Reducing Climate Harms

By David Tong – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Submission on the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill

This submission is from Professor Elizabeth Stanley and Dr Sarah Monod de Froideville. We are criminologists from the Institute of Criminology, School of Social and Cultural Studies, Victoria University of Wellington.

We support the intent of this Bill to mitigate the impacts of climate change by reducing New Zealand’s level of greenhouse gas emissions. We acknowledge the progressive elements in the Bill, including the establishment of an independent commission and the commitment, outside of this Bill, to achieving economy-wide reductions at a maximum level possible.

However, there are many elements in the Bill that are of concern. Specifically, the Bill does not appear to have considered the risks of climate change associated harm.

Evaluating the criminogenic consequences of climate change has become part of our work. Among other matters, it is predicted that climate change will result in:

  • Conflict, riots and theft as resources become increasingly scarce
  • Human trafficking associated with displaced peoples
  • Increased social anxiety about outsiders, and the proliferation of costly and exclusionary border controls, amidst social disorder
  • Financial fraud
  • Exploitation in illegal markets.

Those who are poor, female, indigenous and migrant are most likely to become victims of these harms (Hall & Farrall, 2013; White, 2018).

It is the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens, and global populations, from the excesses of climate change related victimisation. NZ must therefore ensure that its plan for mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change is robust.

Our particular concerns, and associated recommendations, are as follows:


  • There is no current establishment of a 2050 target that limits contributions to warming at no more than 1.5ºC. The Bill must target 1.5ºC as the limitation of warming. This reflects the recommendations of the authoritative yet deeply conservative reports that have emerged from the IPCC. The existing Bill will give some certainty, but there is a requirement to establish targets and budgets that will reflect the Bill’s purpose.
  • There are no interim targets for non-methane gases – we recommend that the Bill be revised to include a non-methane gas target of net zero before 2050, and to include a preliminary target of a 50% reduction of 2017 levels of non-methane gases by 2030.
  • There are no clear targets to ensure that methane emissions are consistent with the 1.5ºC target by 2050.

Limited Regard for The Treaty of Waitangi

  • That while there is a requirement on the Minister to recognise the impacts of climate change on Māori and to engage in consultation with iwi, there is no requirement to include iwi representatives on the Commission panel. The Bill does not currently integrate the Treaty into the government’s response. This Bill must fully honour the Treaty, and give effect to meaningful participation between iwi and Crown. Further, NZ’s climate change response must centralise tikanga Māori and mātauranga Māori.

Framework – Climate Commission

  • The Climate Commission must be fully independent of government. It must report to Parliament, instead of reporting to the Minister. Its funding must be safeguarded, to ensure that it cannot be subject to funding cuts. Further, Ministers must not be able to direct its focus of work.
  • The Commission must have regard to government policy when recommending unit supply settings and giving advice about NZ’s Paris Agreement obligations.
  • The Bill should impose a duty on the government of the day to respond to and act upon the advice of the Commission.
  • The Climate Commission should be required to track NZ’s carbon emissions, to demonstrate the work required to meet the 1.5ºC target (accounting for past emissions) at the earliest opportunity, and on an ongoing basis. This will provide utmost clarity to our situation and what is required.

Need to Develop a Whole-of-Government Approach

  • The government should have the responsibility of preparing the National Climate Risk Assessment (rather than the Climate Commission). The government is best placed to work with multiple councils, to coordinate data-sets, to inform the public, and to take on the risks of new information (e.g. around flood protections, or house price changes, following new data).
  • Mitigating and adapting to climate change should not rely solely on the discretionary efforts of specific government agencies, or on regional councils.

Limitations on Types of Emissions Included

  • It is not clear how the Bill will address deforestation as a contributing factor in climate change. Further, it presents a reliance on tree-planting as a means to offset emissions. We support increased forestation as one response. However, an over-reliance can pose risks, as trees are not permanent. They cannot be substituted for preventing emissions. In this respect, the Bill should be revised to include a gross emissions target (or a forestry offset cap) to limit an unsafe reliance on tree-planting.
  • The Bill does not address how NZ will address its share of international shipping and aviation emissions. These are significant sources of emissions, and should be covered in the legislation (e.g. see the UK’s recent Climate Change Act).
  • It is not clear how the Bill will address NZ’s impact on emissions offshore (the import and sale of goods manufactured in ways that increase greenhouse gas emissions or deforestation). This should be addressed in the Bill.

A Potential Reliance on International Off-sets

  • The Bill establishes that domestic targets must be met ‘as far as possible’. Given the crisis we face, this is not appropriate. We recommend that the Bill be revised to prohibit the use of international credits. This will promote long-term domestic certainty, and ensure that we prioritise domestic advances to cut emissions, rather than relying on other countries to provide offsets.

Limits of Legal Accountability

  • Targets and emissions budgets are only enforceable in law if a failure to meet a target is declared so by a court and the Government receives and then heeds advice to make an enforcement (s.5ZJ). Currently the Bill notes that courts can only issue a declaration of breach. Research in our field illustrates that regulatory approaches to addressing environmental harm must be coupled with a willingness to administer penalties in cases of non-compliance (White & Heckenberg, 2014). Section 5ZJ must be removed to allow courts to take further actions when targets are not met.


  • There are not yet clear timeframes established in the Bill to ensure that the government can appropriately prepare any policy plans. Budgets need to be costed well in advance. The Bill should be changed to ensure that government authorities always take targets and budgets into account (s5ZK).


  • The Bill revolves around the terminology of ‘climate change’. Given the fast pace of environmental shifts and related social harms, it would be appropriate to reframe this Bill and its contents in terms of ‘climate crisis’ or ‘climate emergency’.


Works cited

Hall, M., & Farrall, S. (2013). The criminogenic consequences of climate change: Blurring the boundaries between offenders and victims. In Routledge international handbook of green criminology (pp. 136-149). Routledge.

White, R. (2018). Climate change criminology. Policy Press.

White, R., & Heckenberg, D. (2014). Green criminology: An introduction to the study of environmental harm. Routledge.

Share This: