The Climate Commission

The Climate Commission will provide expert advice and hold the Government to account.

The Act will establish an independent Climate Commission to guide New Zealand’s zero carbon transition. The Commission will help the Government to set targets and prepare a policy plan to reduce emissions.

The Commission has two main functions:

  • Expert advice: The Commission will advise the Government on targets and policies to put New Zealand on track to zero carbon.

  • Independent watchdog: The Commission will hold the Government to account by publishing progress reports and highlighting problems.

Expert advice on targets and policies

The Climate Commission will provide expert climate change advice to the Government. This includes advice about setting targets, reducing emissions, and addressing climate risks. The Commission must make its advice publicly available.

The Act will require the Climate Commission to prepare non-binding advice on the following issues:

1. Long-term targets: One of the Commission’s most immediate duties will be to prepare advice about the Zero Carbon Act’s long-term targets:

    • Net zero carbon by 2050: The Commission must review the long-term target of net zero carbon by 2050, in light of the purpose and principles of the Zero Carbon Act, and the global goal of limiting warming to well below 2°C. For example, the Commission may advise that New Zealand should aim for a more ambitious long-term target, such as net zero carbon by 2045. (See Why zero by 2050?).
    • Target for short-lived GHGs: Under our proposed ‘two baskets’ approach, the Commission must prepare advice on the appropriate target for short-lived GHGs like methane. This target must be consistent with the purpose and principles of the Zero Carbon Act, and the global goal of limiting warming to well below 2°C. To meet these goals, we think short-lived GHGs like methane will need to be significantly reduced to sustainable levels, but do not need to reduce to zero. The Commission’s advice must include recommended emissions accounting practices for short-lived GHGs. (See The ‘two baskets’ approach).

The Commission’s advice must also include recommendations about forestry accounting and offsetting rules for both long-term targets.

2. Carbon budgets: The Commission must provide advice on each carbon budget at least six months before it is required to be set by the Government. (See Carbon budgets).This advice must include:

    • Recommended budget: The Commission must recommend the level of the carbon budget.
    • How the budget can be achieved: The Commission must outline the emissions reductions from each sector of New Zealand’s economy to achieve the recommended budget.

When preparing this advice, the Commission is required to consider the same factors that the Government must take into account when setting a carbon budget. Finally, the Commission must also prepare advice about the treatment of international aviation and shipping emissions in the carbon budget.

3. Other climate issues: The Government may ask the Commission to prepare advice about Zero Carbon Act targets and duties, or any other issue related to climate change.

The Climate Commission must also help the Government prepare a National Climate Risk Assessment by giving advice on climate risks and adaptation measures.

Independent watchdog

The Climate Commission’s other main function is to hold the Government to account. The Commission will publish independent progress reports every year. These reports will state whether or not New Zealand is on track to meet the Zero Carbon Act’s targets, and highlight any problems.

The Commission will prepare two types of progress report:

  1. Annual progress reports: Every year, the Commission must report on New Zealand’s progress towards meeting upcoming carbon budgets and the long-term targets. This report will state whether the budgets and targets are likely to be met, highlight any problems with the Government’s approach, and advise on any further progress that is needed. The Minister must, in a written statement for Parliament, respond to the points in the Commission’s report.

  2. Carbon budget reports: Two years after a carbon budget ends, the Commission must prepare a report about how the carbon budget was or was not met, what action was taken by the Government to reduce emissions, and highlight any problems with the Government’s approach. The Minister must also respond to this report.

Ensuring the Climate Commission’s independence

To be able to hold the Government to account, the Climate Commission must be a truly independent body. The Zero Carbon Act will establish the Climate Commission as an Office of Parliament. This means that the Commission will be appointed by and report to Parliament, rather than the Government. It also means the Commission can independently prepare reports without Government oversight.

There are currently three Offices of Parliament: the Auditor-General, the Ombudsman, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. Like the Climate Commission, their purpose is to hold the Government to account.

In contrast with the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment's broad focus and investigative function, the Climate Commission will have a narrower focus of upholding the Zero Carbon Act’s policy pillars of accountability, expertise, and transparency. The Act will ensure that the Climate Commission can provide free and frank advice, and requires the Government to engage with that advice. For example, the Minister will be required to take account of the Commission’s advice when setting a carbon budget, and must provide reasons if they choose to depart from this advice.

Composition of the Climate Commission

The Climate Commission will consist of between six and ten experts appointed by Parliament. They will have expertise in a range of areas, including climate science, technology and agriculture. The Act will also require the Climate Commission to build and maintain meaningful partnership with iwi.

Parliament must appoint Climate Commissioners with the aim of ensuring that the Commission, as a whole, has expertise in the following areas:

  • Agricultural science and practices.

  • Business competitiveness.

  • Climate and environmental science.

  • Climate change policy, and in particular the social impacts of climate change policy, including public health.

  • Economic analysis and forecasting.

  • Emissions trading.

  • Energy production and supply.

  • Financial investment.

  • Industry policy and labour markets.

  • Te Tiriti o Waitangi, tikanga Māori, and Māori interests.

  • Technology development and diffusion.

The Chair of the Climate Commission will be appointed first, and must be consulted about subsequent appointments.

The Commission is able to employ staff and establish sub-committees to fulfil its functions. Members of sub-committees are not required to be members of the Climate Commission. For example, the UK’s Committee on Climate Change includes an Adaptation Sub-Committee responsible for preparing advice about climate risks and adaptation measures. The New Zealand Climate Commission could establish sub-committees to prepare focussed advice on issues such as adaptation, agricultural emissions, or the social impact of climate policies.

Funding and powers

The Zero Carbon Act will allow the Climate Commission to do things necessary to fulfil its functions. This includes employing staff, commissioning research from other organisations, and publishing its findings. The Commission must exercise its functions with the aim of involving the public. 

The Climate Commissioners will be funded by the independent Remuneration Authority to further ensure their independence. The Commission must account for its finances, and will have information gathering powers.   

As a point of reference, the UK’s Committee on Climate Change currently has eight Commissioners, a separate Adaptation Sub-Committee, a chief executive, and approximately 30 staff. It fulfils its functions with a small annual budget of about £3.5m, which is approximately NZ$6.3m. (New Zealand’s Human Rights Commission has an annual budget of $9.5m.)