New Zealand sticks to 2030 climate target while waiting for 1.5C advice

In a submission to the UN on Earth Day, New Zealand communicated its plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 without enhancing its 2030 pledge

Under Jacinda Ardern's administration, New Zealand has sought to play a progressive role in climate negotiations. (Photo: Nato/Flickr)


New Zealand has reaffirmed its existing 2030 climate target, despite UN expectations on countries to toughen their goals before the end of the year. 

In a submission to the UN on Earth Day, the New Zealand government said the country’s newly established and independent Climate Change Commission would make recommendations “in early 2021” over whether and how its climate plan could be changed “to make it consistent with the 1.5C temperature goal” – the tougher global warming limit of the Paris Agreement.

New Zealand previously committed to reduce emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. At the end of 2019, it passed a law that sets a net zero goal for all greenhouse gases in 2050 except biogenic methane (mostly from sheep and cattle), which is to be cut 24-47% from 2017 levels.

Climate Action Tracker ranks New Zealand’s current 2030 pledge as “insufficient” to hold warming to 2C – the minimum level of ambition agreed in Paris.

Under the Paris Agreement decision texts, countries are invited to communicate or update their 2030 climate plans, also known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), and submit their long-term decarbonisation strategies “by 2020”, which is widely interpreted as by 31 December.

So far, only the Marshall Islands, Suriname, Norway, Moldova and Chile have submitted stronger medium-term plans to the UN. Other countries such as Switzerland and Japan have merely reaffirmed previous climate pledges.

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UN Climate Change is due to take stock of collective ambition at the next round of climate talks, known as Cop26 – and how far it falls short of what is needed to achieve the Paris accord’s goals. Current commitments put the world on course for more than 3C of warming.

While Cop26 has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, from November 2020 to an unspecified date in 2021, the timeline for upping national pledges is unchanged.

Writing in the British newspaper The Times, Sergio Costa, Italy’s environment minister, and Alok Sharma, UK minister for business, energy and industrial strategy and Cop26 president designate, said both countries would submit enhanced NDCs. “We call on every country to do the same,” they wrote.

The UK is to host Cop26 while Italy will oversee preparatory events, including a youth event.

China may delay submitting climate plans amid economic slowdown

In practice, the coronavirus pandemic is likely to delay some countries’ submissions as travel restrictions and social distancing rules have prevented NDC coordination meetings and workshops from taking place.

Even before Covid-19 struck, there were political headwinds to raising ambition – not least among the world’s two biggest emitters. President Donald Trump is withdrawing the US from the Paris pact, relieving pressure on China to up its game. Experts predict Beijing will wait for the outcome of November’s US election before making any new commitments.

Speaking at the Placencia Ambition Forum, organised by the Alliance of Small Island States, UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa said: “We can’t forget that difficult days are the daily reality for many because of climate change. We must therefore continue to drive ambition and make sure NDCs are as robust as possible.”

The forum was held online, rather than in Belize, as travel was cancelled to slow the spread of Covid-19.

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In its submission, New Zealand said it remained “fully committed to ambitious national and global climate action to achieve the aims of the Paris Agreement, to supporting efforts aimed at limiting warming to no more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, and to building resilience to the impacts of climate change with a focus on our Pacific neighbours”.

Earlier this month, the country’s Climate Change Commission outlined six principles to deliver an economic recovery from the pandemic that keeps New Zealand on track to achieve its climate goals.

In recent years and under prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership, New Zealand has been keen to be seen as a progressive voice in climate diplomacy and a leader on climate action.

“We’ve led the world before in nuclear disarmament and in votes for women, now we are leading again,” declared climate minister James Shaw when the bill committing the country to achieve carbon neutrality was approved by parliament in November.

New Zealand’s three-year election cycle means Kiwis are going back to the poll in a general election planned for September this year.

Read more on: Climate politics | NDCs | Paris Agreement |