Nothing less than a Crisis

NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio, Key and Title by Eric Fisk [Public domain]
This submission on the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill urges the Government to get real about climate change and call it what it is – a crisis. Written by Roger Brooking from the Honours Programme at VUW. (Submissions close July 16)

Submission on the

Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill

The Problem with the Bill

In June 2018 the Ministry for the environment published a 61-page discussion document titled: Our Climate Your Say: Consultation on Zero Carbon Bill.  There is no mention of crisis or emergency in any of the 61 pages.   The nearest it gets is to state that The Zero Carbon Bill proposes a plan to: “better understand the risks and to plan for how we adapt to climate change.”

The Zero Carbon Bill in its present form does not acknowledge that New Zealand, let alone the world, is facing a crisis. The Bill does not mention the word crisis or emergency even once.

(Instead, it talks about establishing “a framework by which New Zealand can develop and implement clear and stable climate change policies that contribute to the global effort under the Paris agreement to limit global average temperature increase to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels.”

It contains different sections on providing independent expert advice to the government through the establishment of a Climate Change Commission, setting emissions reduction targets, stepping stones towards those targets and processes of adaptation.

 Four key recommendations 

  • That the name of the Bill is changed to Climate Crisis Response Bill and includes a declaration that we are facing a climate emergency. And that the name of the proposed Climate Change Commission is changed to the Climate Crisis Commission.


  • The Commission will be tasked with making recommendations to Government on how to deal with the crisis. That whichever recommendations the Government of the day decides to implement are made legally binding with significant financial penalties for companies, agencies, boards of directors and individuals who do not achieve them; and that penalties are reflective of the potential harm from said emissions OR are comparable to penalties for other grave harms; that the proposed Commission is given the power to impose penalties on agencies which do not comply.


  • That the strategies required to achieve emissions targets by a certain date include financial incentives for companies, agencies and individuals which buy-in early and achieve compliance well before the target date;


  • That regulatory impact statements (RIS) for all legislation proposed by Parliament (relating to any matter whatsoever) subsequent to passage of the Climate Crisis Response Bill be required to describe the likely contribution of any new policies or procedures introduced under the proposed legislation to future greenhouse gas emissions.


The reasoning

  • New Zealand contributes only 0.17% to total global emissions. In other words, our overall contribution to the problem is very small. This has the potential to lull public and politicians alike into believing that as a country, we are not responsible for global warming and therefore do not need to take the issue seriously.


  • This submission describes the numerous reasons why we need to take it seriously.


  • Prior to winning the election, Jacinda Ardern announced that climate change “is my generation’s nuclear-free moment, and I am determined that we will tackle it head on.” She was referring to the Government’s decision in 1984 to ban nuclear powered or nuclear armed ships from New Zealand ports. This decision was an act of self-determination and was viewed by the public as an important statement of national sovereignty. The nuclear free movement drew attention to New Zealand as a small country capable of standing on its own two feet against a perceived threat.[1]


  • Since then our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has earned substantial political and leadership capital following her response to the mosque murders in Christchurch. She was hailed by international media for the compassion she demonstrated to the families of the victims. New Zealand was lauded around the world for its immediate and dramatic response to ban assault rifles. It seems that when Jacinda Ardern speaks, the international community listens. So although our emissions are tiny compared to most other countries, New Zealand could still set a courageous example for other countries to follow.


  • Indeed, the Labour Party’s Climate Change manifesto lists one of its goals as “[Making] New Zealand a leader in the international fight against climate change, and in ensuring that the 2015 Paris Agreement is successfully implemented.”[2] How can New Zealand possibly be a leader in the international fight when as a country this bill fails to acknowledge that we are even facing an international crisis?


