Policy report

In 2008 the United Kingdom House of Commons voted overwhelmingly in support of a new climate change law. It is a law that sets up a process for reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the future – a process that endures through changing Governments.

Some have suggested that New Zealand should follow the UK and enact similar legislation. In this report, the Commissioner examines the merits of this proposal, and makes recommendations accordingly.

The proposal that New Zealand follow the UK’s approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is not new. For instance, Generation Zero has proposed a Zero Carbon Act. The Commissioner decided to examine the UK law in detail and consider whether New Zealand should adopt a similar approach.

What are the report’s main findings?

The Commissioner has recommended a new Act that is similar to the UK Climate Change Act 2008. The Act would put New Zealand’s emissions targets into law, and require the setting of carbon budgets that would act as stepping stones towards the targets. It would also establish a high-powered independent expert group that would crunch the numbers and provide objective and transparent advice. The Government would still be responsible for developing policies to reduce emissions.

What would this mean for business?

Businesses and investors are calling for more predictability in New Zealand’s response to climate change. Some are keen to take advantage of the opportunities of moving to a low-carbon economy, but they need more predictability before they invest. More predictability would also help them manage the risks.

Are any other countries taking this approach?

At least nine other countries have passed similar climate change laws – Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, Scotland, Sweden, and Switzerland. Each of these countries has:

  • Targets in legislation
  • Carbon budgets (or similar) to guide progress towards targets and avoid the need for abrupt transitions
  • Policies developed by Government to reach the targets
  • Independence and transparency in advice and/or monitoring

At least twelve states / provinces in the United States, Canada, and Australia also have these features in law. These are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Washington, Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Australian Capital Territory, South Australia and Victoria.

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