A climate schism has opened between Australia and New Zealand, two highly polluting countries walking different paths to eradicate carbon emissions.
On Sunday, New Zealand’s Climate Change Commission (CCC) released its first emissions budget, an economy-wide roadmap towards carbon neutrality as pledged by the year 2050.
The bad news is that New Zealand is well off target, requiring major corrections in energy generation, transport choices and for business, including agriculture, if the target is to be reached.
However, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is committed to action, saying the report says reaching NZ’s Paris Agreement pledge is “both achievable and affordable”.
“The commission’s draft advice sets out an achievable blueprint for New Zealand to become a prosperous, low-emissions economy,” she said.
“As a government we are committed to picking up the pace and focusing much more on decarbonisation and reducing emissions rather than overly relying on forestry.”
CCC proposals include the end of petrol and diesel cars and motorbikes, with only electric vehicles to be imported in a decade’s time.
The CCC also proposes major native forestation, new large-scale wind and solar plants, and the closing of coal power stations by the end of the decade.
Another change is to stop fitting new homes with natural gas connections.
Gas-reliant heating and hot water is to be phased out as part of plans for NZ to use 90 per cent less gas by 2050.
This is where New Zealand’s path diverges from Australia, which is pledging to become a liquefied natural gas (LNG) superpower to reduce reliance on other fossil fuels.
Renowned climate scientist James Renwick, a professor at Victoria University of Wellington, said Australia’s plans were flawed.
“Natural gas is less polluting than coal but it’s still a fossil fuel and we still need to move away from it,” he told AAP.
“Natural gas is not considered to be a smart investment because we all have to get to 100 per cent renewables. You might as well get on that path and skip the gas part.”
New Zealand’s plans to eliminate household gas use are in line with much of Europe and an increasing number of US cities, including New York and San Francisco.
Industry analyst Bruce Robertson says gas faces a troubled future.
“Australia is the world’s largest exporter of LNG … but the forecast for gas will keep getting revised down. Other countries like Japan and China will want less and we’ll export less and less,” he said.
Kiwi business groups have cautiously welcomed the budget, noting the lead-in time to major emission cuts.
Emission reductions will begin at just two per cent annually to 2025, scaling up to 17 per cent each year from 2025 to 2030, before roaring to 36 per cent by 2035.
University of Canterbury professor Bronwyn Hayward noted New Zealand had much to do as “we are the second worst emitter in the OECD since 1990 for greenhouse gases, five places ahead of Australia”.
“Per capita, we’ve got more ground to make up than Australia,” she said.
The report is now open to consultation, with the government locking in an emissions plan by the end of 2021.