Leading the world to net zero: The opportunities and challenges of New Zealand's Zero Carbon Act Event as iCalendar

(Public Policy, School of Social Sciences)

19 March 2019

6 - 7:30pm

Venue: Fisher and Paykel Auditorium (260-115)

Location: Owen G Glenn Building, 12 Grafton Road

Host: Public Policy Institute | Te Whare Marea Tātari Kaupapa

Website: Register to attend

Professor Myles Allen | University of Oxford

New Zealand's Zero Carbon Act could make it one of the first advanced economies in the world to commit itself to net zero emissions — and the first with such a large agricultural sector. Like any pioneer entering uncharted waters, there are challenges to be overcome as well as first-mover opportunities. New Zealand's decisions in 2019 could help frame the global climate agenda for many decades to come.

The big picture could not be simpler. Carbon dioxide emissions accumulate in the climate system, like lead in the bloodstream. Stopping global warming requires net carbon dioxide emissions to be reduced to zero, permanently. Decisions about other warming gases, like methane, could make a few tenths of a degree difference to the peak warming level reached, but they don't change that all-important fact. And a permanent net zero world cannot rely indefinitely on forestry to offset continued use of fossil fuels in sectors like aviation.

A successful pathway to net zero needs clarity in the destination, and fairness and transparency in the transition. I will argue that the simplest way of designing fairness and transparency into the Zero Carbon Act is to focus on the long-term temperature goal set out in the Paris Climate Agreement. This means treating all sectors equally in terms of their impact on global temperature.

Traditional farmers who are not contributing to ongoing global warming would not be penalised as if they are, while an agribusiness initiative that would cause a large increase in methane emissions, with a correspondingly disproportionate impact on global temperature, would be treated accordingly. And recipients of off-shore oil exploration permits would need to explain what will happen to the carbon dioxide that their oil will generate. Get this right, and New Zealand could show the way for many larger countries who have yet to think seriously about bringing extractive industries and agricultural emissions into climate policy.

Treating all sectors fairly means all sectors pulling together. He waka eke noa.

Myles Allen is Professor of Geosystem Science in the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford and Head of the Climate Dynamics Group in the University’s Department of Physics. His research focuses on how human and natural influences on climate contribute to observed climate change and risks of extreme weather and in quantifying their implications for long-range climate forecasts.