The evidence establishing a crisis


  • The IPCC says that the if greenhouse gas emissions continue on the current trajectory, the world will warm by 3.1 to 3.7°C by the end of the century and that even if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide today, the atmosphere would continue warming for at least another 40 years.[3] So sea levels will continue to rise. The IPCC says:


“Many aspects of climate change and associated impacts will continue for centuries, even if anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are stopped… It is virtually certain that global mean sea level rise will continue for many centuries beyond 2100, with the amount of rise dependent on future emissions”.[4]



  • The IPCC takes a conservative approach to future projections. In 2015, a study by Professor James Hansen of Columbia University and 16 other climate scientists said a sea level rise of three metres could be a reality by the end of the century. According to Hansen’s study, limiting global warming to two degrees “does not provide safety, as such warming would still likely yield sea level rise of several metres”.[6]


  • In the event of a three metre rise in sea levels, using Google Earth data and a three-metre water overlay, many of Auckland’s bays are flooded, the ports will be submerged, the CBD will be flooded, motorways will be cut off and, in some cases, entire suburbs are wiped off the map.[7] Tāmaki Drive is now regularly submerged by sea-water.[8]



  • In Dunedin, Civil Defence declared flood related emergencies between 2015 and 2017 linked to climate change.[11] In 2015, Environment Commissioner Dr Jan Wright released a report noting that Dunedin has more homes less than 50 centimetres above the high tide mark than any other New Zealand city.[12] The Insurance Council of New Zealand said the flooding in Dunedin in 2015 cost insurers $28 million.[13]


  • Sixty intellectually disabled residents and 30 staff at Clive in the Hawke’s Bay coast have already decided to move to higher ground after floods have threatened the institution three times in the past two years.[14] Management advised they will abandon the 11 residential buildings they operate over the next five years at a cost of $10.5 million as a result of rising seas.


  • A June 2013 report by environmental and engineering consultants, Tonkin and Taylor, for the Wellington City Council based on a 5 metre rise says: [15]


“Large areas of the CBD would be inundated, along with much of the low-lying area of Kilbirnie. Impacts will also be most financially significant in these suburbs, with damage to land, buildings and infrastructure of around $5bn in the CBD area alone”.


  • In Wellington, a 50cm to 1m rise in sea levels will expose about $1 billion of council transport and roading infrastructure, and $1b to $2b of water infrastructure.[16] A study, by Hutt City Council found large parts of Petone could be under water before the end of the century if climate change continues on its current path.[17] Another $26 billion worth of buildings (a further 70,490) would be in the risk zone if seas rose between 1-2 m. And a further $20 billion worth would be at risk if seas reached 2-3m higher, representing another 65,530 buildings.


  • The asset value of stormwater and wastewater assets in New Zealand is well over $20 billion. This includes 24,000 kilometres of public wastewater networks, with more than 3,000 pumping stations and over 17,000 kilometres of stormwater networks. It was never designed for the trials of climate change, from sea level rise to changes in rainfall frequency and intensity.


  • Sea level rise will affect all coastal water infrastructure and will likely result in increasing sewage overflows, the infiltration of wastewater into saltwater, the corrosion of pipes by salt water, and exposure to liquefaction. As many of our water networks rely on gravity to discharge into rivers or the ocean, sea level rise may cause them to fail.[18]


  • The Insurance Council estimated in November 2018 that $38 billion of New Zealand’s residential and commercial buildings may be at risk of flooding if sea levels rise one metre – representing 125,600 buildings.[19]


Is this possible?

  • A report in May 2019 by The National Centre for Climate Restoration in Australia, says that “feedback cycles could push warming to 3C by 2050, making climate change a near- to mid-term existential threat to human civilization”. [20]


  • The collapse of Arctic ice is happening faster than climate computer models predict. The Arctic has heated up by 2C above pre-industrial levels, twice the global average. Some hotspots, including parts of the Fram strait, have warmed by 4C.[21] A US Department of defence scenario depicts a two-meter rise in sea level by 2100 while an extreme scenario developed by a number of other US government agencies is 5 m by 2100.[22]


