New Zealand ratifies climate deal amid accounting fraud claims

Climate change minister claims historic gesture puts New Zealand at the top climate table. But questions remain over use of carbon credits

Marsden Point Oil Refinery on the north island of New Zealand. Source: Russell Street/Flickr

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New Zealand’s government has ratified the Paris climate agreement, joining a cavalcade of countries who in recent days pushed the agreement over the threshold to become international law.

The Paris agreement becomes active once it has been ratified by 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions. New Zealand was the 63rd country to officially join the UN accord. On Tuesday, the EU parliament’s approval surged the agreement beyond the emissions quota.

New Zealand’s climate change minister Paula Bennett said it was important for the country to be included in the momentum of early ratification.

“Although New Zealand contributes only a small proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions, the early timing of our ratification enables us to join the group of countries that make up 55 per cent of global emissions – the minimum needed to get this agreement across the line. Our contribution counts,” said Bennett.

The next major climate summit is now just a month away. UN climate negotiators will sit down in Marrakech to decide how to achieve the goals set out by in Paris last year. Bennett said those who had joined the agreement would have a stronger position in Morocco.

“It guarantees New Zealand a seat at the decision-making table on matters that affect the Paris agreement,” she said.

By 2030, New Zealand has committed to reduce its CO2 emissions to 30% below 2005 levels. Under the policies the country currently has to reduce emissions it will miss that target significantly. In fact emissions will rise, according to Climate Action Tracker.

Bennett said it was now time to formulate the policies that would achieve that goal.

“New Zealand’s big challenge now is to develop an effective plan for meeting our target of reducing our emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030,” she said.

But questions have been raised over accounting tricks the government plans to use to meet the more immediate 2020 goals of the Kyoto Protocol – the Paris agreement’s predecessor.

An investigation in April by the Morgan Foundation claimed these carbon credits – which overwhelmingly originated in Ukraine and Russia – were fraudulent. As a proportion of their emissions, New Zealand holds four times more of these credits than any other country.

The government closed the loophole in 2014, but plans to continue using the benefits from those credits for its 2020 goals. The Morgan Foundation raised concerns that New Zealand plans to continue using its surplus of credits to attain its 2030 goal.

“We still do have a surplus from previous Kyoto periods that exists largely because we dealt in those fraudulent credits,”said Geoff Simmons, an economist with the Morgan Foundation. “So if we are looking to carry on those surplus credits beyond 2020, that’s a big deal. That will make our 2030 a lot easier than it should be.”

Simmons said that if New Zealand was looking to continue using international carbon markets, “we’ve got a real credibility deficit to make up in terms of showing that our future transactions will be ethical”.

The centre-right government, led by John Key, has also been criticised for allowing expansion of the country’s oil and gas drilling programme.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said on Wednesday: “National needs a rethink of its economic strategy. Carbon emissions have increased 19% under National, and they’re still talking about expanding pollution-intensive industries like oil, gas, and intensive dairy farming.”

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