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Wonky carbon accounting hides New Zealand’s feeble Paris commitment

New Zealand’s commitment under the Paris Agreement, as stated in our Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) (1), which became our Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) after we ratified the agreement in October 2016 (2), reads as follows:

Emissions will be reduced to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. The 2005 reference has been chosen for ease of comparability with other countries. This responsibility target corresponds to a reduction of 11% from 1990 levels.

At face value, the above statement appears clear and understandable, but it is actually quite unclear because there are two accepted measures for emissions: gross or total emissions; and net emissions which are total emissions less deductions allowed for land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF), which in our case relate mainly to carbon dioxide taken out of the atmosphere by trees. Neither the New Zealand INDC, nor the supplementary NDC documentation, state clearly whether we are using gross emissions, net emissions, a mix of these, or some other measure to define our Paris target. Continue reading