  • However, since 2014 there has been a dramatic plunge in sea ice around Antarctica – to the extent that Antarctica has lost as much sea ice in four years as the Arctic lost in 34 years.[23] Antarctica is on land so the melting of this ice has the greatest impact on seal levels. Research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters shows the amount of ice loss is doubling every decade, and sea level rise is now running at the extreme end of projections made just a few years ago. A complete loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet would drive global sea levels up by about five metres, drowning coastal cities around the world.[24]


  • Adam Sobel professor of applied physics & mathematics at Columbia University studies atmospheric and climate dynamics. He says by 2050 “we could see irreversible damage to global climate systems resulting in a world of chaos where political panic is the norm and we are on a path towards the end of civilization.”


  • Joseph Stiglitz is a Nobel laureate in economics, University Professor at Columbia University, and chief economist of the Roosevelt Institute, a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, a former chief economist of the World Bank.   “The climate emergency is our third world war. Our lives and civilization as we know it are at stake, just as they were in the Second World War.


  • Emeritus director of the Potsdam Institute, Prof Hans Schellnhuber, science advisor to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, recently said if we continued down this present path there was a real risk that human civilization would end. He says:


“Climate change is now reaching the end game where very soon, humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences.”[25]


  • Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, noted in 2013[26] that:


“The magnitude of environmental changes (in New Zealand) will depend in part on the global trajectories of greenhouse gas emissions (and that) effective risk management requires consid-eration of the possibility of experiencing more extreme components of the predictive range”. 


  • Because of global warming, climate change and rising sea levels the world is facing an existential threat – that is a threat to human existence on this planet. Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg, has done her best to make the world aware that we are facing a catastrophe of global proportions. Politicians and business leaders from around the world have expressed appreciation for her courage and her clarity in describing the severity of the problem.


  • United Nations says the world is at risk of climate apartheid because of global warming – the rich will be able to pay to escape heat and hunger caused by the escalating climate crisis while the rest of the world suffers. Human rights, democracy and the rule of law may not survive.[27] A report titled The Human Health Impacts of Climate Change for New Zealand says that the most vulnerable sectors likely to be affected are children, the elderly, those suffering with disabilities or chronic disease, and those on low-incomes. [28] This will inevitably have a disproportionate effect on Maori which will compromise the Government’s ability to address the continuing disparity between Maori and pakeha and its commitment to abide by its Treaty obligations.


The Bill should acknowledge there is a climate emergency or crisis


  • In conclusion, the Bill should be called The Climate Crisis Response Bill. Why? Because the situation clearly is an emergency. The entire world is facing a crisis – as described above.


  • Over 500 cities around the world have declared a climate emergency[29] including Nelson, Hawkes Bay, Christchurch, Auckland, Wellington, Kapiti and Hutt Valley. The City Councils are more likely to see the situation as a crisis because they will be left picking up the tab for most of the damage to local infrastructure.


  • In April 2019, Wales became the first country in the world to declare a climate emergency.[30] A few days later the United Kingdom, followed suit.[31] Ireland, Canada, and France have also declared climate emergencies.[32]


  • 53% of New Zealanders believe the Government should declare a climate emergency.[33] 52 of New Zealand’s top scientists, current and former winners of the prestigious Rutherford Discovery Fellowship, have publicly called on Government to declare a climate emergency.[34]


  • It is only by declaring a crisis or emergency that New Zealand will be able to justify introducing compulsory emissions targets. To quote Greta Thunberg: At TEDx in Stockholm, she said:

 “If humans are changing the whole climate of the Earth, why is it not headline news on every channel, why it is not at the top of every news agenda, ‘As if there was a world war going on.’

 “There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground. So we can’t change the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed. Everything needs to change, and it has to start today”.[1]

 “The climate is not going to collapse because some party got the most votes. The politics that’s needed to prevent the climate catastrophe—it doesn’t exist today. We need to change the system, as if we were in crisis, as if there were a war going on.”[2]

[1]    Why we all need to be more like Greta, Nine by Five Media, 30 December, 2018.

