Climate Change Policy Tracing: New Zealand Context

climate change

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) emerged as one of the Earth Summit’s results in 1992, when countries agreed to jointly collaborate to limit global temperature increases and mitigate other impacts of climate change. The purpose of the Convention is to stabilize Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emission at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system (UNFCCC 1992). As part of global commitment, New Zealand has set two national targets for reducing its GHG; (1) medium-term target of a 10 to 20 per cent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by 2020, and (2) long-term target of a 50 per cent reduction in net greenhouse gases from 1990 levels by 2050 (Ministry for the Environment 2009). New Zealand advancement in translating this MEA into national and local policy has been well recognized, though its effectiveness has not significantly presented, especially in agriculture sector.

The New Zealand Central Government carries out some strategies, policies and measures to achieve GHG reduction targets. The principal strategy is channeled through the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS), which allow New Zealand to achieve its target by purchasing emission reduction units in other countries. Other strategy is conducted through range of policies and measures across 5 sectors; energy, transportation, primary industry (including agriculture), forestry and waste. Up to December 2009, there are 21 policies and measures implemented by various Central Government Agencies to mitigate GHG emission (Ministry for the Environment 2009). All of those instruments could be categorized into 3 major approaches; advisory, economic/fiscal and regulatory (Barrow 1999). There are 5 out of 21 measures regarded as regulatory approach as it contains standards, restriction and licensing. One good example of strict regulatory measures is Waste Minimization Act (2008) since a fine is imposed to persons commit an offence. The other policies are either fiscal or advisory, or even combination of both approaches. The fiscal approach includes incentive, subsidies or a grant. It is widely used on energy and transport sectors, such as exempting electric vehicles from road-user charges. Bizarrely, agriculture sector which contribute almost half of total New Zealand emissions relies mostly on advisory approach. The key policy document on agriculture, Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change Plan of Action (2007), is based predominantly on information and education, advice, research or even voluntary methods.

New Zealand implements GHG emission mainly sits on its existing program, policies and structures. The Ministry for the Environment is taking a leading role to coordinate overall climate change program within various central government agencies and to report the progress as required by UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol (Climate Change Information New Zealand 9 August 2012). Other ministries are responsible to plan and implement emission reduction on their own sector, such as Ministry of Transport (2011) for transport, Ministry of Primary Industry (2007) for agriculture and forestry, and Ministry of Economic Development (2011) for energy. The reporting mechanism at the national level is well managed as division of role and responsibility is clear, institutional capacity is sufficient, and financially backed up. Some ministry are reporting GHG emission reduction regularly, for instance New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory (Ministry for the Environment 2012), Greenhouse Gas Emissions on energy sector (Ministry of Economic Development 2012), and a snapshot of decreasing amounts of carbon dioxide on Ministry of Transport’s (2012) annual report.

At another point, local authorities are expected to include GHG emission reduction on their policy statement and regular plan (Resource Management Act. 1991). Correspondingly, information and guidelines were provided by Ministry for the Environment (2004, 2008, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2010) to enable local authorities and communities to address climate change mitigation and adaptation. As result some regional and district/city councils have completed their climate change assessment impact (Ministry for the Environment 2009). Indeed, councils of Nelson City (2008), Palmerston City (2011), South Waikato (2008) and Wellington City (2010) have published their climate change action plan. Though, the effectiveness of local government effort in GHG reduction is questionable since most of the capacity, in term of financial and human resource, gathered at the national level. In spite of capacity shortage, scientific barriers and uneven level of awareness, many of local authorities are still actively engaging in emissions reductions in their respective regions and inserted climate change related effort on their report (Reisinger, Wratt et al. 2011).

The policy transformation from the Convention into national and local policy has been found effective in influencing institutional strengthening but the progress of GHG emission reduction against expected target is an uncertain. A review conducted by Jens Hoff (2010) identified some institutional strengthening evidence at local level, such as; various new department or position in charge for climate change were become available at some councils, climate change mitigation and adaptation have been include into the council‘s long term strategic plan, and increasing level of community awareness on climate change. On the contrary, the GHG emission trend is keep rising, especially on energy and agriculture sector. Although energy sector have shown significant progress through supply of renewable energy from geothermal generation, extra attention toward reduction of GHG emission should be made on agriculture sector (Ministry for the Environment 2012). In 2007, Nick Wilson and Molly Melhuish (2007) have warned that New Zealand is a relative left behind to respond to the threat of climate change compared to other developed countries. The same message is echoed by group of health professional, they urged for government’s immediate and bold action on climate change (Metcalfe, Woodward et al. 2009).

