Russel Norman: Climate Commission needs teeth like Reserve Bank

Press release - March 7, 2018
Greenpeace New Zealand Executive Director, Russel Norman, says the new Government’s Climate Commission needs to be given teeth if it’s to have any significant impact on reducing emissions.

He says the Commission should be able to influence the price on carbon in the same way the Reserve Bank can influence the price of money.

Norman’s comments follow the release of the first report by new Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton.

In the report, A Zero Carbon Act for New Zealand, Upton adds his support for a UK-style independent Climate Commission and a Zero Carbon Act.

The new Labour-led Government has committed to net zero emissions in New Zealand by 2050, and is in the process of setting up an independent Climate Commission to oversee that.

Upton has given nine recommendations on the formation of the legislation, including setting effective carbon budgets, establishing a credible Commission, and ensuring that words are turned into action. He also emphasises the importance of addressing climate adaptation.

Greenpeace’s Norman says that while these are all worthy things, for the Commission to be truly effective it must also have the power to influence the price of carbon by changing the settings of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

"Currently the suggestion is that the Commission will advise the Government if it is not meeting the milestones needed to reach net zero carbon by 2050, and the Government will then have a window of opportunity to provide a response," he says.

"But for this Commission to actually reduce New Zealand’s emissions, we need it to be more than just talk and have some teeth. The time for a new climate talk shop has passed - the Commission needs the power to act.

"The Reserve Bank has the power to alter the official cash rate and require minimum deposits on housing loans to counter inflation and threats to fiscal stability. The Climate Commission should be able to act on the greatest threat to humanity - climate change - by adjusting the price of carbon.

"In practice what this could look like is if we’re not meeting certain milestones then the Commission could adjust the ETS’ settings, for example to accelerate the entry of agriculture, change the ratio of ETS credits needed per tonne of emissions, or change the exposure to the international carbon market. "

Norman says as a Pacific Island country on the frontlines of climate change, New Zealand needs to be acting faster.

"Just today we’ve seen there is yet another cyclone forming that could hit our Pacific Island neighbours, before heading our way. The Pacific community has only just recovered from Cyclone Gita, and before that, Cyclone Fehi."

As well as giving the new Climate Commission teeth, Norman says a serious response to climate change would require the Government to shut down any new oil, gas, and coal exploration or extraction.

"The world can’t afford to burn the majority of the fossil fuel reserves already discovered if we want to avoid extremely dangerous climate change - searching for more makes no sense," he says.

"Likewise we need to bring agriculture into the ETS urgently. We need to deal with our biggest emitters and start developing a just transition for those communities and workers affected.

"We have the ability and the resources to create a world-leading clean energy economy in New Zealand. Now we just need to get on with it and do it."