Youth leading climate change action
If you want something profoundly important accomplished, here’s a recipe for success: Get young people to do it. And don’t pay them.
That seems to be the case with climate change action and the proposal for a Zero Carbon Act. Perhaps it’s enough for them just to know their future depends on it.
Generation Zero launched its blueprint for a Zero Carbon Act at Parliament in early April. Established in 2011, Generation Zero is a national organisation of young people committed to raising awareness about climate change issues and proposing practical solutions.
Their Zero Carbon Act is a response to the Paris Climate Accord, an international agreement to limit warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. This will require global CO2 emissions to reach net zero by early in the second half of the century, along with deep cuts in other greenhouse gas emissions.
The UK Climate Change Act, passed in 2008, is proof that such an approach can work. It allows politicians of all parties to think beyond election cycles and work together for a common cause. CO2 emissions have fallen 28 per cent since the act was passed, to a level last observed in 1894.
Similar legal frameworks are now in place in Finland, Denmark and Ireland, and in several jurisdictions in the US, Australia and Canada. Sweden will soon join in.
What would the proposed Zero Carbon Act entail? It would commit New Zealand to zero carbon by 2050, set a legally binding pathway to reach the target, and require the Government to make a plan.
It would set separate targets for long-lived greenhouse gases (like carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide) and short-lived ones (mainly methane). Sensitive to the particular impacts on agriculture, short-lived gases would have to be reduced to sustainable levels, but not zero.
The Act would require the establishment of an independent Climate Commission which would provide the Government with advice on targets and polices – and hold it accountable. This last point is crucial as the Accord allows for voluntary national emission reduction targets.
New Zealand’s current reduction target would see global warming likely exceed a catastrophic 3-4°C if all other countries had a similar level of commitment. In spite of this, Minister of Climate Change Issues Paula Bennett has called our reduction target ‘‘fair and ambitious’’.
Bennett has also said that an independent Climate Commission – which would ensure accountability and transparency – isn’t necessary. She has trotted out current and planned Government actions in response to a climate change lawsuit being taken against the Government by Hamilton student Sarah Thomson.
It would be great if the stated actions actually worked. Nine years under a National Government and our greenhouse gas emissions only continue to rise.
I’m all for the Zero Carbon Act. Climate change action is too important to leave to whether the Government-of-the-day cares or not.