In New Zealand’s perspective, the GHG profile is unique as agriculture contributing 47.1 per cent or almost half of total emissions in 2010 (Ministry for the Environment 2012). Reducing GHG in agriculture sector is a challenge, since its sector is one of the main incomes, reaching more than half New Zealand’s total export value. So, it is reasonable if various research initiatives in agriculture sector have been extensively encouraged and sponsored by government. Even though New Zealand is considered as a leading country on climate change mitigation, long debate on agriculture sector shows neoliberalism stakeholders are reluctant to take the serious action. Some facts are coming from the key change on amendment of The Climate Change Response Act (2002), which postpones the start date for surrender obligations for biological emissions from agriculture. One of the reasons is due to lack of appropriate technologies option, in term of cost, applicability, and scale, to reduce the emissions at the moment. Other argument is, perhaps, aiming other countries which may not take appropriate measure on their agriculture emissions. So, why should New Zealander be concerned to reduce GHG emission, which debatable scientifically, while at the same time putting the economic at risk? This argument may got scientific back up from Hugh McDonald and Suzi Kerr (2011), who suggest, “New Zealand responses will need to be easily up- or downscaled, and adjust the intensity of response to the seriousness of climate change and other countries’ responses.”



Waste Minimisation Act. 2008.

Climate Change Response Act. 2002.

Resource Management Act. 1991.

BARROW, C.J., 1999. Environmental Management : Principles and Practice. London, GBR: Routledge.

CLIMATE CHANGE INFORMATION NEW ZEALAND, 9 August 2012-last update, Government – who does what?. Available: [03/28, 2013].

HOFF, J.V., 2010. Local Climate Change Protection Programmes in Australia and New Zealand: results, dilemmas and relevance for future actions.

MCDONALD, H. and KERR, S., 2011. Why do New Zealanders care about agricultural emissions? New Zealand Agricultural and Resource Economics Annual Conference, Nelson, NZ 2011, pp. 25-26.

METCALFE, S., WOODWARD, A., MACMILLAN, A., BAKER, M., HOWDEN-CHAPMAN, P., LINDSAY, G., HALES, S., SINCLAIR, D., JAINE, R., SPRINGFORD, L., HOLMES, A., LAKING, G., JONES, R., CARR, H., EDWARDS, R., SHAW, C., WELLS, S., HOSKING, J., FORDE, A., BISMARK, M., PALMER, S., KEATING, G., SIMPSON, J., HIGHTON, R., DHAR, D. and KANE, P., 2009. Why New Zealand must rapidly halve its greenhouse gas emissions. The New Zealand medical journal, 122(1304), pp. 72.

MINISTER OF TRANSPORT, 2011. Connecting New Zealand: A summary of the government’s policy direction for transport. Wellington: Minister of Transport.

MINISTRY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, 2012. New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990–2010. Wellington: Ministry for the Environment.

MINISTRY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, 2010. Preparing for future flooding: A guide for local government in New Zealand. Ministry for the Environment.

MINISTRY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, 2010. Tools for estimating the effects of climate change on flood flow: A guidance manual for local government in New Zealand. Wellington: Ministry for the Environment.

MINISTRY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, 2009. New Zealand’s Fifth National Communication under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Wellington: Ministry for the Environment.

MINISTRY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, 2009. Preparing for coastal change: A guide for local government in New Zealand. Ministry for the Environment.

MINISTRY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, 2008. Climate Change Effects and Impacts Assessment: A Guidance Manual for Local Government in New Zealand. 2nd Edition edn. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry for the Environment.

MINISTRY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, 2008. Preparing for climate change, a guide for local government in New Zealand. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry for the Environment.

MINISTRY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, 2004. Local Communities Planning for Climate Change. Wellington, New Zealand: New Zealand Climate Change Office.

MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FORESTRY, 2007. Sustainable land management and climate change, Plan of action. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

MINISTRY OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, 2012. New Zealand Energy: Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Wellington: Ministry of Economic Development.

MINISTRY OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, 2011. New Zealand Energy Strategy 2011–2021. Wellington: Ministry of Economic Development.

MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT, 2012. Annual Report 2011/12: Report of the Ministry of Transport for the year ended 30 June 2012. Wellington: Ministry of Transport.

NELSON CITY COUNCIL, 2008. Nelson City Climate Change Action Plan. Nelson City: Nelson City Council.

PALMERSTON NORTH CITY COUNCIL, 2011. Corporate Climate Change Action Plan. Palmerston North City Council.

REISINGER, A., WRATT, D., ALLAN, S. and  LARSEN, H., 2011. The role of local government in adapting to climate change: Lessons from New Zealand. Climate Change Adaptation in Developed Nations. Springer, pp. 303-319.

SOUTH WAIKATO DISTRICT COUNCIL, 2008. Corporate and Community Greenhouse Gas: Local Action Plan to Address Emissions from Energy. South Waikato District Council.

UNFCCC, 1992. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. , pp. 1-25.

WELLINGTON CITY COUNCIL, 2010. Wellington City’s 2010 Climate Change Action Plan. Wellington: Wellington City Council.

WILSON, N. and MELHUISH, M., 2007. Addressing the threat of climate change: is New Zealand lagging behind? The New Zealand medical journal, 120(1251), pp. U2479.

note picture taken from

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *