ambitious than it appeared.
Tong said the government was taking the starting point of 2005 as the highest gross emissions figure, which includes everything that the country’s industry and people put into the atmosphere, and then comparing it to the proposed net reductions for 2030, which remains the savings from the carbon trapped in our forests.
He said this made the promise seem more optimistic than it actually was.
“When you calculate the numbers net to net, this is not 41 percent, it’s closer to 21 percent. Gross to gross, it’s closer to 31 percent.
“That means we are much worse than the UK, much worse than the EU, worse even than the EU or Japan.”
‘Target accounting’ also questioned
James Every-Palmer QC of Lawyers for Climate Action said there was another part to what he sees as unreliable accounting.
He said the government was using what is called “objective accounting,” which exaggerates carbon removal by forestry.
By his calculations, the actual reduction was less than half the government’s top 50 percent figure.
He said that Lawyers for Climate Action were taking legal action against the Climate Change Commission over their advice to the government in relation to both the NDC and national emissions budgets.
He said few countries use these accounting methods, although the government said it is actually quite common.
The government responds
Climate Change Minister James Shaw said his accounting was sound and that the amount of climate gases New Zealand was responsible for in 2030 would be half what it is now.
He said that by sheer coincidence, the point where the country was in the forest cycle in 2005 meant that the gross and net figures were basically exactly the same.
Shaw said the Commission on Climate Change recommended that he continue to use the gross-net approach as the two measures were nearly identical and that “most other countries” use it.