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Climate change update: Government declares climate change emergency

Home Insights Climate change update: Government declares climate change emergency

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Contributed by: Emmeline Rushbrook and Hannah Bain

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Published on: December 04, 2020


On Wednesday, Parliament passed a motion to declare a climate change emergency in New Zealand, fulfilling a promise that the Prime Minister had made to do so in the lead up to the election. New Zealand also joins numerous other nations that have previously declared emergencies relating to climate change.
While the declaration does not have direct regulatory implications, it is an acknowledgement by the current Labour-Green government that climate change requires urgent action in New Zealand. Businesses should view the declaration as an additional commitment to steps that have already been put in place following the enactment of the Zero Carbon Act in relation to mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. This momentum is already due to continue into 2021, with the Climate Change Commission due to deliver its first (and significant) draft package of advice on various matters relating to adaptation and mitigation by 1 February 2021 (see our earlier update here). The declaration of a climate change emergency serves to further enhance the importance of this package of advice, and the Government's response to it.

But what does the declaration actually mean?

As noted above, the declaration does not itself impose additional regulatory obligations on businesses or government. However, the motion passed by Parliament recognised a number of matters relating to climate change, and recorded the Government's intention to commit to action following the finding of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that in order to keep global warming to less than 1.5°C, global emissions would need to fall by around 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. In introducing the motion, the Prime Minister also emphasised that the declaration served as an important directive to the public sector and a call to action for the private sector (although the Prime Minister acknowledged the positive steps already being taken by the private sector). The motion was also accompanied by an announcement that the Government will "get its own house in order" and become carbon neutral by 2025.
The motion itself (amongst other things):

  • recognised the devastating impact that volatile and extreme weather will have in New Zealand as a result of flooding, sea-level rise and wildfires;
  • noted that climate change is "one of the greatest challenges of our time", and that New Zealand has committed to taking urgent action on mitigation and adaptation;
  • acknowledged the core tenets of New Zealand's response (which are already enshrined in the Zero Carbon Act), including the setting of emissions budgets, setting a price on emissions through the ETS, and planning for adaptation to climate change;
  • indicated an intention to increase support for striving towards 100% renewable electricity generation, low carbon energy, and transport systems;
  • indicated an intention to seize economic opportunities associated with a clean, green reputation and create green jobs in the low-carbon economy;
  • recognised an alarming trend in species decline and a global biodiversity crisis, including in relation to Aotearoa's indigenous biodiversity;
  • noted that the Government will take further steps towards reducing and eliminating waste; and
  • committed to reducing the Government's own emissions and becoming a carbon-neutral Government by 2025.

In relation to the final commitment, the Prime Minister has published a press release, which sets out further details of the Government's plan to become carbon neutral by 2025. In summary, this will involve phasing out the use of coal boilers, the purchase of electric vehicles, and requiring a green standard for public sector buildings. These initiatives will generally apply to the public service (departments and departmental agencies), some non-public service departments and most Crown Entities, and will be funded by the $200m State Sector Decarbonisation Fund. Government departments will also be required to measure and publicly report on their emissions and to offset any excess emissions by 2025.

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