New Zealand doesn’t need to heed a UN call to increase carbon emissions targets by next year, Climate Minister James Shaw says.

James ShawClimate Minister James Shaw says New Zealand’s emissions targets are credible. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver


The United Nations has published a seven-page document, which urges nations at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow to revisit and strengthen their 2030 emission targets by next year. It also requests agreement to a total phase-out of coal.

Scientists have warned that keeping temperature rises to 1.5C – beyond which the worst impacts of climate change will be unleashed – requires global emissions to be cut by 45 percent by 2030 and to zero overall by 2050.

With the world off track to meet the goal, the draft document urges countries to “revisit and strengthen” the targets for cutting emissions by 2030 in their national plans to align them with the Paris Agreement goal of well below 2C or 1.5C by the end of 2022.

As it stands the world is on track to reach 2.4C above pre-industrial levels despite commitments given at COP26.

Shaw told Morning Report Section 30 of the document requesting country’s come back with better targets by next year doesn’t apply to New Zealand.

He said New Zealand had already improved its targets just before COP26 had been convened and argued the government’s present target was realistic.

Shaw added the document encouraged countries to revise their targets “but it doesn’t mean you have to”. Section 30 was aimed specifically at certain countries with inadequate targets, he said.

“There are some country’s including the larger emitters, that didn’t upgrade their commitments and so that piece of language is really aimed at those countries.”

While New Zealand’s target of 41 percent has been criticised for being too low, Shaw insisted Cabinet had listened to government officials who advised setting a higher target would be one unattainable under current arrangements.

“Cabinet has landed on a position that says we think that’s as much as we think it credible at the moment. If we were to increase our target – and no one says that we don’t want to – options at this stage for doing so aren’t credible,” he said.

He wouldn’t use his ministerial mandate to sign up to higher targets contrary to Cabinet consensus, he said.

“We’ve done a lot of analysis that got us to the level we’ve got and we have actually said in the Cabinet decision that we know we should be constantly striving to do more based on an analysis of what we think we can do.”

Coal phase out

The document also calls on countries to accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels – but has no firm dates or targets on this issue.

Shaw said it was a big ask and there may be pushback from some world leaders, but felt momentum was growing and he was optimistic the goals could be met.

“I suspect no one is going to be wildly happy about it, just because of the nature of tensions here,” he said.

“But having said that I think there is more momentum and a more positive sense of progress here than there’s been at the previous two events I’ve been at.”

“I’m not wildly hopeful about that because their our a number of coal-producing countries that are holding out but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Carbon trading

Shaw said he had concerns over the integrity of those carbon credits trading credits, used by country’s to offset domestic failure to meet emissions targets.

He acknowledged the 1997 Kyoto Protocol agreement mechanisms in this respect resulted in “some terrible things”.

“We got the backwash from that. We absolutely cannot afford to let those mistakes repeated,” he said.

Shaw said no agreement on the nature of carbon credits trading would be better than a bad agreement, and that New Zealand already had the ability to form agreements with other countries regardless.

There was no chance of a deal that would restrict New Zealand offsetting carbon targets offshore and the government would work with nations in the Asian Pacific region to help sustainability, he added.

“It’s probably the most difficult part of the whole set of negotiations and a lot of what’s going on in other parts of the negotiations depends on arriving on some form of satisfactory outcome in that area,” he said.

“We have some very strong concerns about human rights, indigenous rights and the environmental integrity of that system. We’ve said that we want an outcome but we have also said that not at any cost. I’ve repeatedly said no deal is better than a bad deal when it comes to that.

“We are already able to form agreements to reduce global emissions with other countries. We can do that on a bilateral basis or on a plurilateral basis. Where things are really difficult are in trying to establish a sort of operating global system…”

“We can form agreements with other countries anyway and when Cabinet made the decision to increase our target we did say that our top priority was domestic investment for our transition locally.”

Loss and damage has been included in the draft document. It calls for more support from developed countries and other organisations to address the damage caused by extreme weather and rising seas in vulnerable nations.

It also recognises that more finance is needed for developing countries beyond the long-promised $100 billion a year by 2020, which will not be delivered until at least 2022.

h] Shaw backs legal action

A group of law students have filed a lawsuit at Wellington’s High Court against Energy Minister Megan Woods over her decision to grant two new onshore oil and gas exploration.

Students for Climate Solutions group claim Woods’ June decision to issue exploration permits in the Taranaki area is inconsistent with the government’s legal obligations under the country’s Zero Carbon Act and the Paris agreement and state of climate emergency.

“There is an increase in New Zealand and around the world of climate-related litigation,” she said.

“I actually think it’s healthy for that to happen and for citizens to have recourse to courts and to continually test their government’s performance on climate change, and I don’t think New Zealand is or should be an exception to that.”

Woods earlier in the year had indicated further onshore exploration permits could be granted next year too, allowing oil and gas exploration up until 2032.