New Zealand set itself a goal on Monday to cut carbon emissions by between 10 and 20 percent by 2020, holding off setting a hard target until a broader global climate pact now under negotiation takes shape.
Business groups said it was a sensible range -- broadly in line with major emitters like Japan and the United States, as well as neighboring Australia -- but environmentalists said it was not tough enough to tackle climate change.
While New Zealand's emissions comprise less than 0.5 percent of mankind's greenhouse gas pollution, it is one of fewer than 40 rich nations bound by the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol to curb emissions and thus has an important role in helping shape the debate of a post-Kyoto deal due to be agreed at year's end in Copenhagen.
This target is internationally credible and both environmentally and economically responsible, Climate Change Minister Nick Smith said in a statement.
It is an ambitious but achievable goal, he said, adding the target would be achieved through domestic emission reductions, the storage of carbon in forests and the purchase of emission reductions from other countries.
New Zealand is also being closely watched since it is one of a handful of nations outside Europe trying to develop a national emissions trading scheme, a key measure in meeting its target and something it hopes to have in place by the end of this year.
A parliamentary committee that has been reviewing a package of laws on the proposed trading scheme is expected to release its report within a few weeks. A similar set of bills in Australia, which has said it could cut emissions by as much as 25 percent, has been stalled by political opposition.
USEFUL FIRST STEP
New Zealand faces a trickier task than most, with emissions already far above its current U.N. target and because about half of its greenhouse gas pollution comes from agriculture, which in turn provides about half its $29 billion in annual export earnings.
Emissions increased 24 percent from 1990 to 2008. Under Kyoto, its greenhouse gas emissions are supposed to show no increase from 1990 levels during the 2008-12 Kyoto period.
Smith made no mention of any concessions for agriculture, which is responsible for large amounts of methane emissions. Methane is about 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Poorer states want rich nations to agree to 2020 emissions cuts of 25-40 percent below 1990 levels. But most rich nations say this range is too tough to meet.
The 2020 emissions targets announced today represented a useful first step in the current international negotiations for a post-2012 climate change agreement, said Jonathan Boston, director of the Institute of Policy Studies at Victoria University of Wellington.
But he said New Zealand and many other developed countries would need take responsibility for reductions in emissions by 2020 of more than 20 percent to try to avoid the worst of the impacts from global warming.
It is to be hoped that the 10-20 percent target range is not the government's final position.
Greenpeace said the 10-20 percent range would mean New Zealand was not a constructive player at the Copenhagen meeting.
However, lobby group Business NZ said the target was a sensible balance, given New Zealand's unique status as a developed but agriculture-reliant economy.
($1 = NZ$1.49)