Blog | Action on Climate Change: The Zero Carbon Bill

Blog | Action on Climate Change: The Zero Carbon Bill

By Katie Cammell

The Zero Carbon Bill was developed by Generation Zero, a national, youth-led organisation dedicated to achieving a zero carbon future in New Zealand. It aims to address the issue of climate change in New Zealand at a national level.

We are already seeing the effects of climate change in New Zealand, with potentially irreversible damage to the natural systems on which we depend.  Glacier melting, together with warming oceans, has driven a rise in sea levels of around 14-22 cm at four main ports in New Zealand since 1916. From 1977 to 2016, it is estimated that our glaciers lost almost 25 per cent (13.3 cubic kilometres) of their ice volume. By the end of this century, New Zealand is likely to experience higher temperatures, changes in wind and sea current patterns, rising sea levels, more frequent extreme weather events, and a change in rainfall patterns. This will adversely impact our native ecosystems, health and biosecurity, infrastructure, as well as agriculture and other climate-sensitive industries. The Zero Carbon Bill is the beginning of a conversation around climate change action in New Zealand.


The Paris Agreement

In December 2015, Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted the Paris Agreement, the new global agreement on climate change. The Agreement provides a legal framework for all countries to commit to taking action to address climate change. The purpose of the Agreement is to:

  • Strengthen the capacity of countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change;
  • Ensure financial support for the development of climate-resilient and low-carbon economies;
  • Limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C while maintaining the global average temperature which is  2 °C above pre-industrial levels.

New Zealand ratified the Paris Agreement in October 2016, meaning that New Zealand is committed to having a target for emissions reduction target that is regularly updated. Additionally, New Zealand is required to plan for adaptation; regularly report on our progress towards our emissions reduction targets, and continue providing financial assistance to support the mitigation and adaptation efforts of developing countries. The Zero Carbon Act is one way New Zealand can meet these obligations.

Generation Zero, creators of the Zero Carbon Bill, based it largely on the United Kingdom’s Climate Change Act, which they adapted to fit the New Zealand context. Since the implementation of the Climate Change Act in 2008, CO2 emissions in the UK have fallen 28% and are now at their lowest levels since 1894. The Act has broad support from various organisations in New Zealand, including an endorsement from the Young Nats, Young Labour, and the Young Greens.


What is the Zero Carbon Act?

The Zero Carbon Act aims to ensure New Zealand’s successful transition to zero carbon by:

  1. Establishing a target: commit to a legally binding target of net zero carbon by 2050 or sooner.
  2. Determining the answers: an independent Climate Commission will guide the transition by providing expert advice on targets, policies and climate risks while also holding the Government to account for meeting their carbon budgets.
  3. Creating a pathway: five-year emission limits (‘carbon budgets’) will ensure that New Zealand is on the right path to a zero carbon future.
  4. Staying accountable: the Government is required to produce a policy plan to meet the ‘carbon budgets’, and publish annual reports with updates on their progress.

Another key element of the Act is adapting to climate change. This will be achieved through a National Climate Risk Assessment, which will be prepared every five years with expert input from the Climate Commission. Additionally, an Adaptation Programme will be produced to address the climate risks identified by the National Climate Risk Assessment.

Moreover, in fulfilment of New Zealand’s obligation under the Paris Agreement to support global climate action, the Act will require the Government to produce annual reports covering international carbon trading, technology transfer, climate finance, and capacity building.

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The Esmonde Rd junction with the Northern Motorway is busy coming into the city in the early morning traffic chaos on the North Shore. PHOTO: Herald on Sunday

Too little, too late?

The Zero Carbon Act has faced criticism from OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council, an incorporated society of over 600 health professionals calling for urgent and fair climate action. They argue that while the target of zero emissions by 2050 is more ambitious than previous targets, the progress it pushes for is not urgent enough to address the increasingly adverse effects of climate change on vulnerable people. Dr Rhys Jones, the co-convenor of OraTaiao, stated that “because of our previous inaction, alongside inaction by other countries, New Zealand’s emissions now need to be net zero in the 2030s to meet our promises under the Paris Agreement. For the sake of our Pacific neighbours and others living in low-lying areas, we must reach net zero emissions faster.” Moreover, some climate advocates have critiqued the Act for failing to address issues like the dominant ‘car culture’ in New Zealand. Forest and Bird climate advocate Adelia Hallett argued that “we’ve got one of the highest rates of per capita emissions in the world. It’s time we really did something about that”.

What can I do about it?

So, you are concerned about climate change and support the Zero Carbon Act. But how can you make a difference?

Between June and July this year, thousands of New Zealanders gave their input on the Zero Carbon Act – 3,413 people made submissions through Generation Zero’s form alone. The Government is currently in the process of reviewing the submissions and drafting a Bill. Once the submissions have been analysed a summary will be released, and the Bill will be reviewed by a Select Committee from October 2018 until March 2019. Select Committees usually invite the public to make submissions and comment on the Bill at public hearings. If you missed the opportunity to make a submission earlier in the year, the Select Committee stage is a good chance to get involved. Once the Bill reaches the Second Reading in the House of Representatives, the public can lobby Members of Parliament to accept or reject the Bill. You can find more information on how to contact an MP here.


Together with the recent ban on single-use plastic bags, the Zero Carbon Act marks a shift in attitudes towards climate change in New Zealand whereby the Government has taken on a more active role in regulating sustainable consumption practices and carbon emissions. Whether you believe the Act will be effective in addressing climate change or not, it is a major piece of legislation that we should keep an eye out for in the coming months.


[1] Ministry for the Environment & Statistics New Zealand. New Zealand’s Environmental Reporting Series: Our atmosphere and climate 2017. 2017. Retrieved from

[2] Ministry for the Environment. ‘New Zealand’s Atmosphere and Climate at a Glance’. Retrieved from

[3] Ministry for the Environment. ‘Evidence for Climate Change’. Retrieved from

[4] ibid.

[5] Ministry for the Environment. ‘About the Paris Agreement’. Retrieved from

[6] ibid.

[7] Zero Carbon Act NZ. ‘About’. Retrieved from

[8] ibid.

[9] Zero Carbon Act NZ. ‘International Case Studies’. Retrieved from

[10] Zero Carbon Act NZ. ‘Who Supports the Zero Carbon Act?’. Retrieved from

[11]  Zero Carbon Act NZ. ‘Getting Us to Zero Carbon’. Retrieved from; ‘Zero Carbon Act Summary Paper’. Retrieved from

[12] Zero Carbon Act NZ. ‘Zero Carbon Act Summary Paper’. Retrieved from

[13] ibid.

[14] Generation Zero. ‘Zero Carbon Act Submission’. Retrieved from

The Public Policy Club is a non-partisan club at the University of Auckland that aims to encourage, educate and involve students from all backgrounds in the education and development of political knowledge. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PPC.

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