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Zero Carbon Bill passes with near-unanimous support, setting climate change targets into law

Henry Cooke

Nov 07 2019

The Government's Zero Carbon Bill passed with near-unanimous support on Thursday, after National agreed to support the climate change law.

Despite supporting the bill National have set out several changes to the law that they would make in their first 100 days if elected, including removing the controversial methane target and asking an independent commission to set it.

National's votes are not needed for the bill to pass but are hugely important in setting out whether or not the law can survive across governments, a fervent hope of Climate Change Minister James Shaw.

National's support is not needed for the law to pass but James Shaw has spent months attempting to attain it.

National's support is not needed for the law to pass but James Shaw has spent months attempting to attain it.

Shaw met and negotiated with the party for close to a year on the bill, which passed by a voice vote with no opposition - although ACT's David Seymour was intended to oppose it.

The law will set up an independent climate change commission, which would advise governments on how to meet targets set in law by the bill – zero net carbon emissions by 2050 and a reduction of between 24 and 47 per cent of methane emissions by 2050. These targets are intended to keep global warming to within 1.5C by 2050.

A further methane reduction target of 10 per cent from 2017 levels by 2030 is also included.

These targets will be met with five-yearly "carbon budgets" recommended by the Commission.

Shaw hopes the bill will create a framework to reduce emissions over time much like the financial framework created in the early 1990s which has seen government debt greatly reduce.

National supported the bill through its first two readings but said further support was contingent on a series of changes that have not been made.

Bridges told media that his party was not backing down to the Government.

"What is the responsible position for the National Party is to support the bill given that the framework the architecture of it we like, and make sure that we want changes to it," Bridges said.

"The framework is right. Certainty and stability around these things is right. And we would not change most of it - really just around the methane targets and food production."

"National is proud of our farmers and the way that they keep improving. They have over the last 30 years, and I know they will over the next thirty. We get it."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pledged that her government would make sure New Zealand would not be in the middle of the pack on climate change, as National have advocated.

"New Zealand will not be a slow follower," Ardern said.

"We're here because our world is warming. Undeniably it is warming...We have to start moving beyond targets. We have to start moving beyond aspirations."

National's Judith Collins disagreed with the prime minister, saying "New Zealanders do not want to be first, fast, or furious. They want a fair go."

Shaw said on Thursday every side of the negotiations had to give up on something. He acknowledged Bridges and other National MPs for working constructively on the bill through "strong political pressures".

"I'm delighted that the National Party have come to the party and helped us set up this really strong climate change law," Shaw said.

He said New Zealand was now world-leading, and had a framework stronger than the UK's - which this bill is based on.

"Their emissions have fallen by over 40 per cent, the highest of any in the world. We have some catching up to do."

Methane makes up about half of New Zealand's emissions profile, with much of it coming from livestock belching.

The farming lobby have strenuously fought efforts to reduce those emissions, and have generally found an ally in the National Party, who amended the last Labour government's Emissions Trading Scheme so agriculture would not be included.

National has faced pressure from its right to oppose the bill.

The right-wing think tank the New Zealand Initiative released a report on Wednesday arguing the bill could actually raise emissions by encouraging higher emissions offshore.

Federated Farmers' climate change spokesman Andrew Hoggard said late in October the Government had "missed a golden opportunity to take its farmers along with them" and the "unattainable goal will weigh heavy on some farmers".

Yet National relies on urban voters as much as it does rural ones, and Bridges has indicated a keenness to move the party into a more bipartisan space on climate change.

There was some talk of Collins crossing the floor to vote against the bill if her party ended up supporting it, but this has been quelled.

Collins tweeted on Thursday morning that "the flawed Zero Carbon Bill" would be supported by NZ First allied with the "anti-farmer Greens & Labour". She hinted that National would use the NZ First vote to challenge the party in the next election, saying she would see the party on the hustings.

The Government made a significant concession to the farming lobby in recent weeks with a delay on bringing agriculture into the Emissions Trading Scheme.

The Zero Carbon Bill was originally intended to be in force in April of 2019.

While Shaw said this was the biggest thing he had done in his career he promised this would not be his only legacy.

"We're just getting warmed up."



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