Net zero targets
We evaluate the net zero target as: Poor.
New Zealand passed its Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act in 2019, which sets a target for all greenhouse gases except for biogenic methane – methane from agriculture and waste – to reach net zero by 2050 (Government of New Zealand 2019a). There is a separate target for biogenic methane emissions to be 24-47% below 2017 levels by 2050. The minister of climate change has recommended moving to an all gas net zero target, but the government has not yet acted on this recommendation.
The Act established the Climate Change Commission (CCC) an advisory body that reviews and, if “significant change has occurred”, proposes changes to the net zero target. Interim five-yearly emissions budgets are also mandated by the Act, which must be accompanied by supporting policies and strategies that draw on the Commission’s advice. The CCC advice to government in June 2021 recommended five year emissions budgets from 2022 to 2035 to chart New Zealand’s course to meet the 2050 targets (Climate Change Commission 2021). In May 2022, the Government published the first three emissions budgets to cut its emissions by around 35% by 2035, which is 2.3% lower than the recommendation of the Commission.
Earlier in 2021, it was pointed out by the Lawyers for Climate Action (LCANZI) that CCC’s carbon budget was not 1.5°C compatible (LCANZI 2021), and the organisation took the government to court over it. The High Court judgment said that the Zero Carbon Act's references to limiting global warming to 1.5°C were merely "aspirational" and did not impose a legally binding obligation on the government (Daalder 2022).
In November 2021, New Zealand submitted its Long Term Low Emissions Development Strategy (LTS) to UNFCCC (Ministry for the Environment 2021e). In the LTS, the government has presented a framework for net zero target including five year review cycles with corresponding emissions budgets. The LTS has identified action areas for key sectors without going into details of the emissions reduction potential of those strategies.
New Zealand’s net zero target performs poorly in terms of its scope, target architecture and transparency. While the target architecture of New Zealand’s net zero target is relatively strong, it does not follow good practice on a number of elements. In addition to biogenic methane, international aviation and shipping also remain outside the target’s scope, and the government plans to buy a significant amount of international offset credits to meet its net zero target (New Zealand Government 2020a).
The transparency of the target is also poor, with unclear assumptions of the role of carbon dioxide removal or the land sector, and no clarity on how the government has assessed the target to be a fair contribution.
CAT analysis of net zero target
Ten key elements
- Target year – New Zealand aims to reach net zero by 2050.
- Emissions coverage – New Zealand’s 2050 net-zero target excludes biogenic methane from agriculture and waste, which are to be separately reduced by 24-47% below 2017 levels by 2050 (Government of New Zealand 2019a). These methane emissions in 2021 make up over 40% of New Zealand’s emissions (Ministry for the Environment 2022g). Cabinet minutes released in January 2022 show that the climate change minister had recommended moving to an all gas net zero target before COP26 in 2021, however the government did not take up his advice (Ministry for the Environment 2022a).
- International aviation and shipping – The target excludes both international aviation and shipping. The Act obliges the Commission to provide advice on whether and how the target should be amended to include emissions from international shipping and aviation by, latest, 31 December 2024.
- Reductions or removals outside of own borders – New Zealand reserves the right to the use of international offset credits to meet its net zero target in the case of a significant change of circumstance (Government of New Zealand 2019b). It intends to purchase a sizeable proportion of international offsets to meet its 2030 emissions target (see the targets tab for more details).
In its LTS, New Zealand has further highlighted the need for so-called offshore mitigation action to meet both its NDC targets and net zero target for unavoidable emissions (Ministry for the Environment 2021e). New Zealand will release subsequent emissions budgets starting from 2025. It remains unclear how offshore mitigation action will be used towards 2050 to meet its net zero target.
- Legal status – New Zealand enshrined its net zero target into law in 2019 (Government of New Zealand 2019a) and submitted its LTS to the UNFCCC in November 2021 (Ministry for the Environment 2021e).
- Separate reduction & removal targets – New Zealand does not have separate emission reduction and removal targets.
- Review process – New Zealand’s Zero Carbon Act sets up a legally binding process to review the net zero target. An independent Climate Change Commission (CCC), established under the Act, will review and, if necessary, propose revisions to the target. The CCC will also monitor progress towards interim five-yearly emissions budgets. However, its recommendations are not binding on the government. Recently, the High Court confirmed the legality of the advice provided by the CCC in enhancing New Zealand’s NDC and first three emissions budget, and confirmed that the 1.5˚C goal enshrined in the Zero Carbon Act was merely “aspirational” (New Zealand Government 2022c).
- Carbon dioxide removal – New Zealand does not provide transparent assumptions on how the land sector and carbon dioxide removal will be used to meet its target in the Zero Carbon Act. There is a provision in the Act that says that the Climate Change Commission may recommend a limit on the use of removals towards the target in the future, but there is no such limit at present. In its LTS, New Zealand stated that removals will be used only for unavoidable emissions without providing specific information on what the government considers unavoidable (Ministry for the Environment 2021e).
- Comprehensive planning – New Zealand will set interim five-year long emissions budgets, with three such budgets being in place at any one time to give a clear path over the next 10–15 years (New Zealand Ministry for the Environment 2019). Before the start of each budget period, the government will need to lay out the supporting policies and strategies that will be used to meet the budget, drawing from the advice of the Climate Change Commission. The government published the first three emissions budgets in 2022 and plans to cut its emissions by around 35% by 2035 (New Zealand Government 2022k).
In its LTS, the government has provided sector specific action areas and strategies for the key sectors both in short- and long-term, without mentioning the mitigation potential of those strategies. It also does not provide any modelled emissions pathway to 2050 informing its planning to achieving net zero.
- Clarity on fairness of target – New Zealand has neither provided an explanation for why its net zero target is a fair contribution to meeting the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit nor how they will address the gap between their realistic net zero target and their fair contribution. In its LTS, New Zealand has referred to the fair and inclusive transition plan at the domestic level by partnering with Māori.
The Climate Action Tracker has defined the following good practice for all ten key elements of net zero targets. Countries can refer to this good practice to design or enhance their net zero targets.
Subscribe to our newsletter