Zero Carbon Act – a starter for ten

The second week of November saw Parliament pass the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019 (Zero Carbon Act).

For those feeling overwhelmed with all of the detail, please see our “starter for ten” below:

Statutory 2050 targets: The Act sets out a statutory target of zero net emissions of greenhouse gases, other than biogenic methane, by 1 January 2050. For biogenic methane, the statutory targets are incremental: by 1 January 2030, 10% less emissions than in 2017 and, by 1 January 2050, 24% to 47% less emissions of biogenic methane than in 2017. These targets are to give effect to the commitment made by New Zealand in the Paris Agreement in 2015 to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Regular emissions budgets: The Government (via the Climate Change Minister) must set 5-yearly “emissions budgets”. These budgets will specify the total emissions that will be permitted for the relevant budgetary period.

Domestic mitigation efforts preferred: The Act contemplates that domestic efforts will be the primary means of meeting the statutory targets. Mitigation initiatives outside of New Zealand may only be utilised where there has been a significant change in circumstances affecting the relevant emissions budget.

New Climate Change Commission: The Act establishes a new seven-member Climate Change Commission. The Commission’s functions are wide-ranging, and include advising the Minister on the proposed emissions budgets and monitoring progress towards meeting the various emissions budgets and the 2050 targets. The Commission has a statutory obligation to act independently of the government.

Legal effect: The Act allows, but does not require, government bodies to take into account the 2050 targets, emissions budgets and any emissions reduction plans when making decisions. If targets or budgets are not met, members of the public can apply to the courts for a declaration to that effect (but no damages or penalties in the ordinary sense can be imposed for failure to meet a target).

Adaptation plans and reporting requirements: The Minister is required to prepare a national climate change risk assessment within one year of the Act entering force. The assessment looks at the most significant risks to New Zealand from the current and future effects of climate change. After the Minister’s first assessment, the Commission is responsible for updating the risk assessment every six years.

The Government is then tasked with issuing a national adaptation plan in response to the risk assessment. This plan will focus on various strategies and policies for meeting the government’s objectives for adapting to the effects of climate change. What is more, the Commission must provide a 2-yearly progress report that evaluates the implementation of the adaptation plan and its effectiveness. The Government must provide a public response to these progress reports.

While the government and public sector is the focus area of the Zero Carbon Act, its influence will soon be felt more widely across the economy. Emissions budgets and adaptation plans will become regular features of decision-making in the future. The potential impact of this legislation cannot be understated and we will be watching developments in this space with keen interest.

If you have any questions about the impact of the Act, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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Gerard DaleClaire EvansGraeme CrombieEvelyn JonesAnna RyanJoelle Grace,  Peter OrpinEllen SewellMatt TolanCarlo WanKristina SutherlandJacob NuttWhitney MooreAlex StoneBen Cooper

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