Meeting Paris climate agreement may cost up to $36 bln

Officials have warned the Government that meeting its greenhouse gas commitments under the Paris Agreement could cost up to $36 billion by 2030 and it should do as much to adapt to climate change as it does on preventing it, Eloise Gibson reports from the Briefing for the Incoming Minister for Climate Change.

New Zealand needs to start focusing as much on adapting to climate change as it does on preventing it, officials have urged in a briefing to the incoming Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw.

Given that New Zealand’s climate is already changing, we should put more effort into readying for changes that could threaten our farm-heavy economy and our way of life, says the briefing.

Despite knowing what’s coming, the response so far has largely been reactive –responding to floods, droughts, and coastal erosion as they happen, rather than the “deliberate, planned and coordinated” approach that is needed, says the summary.

Elsewhere, the briefing skewers a popular excuse often used by small countries to justify not acting strongly to curb emissions, namely that their contributions are tiny in a global sense. It notes that while New Zealand generates less than 0.2 per cent of global emissions “the sum total of small actors’ emissions is significant…countries that individually contribute less than one per cent of global emissions together make up over a quarter of global emissions.”

Our high per-capita emissions also pose a risk to “brand New Zealand”, as readers of the international news will already know.

But the cost of bringing emissions down is not small. The briefing puts the cost of meeting New Zealand’s first commitment under the Paris Agreement at $14 billion to $36 billion between 2021 and 2030. That’s the estimated cost to remove about 220 million tons of carbon from our economy, by cutting domestic emissions, planting trees and buying carbon credits from overseas. The figures assume there is no carbon price applied to agriculture, no technological leaps, and conservative growth in forestry.

The briefing advises the Minister that there is only a short window to set a plan for meeting New Zealand’s first target under Paris, to reduce emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

It advises him to look at the “full range of options” for lowering agricultural methane and nitrous oxide emissions, including thoroughly weighing up bringing farming into the Emissions Trading Scheme.

The round-up notes that while New Zealand has invested in Research and Development, and farms have increased productivity, which lowers emissions-per-kilo of food, there are currently no direct measures aimed at reducing farming gases.

“The current approach also does not position the sector well to be able to demonstrate its contribution to reducing domestic or global emissions, should this be required through changes in market preferences, or to pursue new export opportunities,” says the briefing.

On the positive side, cleaning up rivers might lower greenhouse gases by the back door. That’s because policies might have the effect of lowering stock numbers.

Freshwater policies might do it by the back door by reducing stock numbers

While any move to bring farms into the ETS would be unpopular with farmers, the briefing notes that farmers will be among the first to suffer from climate change.

“Some large sectors of New Zealand’s economy, including primary industries, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change - there are also potential risks to New Zealand’s brand and reputation in international markets, given the relatively high emissions per person and relative to the size of the economy.”

Briefings for incoming ministers on the environment are here.