[2]    The Fifteen-Year-Old Climate Activist Who Is Demanding a New Kind of Politics. The New Yorker, 2 October 2018.

“For 25 years countless of people have stood in front of the United Nations climate conferences, asking our nation’s leaders to stop the emissions. But, clearly, this has not worked since the emissions just continue to rise…  And since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago”.[37]

  1. At the COP24 plenary session on 12 December she told the hall that they only spoke of green eternal economic growth, ‘because you are too scared of being unpopular.’ Driving the message home, she said, ‘You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.’[38]


The Commission’s recommendations need to be made compulsory

  • In the last 20 years, successive governments in New Zealand have signed up to at least 11 international agreements designed to reduce pollutants and emissions. [39] In 2016, we ratified the Paris Agreement with the intention of limiting global heating to 2 degrees C, and preferably 1.5°C.


  • The New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme has been the primary mechanism used to persuade New Zealand industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – which was introduced in 2008. Largely because of the allocation of free units, this mechanism has been an unmitigated failure. Between 1990 to 2017, New Zealand’s gross emissions increased by 23.1%. When the uptake of carbon dioxide by forests (sequestration) is taken into account, net emissions (including removals from land use and forestry) have also risen – by 64.9% since 1990.[40] [41]


  • Clearly, voluntary mechanisms and allocating free units to high emitters do not work. In 2017, CO2 emissions increased 1.6%. In 2018, they went up by 2.7% and are now at an all-time high of over 400 ppm.[42] Global emissions are increasing not decreasing. Similarly, New Zealand’s emissions are increasing not decreasing.


  • The Carbon Zero Bill as it currently stands continues the misguided assumption that voluntary targets and agreements will turn the problem around and terminate the climate crisis. Clearly, the last 25 years of scientific research and evidence, both internationally and in New Zealand, shows this is not the case. The situation is actually getting worse.


  • Independent scientific analysis by Climate Action Tracker notes that “The Bill does not introduce any policies to actually cut emissions”. It also rates New Zealand’s emissions targets as “insufficient” meaning that our goals are not “consistent with holding warming below 2C, let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5C limit”.[43]


  • As Einstein put it: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” The message is obvious. Unless we start doing things differently, nothing is likely to change.


In conclusion, we urge that…

  • The name of the Carbon Zero Bill be changed to Climate Crisis Response Bill; and that the Climate Change Commission be renamed the Climate Crisis Commission


  • That all recommendations which the Government of the day decides to implement made by the proposed Commission are made legally binding;


  • That where possible, the strategies adopted by the government of the day to achieve emissions targets by a certain date include financial incentives for early compliance;


  • That regulatory impact statements (RIS) for all subsequent legislation be required to describe the likely contribution of the proposed legislation to future greenhouse gas emissions.




Roger Brooking, Honours Criminology, VUW,

Rhianna Stevenson, Honours Criminology, VUW.

MacKenzie Gerrard, Honours Criminology, VUW.

Kalyani Blight, Honours Criminology, VUW.

Dr Sarah Monod de Froideville, Doctor of Philosophy, Criminology, VUW.

Ollie Langridge, CEO, TMU Ltd.


[1]    Clements, Kevin P. (1988). “New Zealand’s Role in Promoting a Nuclear-free Pacific”. Journal of Peace Research.

25 (4): 395–410.

[2]   Climate Change, New Zealand Labour Party Manifesto 2017.

[3]   Michael Hopkin, The Conversation

[4]   IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth

Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and

L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, p. 16.

[5]     Warne, K. (2015) Three Feet High & Rising, Rising Seas, Issue 136, Nov-Dec 2015.

[6]     Simulation shows ‘unavoidable’ 3m Auckland sea level rise. 1NewsNow, 25 July 2015.

[7]     Simulation shows ‘unavoidable’ 3m Auckland sea level rise. 1NewsNow, 25 July 2015.

