By: Alyssa Langford
The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment's latest report, released on 27 July 2017, highlights and addresses the lack of a clear process to achieving New Zealand's emissions reduction targets.
In Stepping Stones to Paris and Beyond: Climate Change, Progress and Predictability, Dr Jan Wright makes five recommendations:
  1. Enacting a Climate Change Transition Bill and including at least one greenhouse gas emissions target in law.
  2. Establishing five-year carbon budgets.
  3. Putting in place government policies that ensure carbon budgets are met.
  4. Establishing an independent Climate Change Commission to advise the Government.
  5. Requiring mandatory reporting on the impact of climate change on New Zealand.
These recommendations are based on key features of the UK Climate Change Act 2008.  Touted as a remarkable law because of its overwhelming cross-party support, this report calls on the New Zealand Government to follow suit. 
Climate Change Transition Bill
The report highlights that New Zealand has no greenhouse gas target in law.  It recommends putting at least one emission reduction target in law and making it a requirement for it to be met.  Currently, New Zealand's target to reduce net emissions by 30% below 2005 gross emissions is not legally binding and there is no plan in place to achieve that target.
Carbon budgets
A main feature of the UK Climate Change Act is carbon budgets that set out the total amount of carbon dioxide equivalent that can be emitted in a five-year period.  The cap then lowers in successive five-year periods so that emissions reduction targets can be met.

The report recommends that the Climate Change Transition Bill requires the relevant Minister to set and meet carbon budgets, and for the budgets to be set based on objective analysis and advice from the Climate Change Commission.
Carbon budgets are limited in their utility without polices that will enable the budget to be met.  The report calls for the Government to prepare a proposal and policies after each budget is set to ensure the budget can be met.
Climate Change Commission
The Committee on Climate Change (as it is known in the UK) is an integral part of the UK Climate Change Act.  The report recommends a similar Commission be set up in New Zealand that is an independent Crown entity.  The members are to be appointed with cross-party support and are tasked with:
  • Advising the Minister on setting carbon budgets;
  • Preparing a yearly progress report; and
  • Providing advice on other matters relating to climate change.
Reporting on the impact of climate change
Under the UK Climate Change Act, the Government must publish a report every five years on the impact of climate change on the country.  The Government must then develop an adaptation programme.  The report recommends impact reporting is included in New Zealand's Climate Change Transition Bill.
Dr Wright stresses that the recommendations in the report are not to constrain the Government's hands in setting targets or deciding how to meet them.  Instead, the recommended Climate Change Transition Bill simply lays down a clear process for meeting those targets, however weak or strong they are.
With the run up to the general election this year, it will be interesting to see if dialogue around climate change issues increases and which, if any, of the above recommendations will be implemented by the new Government.
The full report is available online at
If you would like more information regarding these recommendations, please do not hesitate to get in touch with the Resource Management and Environmental Law Team
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