Zero Carbon Bill ‘95 percent of the way there’

The long-awaited Zero Carbon Bill is inching closer, with Climate Change Minister James Shaw sufficiently confident with the state of negotiations to schedule an announcement this Friday to provide a timeframe for when the bill is likely to be introduced to Parliament. 

Shaw said the bill was “95 percent of the way there” and the fundamentals of the legislation were all in place.

The bill has been locked in contentious negotiations since last year.

The Zero Carbon Bill will establish an independent Climate Change Commission with the power to set emissions targets for New Zealand, which the Government will then be tasked with meeting. A similar approach has had success in the UK, which reduced emissions to 42 percent below 1990 levels by 2016.

The idea is to de-politicise climate change policy by ensuring a commitment from all parties to reduce emissions. Politicians are left to decide how to reduce emissions, rather than debating whether to bother at all. 

But just what the CCC looks like, what emissions are included in its target — or targets — and whether any targets are binding are all matters up for negotiation. 

The Government and the Opposition are keen for whatever legislation gets introduced to be bipartisan.

Shaw views this as central to the Bill’s survival. Legislation from just the Government could easily be repealed by a future Government. This is less likely if the bill carries the support of all the major parties. 

Timetable imminent

On Friday, Shaw will announce a rough timeframe for when the bill will be unveiled and introduced, as well as when changes to New Zealand’s Emissions Trading Scheme will be unveiled. He will also detail when the Government will respond to the Productivity Commission’s report on the transition to a low-emissions economy. 

Currently National’s Climate Change spokesperson Todd Muller is locked in negotiations with Shaw over the bill’s detail. 

As a bipartisan piece of legislation, it will not only pass through Cabinet committee and Cabinet itself before it reaches Parliament, it’s also likely the bill — or most of it — will have to head to National’s caucus before being revealed to the public. 

Muller currently has a mandate to negotiate with Shaw on behalf of National, but that does not necessarily mean the bill he comes back with will carry the support of the party's caucus. 

Muller's job is to negotiate along the lines of five principles, which include making space for technological innovation, not moving ahead of our major trading partners, and considering economic impacts of mitigation measures. 

Newsroom understands that when the bill is close to completion, but not necessarily complete, he will take what has been negotiated to the National Party caucus to secure its support. The bill can then be announced and introduced with bipartisan backing, making its longevity more likely.

Shaw said the outstanding issues were “mostly technical”. 

“As the old saying goes, the devil is in the detail,” he said. 

New Zealand First’s concerns resolved

The other unknown is New Zealand First. Stuff reported in January that the party had reservations over a Climate Change Commission’s ability to independently set emissions budgets like the Reserve Bank. The party is also worried about the effects on agriculture, and does not want a regime that involves that sector to the extent the Green Party would prefer.  

Newsroom understands these issues have now been resolved, meaning the remaining issues exist between the Government and the Opposition. 

Muller told Newsroom negotiations with the Government were open and ongoing.

“We are working towards a bipartisan solution and are optimistic we will be able to find a pathway forward to take the short-term politics out of what is a very complex long-term social, economic and environmental issue,” he said. 

While Muller would not detail the specific issues outstanding, he said that the bill had not been completely locked down. 

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” he said. 

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