[8]     Ministry for the Environment. 2019. Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill: Summary.

Wellington: Ministry for the Environment, p.4.

[9]     Dramatic map shows effects of sea level rise on NZ cities – is your town at risk? 1NewsNow 21 March 2017.

[10]     Warne, K. (2015) Three Feet High & Rising, Rising Seas, Issue 136, Nov-Dec 2015.

[11]   Free coal giveaway the day after Dunedin declares climate emergency, Stuff 26 June 2019

[12]   Risks to low-lying South Dunedin revealed in sea-level rise maps, Stuff, 4 April 2017

[13]   Dunedin flooding costs insurers $28 million, Stuff, 16 July, 2015.

[14]   Climate change forces disabled community of 60 people to move to higher ground. Stuff 25 June 2019.

[15]   Tonkin & Taylor, Sea Level Rise Options Analysis, Report for the Wellington City Council, June 2013

[16]   Huge costs loom for councils as sea levels rise, RNZ, 8 September 2018.

[17]   Lower Hutt suburb could be swallowed up by sea level rise in just 80 years, Stuff 28 November 2018.

[18]   Lorraine Taylor. Port Road: Climate risks at our urban edges. Deep South Challenge. May 2019.

[19]   125,000 buildings at risk from first metre of sea level rise, Newsroom, 21 November 2018

[20]    Spratt, D. & Dunlop. I. National Centre for climate restoration (2019). Existential climate -related security risk: a

scenario approach.

[21]    The end of the Arctic as we know it. The Guardian, 7 June 2019

[22]    Ibid. Spratt, D. & Dunlop, I. 2018

[23]    ‘Precipitous’ fall in Antarctic sea ice since 2014 revealed, The Guardian, 1 July 2019

[24]    ‘Extraordinary thinning’ of ice sheets revealed deep inside Antarctica, The Guardian 16 May 2019

[25]    Ibid. Spratt, D. And Dunlop, I. 2018

[26]      Sir Peter Gluckman, New Zealand’s changing climate and oceans: The impact of human activity and

implications for the future: An assessment of the current state of scientific knowledge by the Office of the

Chief Science Advisor, July 2013

[27]     ‘Climate apartheid’: UN expert says human rights may not survive, The Guardian 25 June 2019

[28]     Impacts of Climate Change for New Zealand Evidence Update Human Health Impacts of Climate

Change for New Zealand. The Royal Society, October 2017

[29]     Are councils walking the talk with the ‘climate emergency’? Stuff, 25 May 2019.

[30]    After 40 years of climate activism, I feel a surge of hope, The Guardian, 26 June 2019.

[31]    UK becomes first country to declare a ‘climate emergency. The Conversation. 2 May 2019.

[32]    More than 50 of New Zealand’s top scientists call on Government to declare climate emergency, Stuff, 2 July


[33]    It’s time for NZ to declare a climate emergency, majority of Kiwis say in new poll, OneNews 13 June 2019

[34]    More than 50 of New Zealand’s top scientists call on Government to declare climate emergency, Stuff, 2 July


[35]    Why we all need to be more like Greta, Nine by Five Media, 30 December, 2018.

[36]    The Fifteen-Year-Old Climate Activist Who Is Demanding a New Kind of Politics. The New Yorker, 2 October


[37]    Greta Thunberg speech to UN secretary general António Guterres, YouTube

[38]    Greta Thunberg COP24 statement, YouTube

[39]    Multilateral environmental agreements, Ministry for the Environment.

[40]    Toby Manhire cites NZ’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory in “Zero Carbon Bill revealed: everything you need to

know.” The Spinoff, 8 May 2019.

[41]    New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990–2017. Ministry for the Environment. April 2019

[42]    CO2 Emissions Reached an All-Time High in 2018. Scientific American. 6 December 2018.

[43]    Climate Change action: How NZ’s ‘insufficient’ targets stack up against other countries. Stuff, 22 June 2019




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