Close this search box.
Close this search box.

The NZ Government, for one, has no idea about the ‘Hard Part’ – Post-COP21 blog 1

Dr Kennedy Graham, MP (NZ)

The ink is dry now, on the historic Paris Agreement and its accompanying COP-21 implementing decision.  

The Agreement will have a leisurely birth as befits a 20th-century multilateral treaty:  

  • It will be open for signature from 22 April ‘16 and ratification from 22 April ’17.  
  • It will come into force when 55 parties comprising 55% of global emissions have ratified, which will probably be just short of 2020.  
  • The substance of the Agreement, the NDCs (nationally-determined contributions) will cover the period 2021-30, parties having specified either 2025 or ’30 as their target year.
  • A party’s INDC (intended contribution), already submitted in advance of the Paris conference, will become an NDC when the party ratifies.  A party may revise its INDC and strengthen it, before ratification.

This is where the ‘hard part’ comes in, that I spoke of in my Paris Blog-6. Take New Zealand, as I am obliged to do.  

Notwithstanding a desultory debate in my country on climate change over the past quarter-century, the NZ Government has no idea, no conception, of what is required of it, under the Paris Agreement. Yet the Paris Agreement is simply putting into text what has been blindingly obvious from the science for the past 25 years.

New Zealand has nothing to be proud of in its national climate policy:

  • As UNFCCC data demonstrates, NZ emissions have increased hugely since 1990 – by 23% gross emissions and 88% net-to-net emissions. This is the worst record of any developed country.  
  • It met its Kyoto-1 target (2008-12) of net emissions equivalence with 1990 gross levels, through forestry sequestration despite gross emissions going up.  
  • Its weak (and non-binding) target for 2020/1990 of 5%  will be met only through insisting on utilising surplus units from the KP-1 period, even though the UNFCCC has said it cannot.  
  • Its official projection of emissions out to 2040 translates into about 4.3°C (‘catastrophic climate change’).
  • At COP-21, its endeavours focused on insisting on promoting carbon markets for post 2020, and making its 11% INDC conditional on access to them, on the grounds that it is unlikely to meet its 5% target through domestic mitigation. It has indicated it expects international trading to comprise four-fifths of its 11% target and domestic mitigation one-fifth, meaning that NZ net emissions in 2030 would drop 2% off its 1990 gross levels, thereby violating the Supplementary Principle that (a majority of a country’s target will be met by domestic mitigation).

But that is just the beginning. Now that we have an ambitious and meaningful global commitment to 1.5°C, the heat really goes on the developed countries.  

Global emissions must drop from today’s 50 Gt to 39 Gt in 2030, a 22% decline.  Most of that must come from the developed countries which, despite their efforts in Paris to terminate the differentiation principle (between developed and developing), are still expected to ‘continue to take the lead’ (Article 4.4).  So, when the richer European countries say they expect to shoulder 50%, they are within striking distance, at least in diplomatic terms. New Zealand, at 5%, is not in the hunt, and is deservedly named and shamed.

But diplomacy, that is to say, the human-to-human relationship, is not the same as the human-to-Nature relationship. All governments, even the most enlightened European ones, do not engage in the correct reasoning process when it comes to the UNFCCC (Paris Blog-2: Cognitive Dissonance). They specify what they take to be their best effort at reductions, and then add: if we don’t meet our target, we’ll make up for it through international trading.  

In deciding their INDCs, however, they are really confining themselves to their estimated domestic mitigation potential. They do not calculate, and indeed have no conception of, what their actual National Responsibility Level might be for their share of the Global Carbon Budget.

So for New Zealand, for example, when the Government specifies an 11% cut, this means that its target is to drop from 67 Mt net emissions today to 59 Mt (i.e. 11% off its gross emissions level in 1990, which coincidentally happens also to be 67Mt).  

But what is New Zealand’s share of the Global Carbon Budget for 2°C, in terms of annual emissions in 2030?  

There are about 6 different models developed by research institutes for calculating this. The two most sophisticated are Contraction and Convergence (C&C) and Equity Reference Framework (ERF). The ERF is the best; what does it say?

It says that, for a 2°C world, New Zealand responsibility level in 2030 is about 5 Mt.

Now that we have picked ourselves up off the floor, we must, to be intellectually honest and politically courageous, acknowledge that our ‘emissions responsibility’ must is comprised of a reduction from 67 Mt to about 5 Mt.  That is a 92% reduction.

If we cannot achieve that through domestic emission reductions alone, then we must trade or provide climate finance for the shortfall.  But whereas, for example the Government’s INDC is about 59 Mt, New Zealand’s National Responsibility Level is about 5 Mt. Similarly, Australia is responsible for a reduction from 567 Mt to 54 Mt., a 95% drop; Canada an 88% reduction.  

And that is for 2°C, not 1.5°C.

For some other developed countries, the situation is even more challenging. Some are expected to go into net negative territory (France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Nordics, UK, US).  Obviously this is not going to happen.  But this is the mathematical result of a rigorous application of the equity principle.

So, unsurprisingly, the methodology is contested, and the numbers are ‘soft’.  And in any event the world has moved away from the ‘top-down’ to the ‘bottom-up’ approach.  Dividing up the Global Carbon Budget is the most sensitive exercise on God’s Earth right now. To this day, no government is prepared to even enter this kind of discourse with numbers; nor for that matter is the UNFCCC Secretariat.  

But, now that the Paris Agreement has ‘brought us all together’ with common intent to protect ourselves from dangerous climate change, it is time we stopped shying away from the numbers.  They are necessary, as a navigational compass, for the ‘bottom-up approach’.  And the pure rigour of the maths can be modified by some intelligent political interpretation.

Now that we have agreed no longer to fool ourselves, it is time we began to explore the numbers, not leaving it to the research institutes but taking responsibility for it within governments and the UN.  

12/19/2015 – 18:06


Subscribe for APGF News