The Zero Carbon Act: It’s time to get our act together on climate change

When a group of young kiwis formed Generation Zero formed back in 2011, there was a reason we chose this name. We knew that in order to ensure a safe, thriving future for all New Zealanders, we would need to be the generation to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions in our lifetimes.

Six years and many successful local campaigns later, we’ve developed a plan to make this future a reality for New Zealand. That plan is the Zero Carbon Act.

It’s a remarkably simple idea, and one which is working effectively in many other countries.

The Zero Carbon Act will lock-in a clear target - net zero carbon emissions by 2050 or sooner - and require the government to make plans and interim targets to get us there. Similar legal frameworks are being set around the world: Sweden has committed to net zero by 2045, while our Aussie neighbours in the state of Victoria have set their zero emissions target for 2050.

The Zero Carbon Act will also establish an independent Climate Commission to provide expert advice and hold the government to account. And, perhaps even more importantly, it will change the way we think about addressing climate change.

Here’s an example. The first step for most countries looking to achieve big emissions reductions is phasing out their dirtiest sources of electricity generation. Look at the UK - under their Climate Change Act they’ve transformed their national grid over the last decade, and earlier this year had their first coal free day since the 1800s.

But here in New Zealand, we’re already one step ahead. Over 80% of our electricity is generated from renewable sources. Which means we can now focus on achieving 100% renewables, and turn to dealing with emissions from transport, industry, and agriculture, right?

Wrong. If you’re a politician, at least.

Up 'til now, New Zealand has set itself bits-and-pieces climate change targets under various international agreements. A 5% emissions reduction by 2020 under the Kyoto Protocol. An 11% reduction by 2030 under the Paris Agreement.

Piddly stuff.

What’s more, our politicians have decided that New Zealand’s 80% renewables situation is actually a liability, because it means we don’t have any “low hanging fruit” to deal with. So we’ve taken a short-term approach to meeting short-term targets. This involves purchasing international carbon credits and paying other countries to reduce carbon pollution on our behalf. It was recently revealed that the government’s own forecast for meeting our 2030 Paris target with carbon credits is around $14 billion.

In the meantime, New Zealand’s emissions are predicted to continue rising.

NZ projected emissions      

The Zero Carbon Act will turn this absurdity on its head. Once we commit to achieving net zero emissions - the ultimate goal of the Paris Agreement - then it’s obvious that our 80% renewables is great starting point. New Zealand should be looking to build on our existing expertise, embracing green technologies in other sectors (transport, for example), and positioning ourselves as sustainability leaders as the world collectively transitions towards a cleaner future.

And it’s all possible. There are steps we could be taking right now to reduce our carbon emissions. Two recent reports, one by Vivid Economics and the other from the Royal Society of New Zealand, have set out options and pathways for New Zealand to transition away from fossil fuels and towards carbon neutrality.  

We know that we need to achieve net zero emissions to stabilise the climate, and ensure a safe, thriving future.

We know that we can achieve net zero emissions. And there are lots of good reasons to do so.

So what are we waiting for? It’s time to get our act together. Back the Zero Carbon Act.