The transition to a low-emissions and climate-resilient Aotearoa New Zealand

New Zealand’s climate change programme will help us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and ensure a climate-resilient future for New Zealanders. 

About New Zealand’s climate change programme

Cabinet has agreed a framework for the whole of Government, which will drive our climate change policy towards low greenhouse gas emissions (emissions) and climate resilience in New Zealand.

The framework has a focus on:

  • leadership at home and internationally
  • a productive, sustainable and climate-resilient economy
  • a just and inclusive society.

It supports New Zealand’s commitments under the Paris Agreement, including our target of reducing emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 gross emissions (or 11 per cent below 1990 emissions) for the period 2021-2030.  

It also recognises that we need to adapt to climate change impacts to address the changes we are already seeing and will continue to encounter (even with a global reduction in future emissions).

Guided by the framework, the Government’s programme of work and initiatives below will help us reduce our emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change.

See Cabinet paper: Framework for climate change policy and key upcoming decisions

See Paris Agreement

See International targets.

Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act and independent Climate Change Commission

New Zealand is on the path to a low emissions, climate resilient future.

  • The Government is committed to New Zealand becoming a world leader in climate change action
  • A new domestic emissions reduction target by 2050 was set into law with the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act in November 2019
  • An independent Climate Change Commission was established in mid-December 2019 to provide advice to Government on climate change mitigation and adaptation, and to monitor progress towards the new 2050 target and emissions budgets.

Transition Hub

The role of the Government’s Transition Hub (hub) is to provide advice to the Government on how we transition to a low emissions economy. It also supports government sectors such as the energy, transport, built environment and waste sectors to make the transition. This includes making sure policies of the various sectors align. The hub is made up of people from government agencies in the natural resources sector.

The hub has coordinated the Government’s response to the New Zealand Productivity Commission's Low emissions economy final report [New Zealand Productivity Commission website]. The report provided recommendations on how to drive the transition to a low emissions economy. For the hub’s response see Government response to the New Zealand Productivity Commission Low Emissions Economy report.

However, making the transition is not just about what government does – we all (individuals, businesses and organisations) need to take action, and innovation and technology are key to the transition to a low-emissions economy. 

New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme

The New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS) is our key policy tool for:

  • reducing emissions 
  • meeting our emission reduction targets and future emissions budgets.  

In mid-2020, reforms were made to the NZ ETS to help New Zealand reach its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. The changes will also provide more certainty for businesses, make the scheme more accessible and improve its administration.

The Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading Reform) Amendment Act provides the legislative framework for the reforms. It enables regulations to be made which will contain the operational detail and settings for the scheme.  

For more information see Overview of the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme reforms.

Reducing emissions from agriculture

Nitrous oxide and methane from agriculture make up almost half of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

The Government consulted with the public from 16 July to 13 August 2019 on its proposals to reduce agricultural emissions. Following this, the Government decided to put a price on agricultural emissions from 2025.

In the interim, the Government has developed a joint action plan with iwi/Māori and the agriculture sector, and entered into a formal sector agreement based on the Primary Sector Leader Group’s proposal, He Waka Eke Noa.

For more information see He Waka Eke Noa - Primary Sector Climate Action Partnership.

The Government continues to invest in research and development to identify options to reduce agricultural emissions.

Key initiatives the Government is supporting include the following.

Offsetting emissions through forestry

Forestry is a major part of the economy and plays an important role in helping us meet our emission reduction targets.  It is one of New Zealand’s most important options to deliver low-cost carbon dioxide removals at scale.  

Forestry and the NZ ETS

Including post-1989 forestry in the NZ ETS gives landowners a financial benefit for the carbon their trees remove from the atmosphere. This helps encourage them to establish and manage forests in a way that increases carbon storage.  

One Billion Trees Fund

The Government’s One Billion Trees Fund [Te Uru Rākau Forestry New Zealand website] supports individuals and groups across New Zealand to plant trees and manage land sustainably.  The Government is introducing improvements to the NZ ETS to make it easier for foresters to participate in the scheme, and therefore increase the planting of new forests.  

Regulations are being developed to facilitate these improvements. This work is being led by the Ministry for Primary Industries. For more information see Emissions Trading Scheme improvements [Ministry for Primary Industries website].

International carbon markets: Supporting cooperation under the Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement recognises that countries will cooperate for higher ambition on climate change and to promote sustainable development and environmental integrity. Article 6 of the Paris Agreement [United Nations Climate Change website] is about the many ways countries can cooperate to reduce emissions and increase climate change action. 

The NZ ETS is currently closed to international carbon markets. The International Carbon Markets Project was established in 2016 to explore options for New Zealand to supplement domestic climate change action and forestry with high-integrity international emission reduction units in the 2020s. 

For more information, see New Zealand and international carbon markets or contact  

Adapting to the impacts of climate change

The climate is already changing and past emissions have already locked in further change. The pace and scale at which New Zealand will need to adapt will largely be driven by the world’s ability to meet the Paris Agreement goals of reducing emissions.

The First National Climate Change Risk Assessment for Aotearoa New Zealand is underway. It will be completed by the Ministry in mid-2020. The Risk Assessment will provide a national overview of the risks New Zealand faces from the impacts of climate change. It will enable the Government to prioritise action through the National Adaptation Plan. Work will begin on the National Adaptation Plan from mid-2020.

Local government entities have responsibilities under the Resource Management Act to prepare and respond to the impacts of climate change. The Ministry provides information to local government on dealing with the impacts of climate change. See Guidance for local government on preparing for climate change

Recommendations of the Climate Change Adaptation Technical Working Group

The Climate Change Adaptation Technical Working Group was set up in 2016 to provide advice on how New Zealand can adapt to the impacts of climate change while sustainably growing the economy. The group consisted of technical experts from a range of sectors (for more information, see Climate change adaptation technical working group).

Read the group's Stocktake report on the expected impacts of climate change in New Zealand, as well as its second and final report released in May 2018, which provides recommendations for the actions New Zealand needs to take to build resilience to the effects of climate change while growing the economy sustainably.

Climate finance: Investing in climate change action

‘Climate finance’ refers to all investment and expenditure, both public and private, that contributes to either climate mitigation or adaptation.

New Zealand recognises the importance of mobilising climate finance flows to achieve the transformational economic change anticipated by the Paris Agreement.

There is a wide range of activities being undertaken in New Zealand across the private and public sectors that can be considered to be domestic climate finance action.

The Government supported the introduction of the New Zealand Green Investment Fund [NZGIF website]. The purpose of the fund is to invest in assets that reduce carbon emissions. This will mobilise additional private capital to bring forward projects that support long term objectives for emissions reduction. It is proposed that the fund receive a $100m capital injection from Government and it operates independently.

The Government is proposing introducing a climate risk disclosure regime in New Zealand, see Climate-related financial disclosures: Our proposals, your views. This is an important enabling condition that would support the scaling up and directing of finance flows towards climate-aligned outcomes.

The Ministry for the Environment commissioned a report to gain a better understanding of the landscape of climate finance in New Zealand, see Climate Finance Landscape for Aotearoa New Zealand: A Preliminary Survey