Seriously tackling New Zealand’s emissions requires the use of carbon to be budgeted for in the same way the nation budgets for government spending.

Without new action, New Zealand’s gross emissions are projected to be 23% above its recently announced target for the year 2020, based on updated Environment Ministry figures.

The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has emphasised the importance of the emissions trend line – that global emissions have kept rising over the last decade, rather than fall as they need to.

New Zealand’s gross emissions have similarly risen, and they are projected to keep steadily rising out to at least 2030.

The 2020 target is the next checkpoint and is formally expressed as a responsibility for cutting emissions to 5% below 1990 levels, on average, between 2013 and 2020.  When setting the target in August, the government recognised it would be significantly overshot under current policies.

A key change required is to set up a carbon budgeting process that details expected carbon emissions for the economy and how these can be reduced by practical actions.

This process, pioneered by the UK government, integrates all options for reducing emissions – from pricing carbon to energy efficiency standards – and develops action plans for each sector of the economy.  A series of five year budgets for the use of carbon are then struck as savings potentials are identified.

It is an overall framework for guiding the transition to a low carbon economy.

The IPCC reports that “ambitious” efforts to reduce emissions would on average slow global economic growth by just 0.06% a year, compared to an assumed 1.6% to 3% growth per year otherwise.

The overall effect of the current approach is to put much of the cost of today’s excess emissions on tomorrow’s taxpayers. The bill for failing to reduce gross emissions in line with the target is simply being put on the credit card.



The IPCC’s summary for policymakers is available here.

A briefing on carbon budgeting is available here.