Unanimous support for landmark Zero Carbon Bill

New Zealand’s Zero Carbon Bill has passed its third reading with unanimous support. Laura Walters reports

The landmark Zero Carbon Bill has passed its third reading with the National Party throwing its support behind the climate action legislation at the last minute.

In a show of bipartisan consensus The Greens, Labour, New Zealand First and National all supported the bill through its final reading. With the bill’s only opponent, ACT’s David Seymour, not in the House, and no call for a party vote, the Zero Carbon Bill went through unopposed, on Thursday.

Just two days ago, Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick made international headlines for the two-word phrase, "OK, Boomer" thrown in rebuttal to heckling politicians, while she spoke on the Zero Carbon Bill.

The phrase has become a meme associated with the frustration at some people’s resistance to change – particularly those from older generations. And it speaks to a sometimes-rift between generations on key issues such as climate change.

But on Thursday, New Zealand was the first country to unanimously pass climate change legislation of this type.

The flagship bill to tackle climate change enshrines targets in law, and is one of the few to include the stipulation that targets will be set to keep warming within the crucial band of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The bill’s self-described 'guardian', Climate Change Minister James Shaw, said it was always intended to be a mechanism to transcend "petty politics", and he firmly believed the only way to make progress on climate action was through bipartisanship.

“Time is too short for resignation, things are too bad for pessimism, it is too big of a task for petty politics, it is too important for partisanship. These things we must transcend and transform,” he said in his speech to the House.

“My message to the school strikers, the millions of mothers, Generation Zero, and all of those people who have worked for decades... is, it worked."

For the past 30 years, the world had known about climate change, but politics had stymied action until now: “the 11th hour and 55th minute before midnight”, he said.

Shaw said New Zealand had led the world on nuclear disarmament and in getting women the vote, “and now we lead the world again”.

“This Bill belongs to New Zealand, and together we have ensured law that ensures we shift towards a low emissions country that keeps us all safe,” he said.

Both Shaw and Swarbrick had a message for activists who had campaigned for action on climate change: activism works, and when everyone partook in democracy, it worked for everyone.

“My message to the school strikers, the millions of mothers, Generation Zero, and all of those people who have worked for decades... is, it worked,” Shaw said.

“All of that work has paid off. We only got political consensus because the people of New Zealand demanded it.”

The thousands of Kiwis who have campaigned and marched for action on climate change received a clear message from Parliament: you are heard. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The Zero Carbon Bill was slow to get off the ground, and passed more than six months behind schedule, but on Thursday the Government fulfilled the crucial first promise in the Labour-Green Party confidence and supply agreement.

Under the law, there will be an independent climate change commission, which will advise governments on how to meet targets set in law by the bill.

Currently, those targets were net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and a reduction of between 24 and 47 per cent of methane emissions by 2050.

An additional methane reduction target of 10 percent below 2017 levels by 2030 is also included, with methane making up about half of the country’s emissions profile.

And last month, the Government made a concession to the farming lobby by delaying bringing agriculture into the Emissions Trading Scheme until 2025, as long as farmers made progress on finding ways to measure and price emissions at the farm level.

National’s last-minute decision to throw its support behind the bill was welcomed by both sides of the House.

“Compromise shouldn’t be a dirty word in politics.”

Leader Simon Bridges said there were parts of the bill National did not agree with, and if elected next year, the party would make seven changes it had sought to introduce through amendments earlier in the week.

He described the bill as a “product of compromise”.

“Compromise shouldn’t be a dirty word in politics.”

Bridges said he wanted to work with the Government to make changes going forward, to continue to get bipartisan progress on climate change.

Left the way it was, the law would hurt everyday New Zealanders, he said

“It will require us all to listen and engage respectfully, but the prize is too great not to try, and the consequences on our economy, jobs, and the environment are too serious if we don't do so responsibly.”

He also had a message for urbanites: “this isn’t all up to farmers”.

National leader Simon Bridges says there are some parts of the bill he doesn't agree with but compromises had to be made for something this important. Photo: Sam Sachdeva

“We all need to play our role: townies, city folk, Gen Y, Gen X, and the boomers.”

Shaw said the unanimous support for the legislation sent an important signal to farmers, as well as businesses, iwi, councils and investors, who may have been holding off investing for fear climate change regulations and legislation would change with political cycles.

National's support would lead to more making the move towards reducing their emissions, and investing in low-emissions technology.

DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle said the bipartisan support gave farmers certainty heading into the future, but, like the National Party, the dairy lobby group remained opposed to the current methane reduction range.

“When we think about climate change versus the nuclear-free moment, there are some differences, but there are some similarities, and one similarity is that a nuclear-free moment in New Zealand was something that unified us."

Both Shaw and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there were mechanisms within the law to change targets based on best advice from the soon-to-be instated Climate Commission.

The Prime Minister used her speech to the House to reiterate her belief climate change was this generation’s “nuclear free moment”, and said New Zealand would be a leader when it came to climate action, because it could not afford to be a “slow follower”.

“When we think about climate change versus the nuclear-free moment, there are some differences, but there are some similarities, and one similarity is that a nuclear-free moment in New Zealand was something that unified us," she said.

The bill received almost 11,000 submissions during the select committee process.

When the bill is given royal assent by the Governor-General, the Climate Commission will officially exist, with Rod Carr at the helm. The remaining commissioners are expected to be announced soon.

Help us create a sustainable future for independent local journalism

As New Zealand moves from crisis to recovery mode the need to support local industry has been brought into sharp relief.

As our journalists work to ask the hard questions about our recovery, we also look to you, our readers for support. Reader donations are critical to what we do. If you can help us, please click the button to ensure we can continue to provide quality independent journalism you can trust.


Newsroom does not allow comments directly on this website. We invite all readers who wish to discuss a story or leave a comment to visit us on Twitter or Facebook. We also welcome your news tips and feedback via email: contact@newsroom.co.nz. Thank you.

With thanks to our partners