Submission on the Zero Carbon Bill
to the Environment Select Committee
Dr Robert Howell
5 Kanuka Road, Sandspit, RD2
094222 091, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Committee Members,
Thank you for the opportunity to make this submission. This issue is one of the most important that faces this Parliament and New Zealand, and the decisions made will determine our future existence in the most fundamental way. Because we as a country, and the world generally, have avoided facing the science and its implications for too long, many of the easy options for transition have gone. This Bill is therefore to be welcomed, but we will need radical changes to the way we live in New Zealand, if we are to avoid the threats that the climate crisis brings.
My expertise is in ethics and public policy, and I have written extensively about the relationship between science, economics and ethics, and the implications of this, particularly in the area of responsible investment .
A recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report
concluded that human activity has already caused about a 10C increase in global
temperatures compared to pre-industrial levels. It also states that an increase to
1.50C will be reached by 2030 if emissions continue to be released at the current
rate. Pathways limiting global warming to 1.50C with no or limited overshoot would
require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure
(including transport and buildings), and industrial systems .
Leading climate scientists had warned that the Earth is perilously close to breaking through a 1.50C upper limit for global warming, only eight months after the target was set in 2015. According to John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, to achieve a 1.50C by 2025 we will have to have closed down all coal-fired power stations across the planet. And by 2030 we will have to get rid of the combustion engine entirely. That decarbonisation will not guarantee a rise of no more than 1.50C, but it will give humanity a chance .
Despite the commitments made by each country in Paris, it is projected that global average temperatures will still increase to more than 30C over pre-industrial levels and we are currently tracking at 3.30C .
The above information indicates that the risk of climate warming and its consequences is very great, and that the time for avoiding widespread devastation through droughts, floods, storms, fires, hurricanes, and extreme weather events is very short. As David Wallace-Wells in The Unihabitable Earth states at the very beginning of his book
“It is worse, much worst, than you think” .
It will be unlikely and most probably impossible to avoid a 1.50C increase before or during the decade 2030. But because a 20C change will bring widespread ecological and economic damage, the Bill should aim to limit warming to 1.50C. The difference between achieving a 1.50C and 20C target is the death of 150 million people. That is the equivalent of 25 holocausts, 3 times the size of the death toll of the Great Leap Forward, and twice the number of deaths ocurring in World War 2 .
Mitigation alone will not be sufficent, and adaptation is also required (it is good to note that this responsibility is included in the Commission’s tasks). Targets for methane and non-methane gases should be required for 2030 and well as 2050. The emphasis should be on rapid action as soon as possible, rather than delaying the hard choices we face, to later decades.
If targets are not met, strong remedies are essential. Section 5ZJ must be removed to allow the court to take other steps than just declaring a breach. There should be strict timetables for the government to make and publish plans, and the government should take targets and budgets into account.
It is important for the Climate Commission to be fully independent from government. The Commission should report to Parliament, and its funding should be safegarded to avoid funding restrictions being used to curtail the Commission’s activities. However, the Government should be responsible for preparing a National Climate Risk Assessment rather than the Climate Commission (but with the help of the Commission). The Government has greater access to resources to do this.
While the use of forestry to offset emissions is desirable, they are not a ‘silver bullet’, and do not address the causes of the climate crisis. Efforts should be directed to stopping carbon emissions rather than ameliorating their effects. Aviation and shipping should be included within the ambit of the Bill.
 Howell, R. 2017. Investing in People and the Planet. ISBN 978-0-473-38418-0
 IPCC. Global Warming of 1.50C. Retrieved from https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/sites/2/2018/07/SR15_SPM_version_stand_alone_LR .pdf
 McKie, R. 6 August 2016. Scientists warn world will miss key climate target. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/aug/06/global-warming-target-miss-scientists warn?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+AUS+v1+-+AUS+morning+mail+callout&utm_term=184996&subid=16872&CMP=ema_632
 Climate Carbon Tracker Retrieved from https://climateactiontracker.org/
 Wallace-Wells, D. 2019. The Uninhabitable Earth. Allen Lane.
 Wallace-Wells op cit p28.