As he prepares to travel to Glasgow for the COP26 summit, the Climate Change Minister says there’s always more New Zealand could do on climate, Marc Daalder reports

James Shaw says he pushed for a more ambitious Paris target for reducing emissions that didn’t make it through Cabinet.

In an exclusive interview with Newsroom ahead of his trip to Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit, Shaw said the target that Cabinet settled on compared well to those set by other developed countries, but that every developed country still had to do more.

“Literally no one on Earth – or certainly amongst the developed countries – comes even close to what needs to be done. Which is why we’re still looking at a 2.7 degree world.”

Shaw had previously declined to say the target represented New Zealand doing its fair share to reduce emissions, when asked three times by Newsroom on the day the new commitment was revealed. He did say that it was more ambitious than Ministry for the Environment officials had recommended – while they had said a pledge to reduce net emissions over the next decade to 40 percent below gross 2005 levels was the maximum realistic target, Cabinet went with 41 percent instead.

“Ultimately, Cabinet went beyond the official advice. So, I think that they demonstrated that they were willing to be more ambitious than the officials were,” he said.

That advice was predicated on concerns that further emissions reductions couldn’t be met through offshore mitigation. More than two-thirds of the expected emissions reductions over the next decade as a result of the new target will come through reducing emissions in other countries.

“Yes, we could create more demand, essentially, by chucking more money at it. But the advice that we got was that north of 40 percent, there’s quite a steep drop-off in confidence that there’ll be credible, environmentally sound supply available to us in this time period,” Shaw said.

However, the climate minister said he believed that could change, both through the advent of new technologies and new opportunities to reduce emissions and through the simple market dynamics of supply and demand. That’s in part why he pushed for an even more ambitious target.

“It’s not going to surprise you to know that I asked for more than I got. What’s in the Cabinet paper will reflect that,” he said.

“I pushed things as far as I could.”

Now, however, Shaw is looking ahead to the COP summit, where he has three main goals. Two of them are tied to our own emission reduction plans and the third relates to ensuring everyone else is keeping up their own ambition.

Perhaps the most critical, if also the most technical, is the settling of long-standing negotiations on Article Six of the Paris Agreement. That plank is meant to establish an international carbon market, with rules around environmental integrity to ensure that emissions actually fall as a result of carbon trading. It will also help New Zealand establish its own voluntary carbon offset scheme – right now, there’s a risk that when you purchase a carbon offset for your Air New Zealand flight, it will also be counted towards our Paris goal, meaning it is double counted.

An international carbon market could be crucial to achieving New Zealand’s Paris target. If it doesn’t eventuate, that offshore mitigation will have to come instead through numerous bilateral deals with other countries.

“We’re not reliant on Article Six completing, but if it lands and it’s dodgy, we’re going to need to manage our response to that,” Shaw said.

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Another key focus will be on work with individual countries and blocs of countries to aid our domestic transition to a low-carbon economy.

“It’s almost like a trade negotiation, but with everybody in the room. We know that we’re only going to be able to do the domestic transition by working with other countries,” he said.

“The extent to which we can talk to some of those countries about, ‘Hey, you’re interested in working with us on EVs, which we’re going to need a lot of in a short period of time’. Or something around the green finance piece that may come up.”

The final focus, which New Zealand diplomats are already chairing sessions on in Glasgow, is establishing rules for transparent reporting of emissions and emissions targets. While Paris targets are non-binding and set by each country, the theory is that transparent reporting of progress towards those targets will ensure everyone plays their part.

“A lot of what I’ve been working on domestically has been built on a transparency principle. You make this information public, whether it’s what companies have got what units in the ETS register, or having the transparency around the Government’s programme needing to be audited by the [Climate Change] Commission every year or the climate-related financial disclosures,” Shaw said.

“They’re all built on this idea that you get the information out there and that itself starts to change things. I put a lot of stock into that part of the agreement and I think that the people that are dragging the chain understand that principle as well as anybody and that’s why they’re trying to slow it down.

“To me, that’s really the highest priority.”

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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