Why New Zealand needs a Climate Commission

Gary Taylor, Environmental Defence Society
Why New Zealand needs a Climate Commission

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The most important step the new New Zealand Government (whatever its makeup) could take to address climate change is to set up a Climate Commission and promote a Climate Act akin to that of the UK.

Most parties in the Parliament appear to either support that initiative or view it as an idea worth exploring. It makes good sense for a number of reasons.

First, New Zealand, like the rest of the world, needs to transition to a low carbon economy. That will happen over time, ending up with net zero emissions by around mid-century. There are very few policy challenges as long-lived as that one.

Secondly, we will see many governments come and go over that time horizon. Pursuing such a long-term goal is just not going to work if we do it in a fragmented way - by ad hoc decisions taken within three-yearly electoral cycles.

We need cross-party support for a permanent entity that can take the long strategic view and is free from political interference. The pathway needs to be in law so it transcends the electoral cycle.

Thirdly, achieving net zero will need a plan, one that proposes the least cost transition pathway, sets interim targets, monitors performance, and makes adjustments as we go.

An independent Climate Commission, modelled on the succesful UK version, is the way forward. It would have its own act of Parliament setting out its role and responsibilities. Generation Zero has had a good attempt at scoping such legislation.

It would need an independent board of highly respected individuals and access to the best expertise we can muster. It should be an agency of Parliament, like the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment or the Audit Office. It would report to Parliament in an open, transparent fashion on clear milestones set out in its Transition Plan.

The Climate Commission would not have decision-making powers. Those decisions must remain the prerogative of Ministers. But, it would recommend -and Ministers should be obliged to explain any rejected recommendations - and would be subject to the constraints of judicial review.

Whether the Climate Commission should have adaptation as part of its responsibilities is a matter for discussion. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment in a recent report says no: it should focus on mitigation only.

But the Insurance Council of New Zealand suggests the opposite, saying that adaptation is a challenge needing high level consideration and deployment of effective strategies.

The shape and form of the Climate Commission is being debated at the forthcoming Australia-New Zealand Climate Change and Business Conference www.climateandbusiness.com.

Speakers include Lord Deben, the Chair of the UK Climate Commission; Dr Jan Wright, the Commissioner for the Environment who wrote a recent report on the issue; Generation Zero, and others.

We’ll also be inviting the new climate change Minister if appointed by then!

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