FAQs - Zero Carbon Act

Why should we aim for zero carbon by 2050?

Because there is a maximum amount of greenhouse gases we can emit to ensure a safe future for human life, and that limit is fast approaching. We can’t afford to aim for any less. In Paris last year, the world agreed to act to keep global warming to “well below 2°C”, with a goal of staying under 1.5°C. We have already exceeded one degree of warming. The evidence says we need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by around 2070 for a high chance of keeping global warming under 2°C - let alone 1.5°C. Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels need to reach zero sooner, by around 2050. As a well-off country with huge renewable energy potential and lots of land for tree planting, New Zealand can and should aim to achieve zero carbon by 2050.

What do you mean by zero carbon?

We mean New Zealand achieving zero net greenhouse gas emissions. New Zealand can achieve this by:

  • Phasing out fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) and transitioning to clean energy sources for our transport, heat and electricity.

  • Reducing other greenhouse gas emissions, particularly from agriculture, as much as we can.

  • Increasing permanent carbon sinks (such as forests) to offset the remaining greenhouse gas emissions we cannot avoid.

What about carbon trading?

Every country needs to make the transition to a zero carbon future. Carbon trading - if done ethically and with environmental integrity - can be part of the pathway, but it doesn’t replace the need to physically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we are emitting. So far our government has been relying on dodgy carbon credits and accounting tricks to avoid taking real action. That needs to stop.

How will the Zero Carbon Act work?

Like the UK Climate Change Act, it will be a legal framework to drive change. The UK Act does this by creating:

  1. An end goal - a 2050 emissions target set in domestic law;
  2. A pathway - a system of binding “carbon budgets” set at least 15 years in advance;
  3. A toolkit - a requirement that government brings forward a policy plan to hit carbon budgets;
  4. A monitoring framework - with the independent Committee on Climate Change to recommend carbon budgets and actions and monitor progress.

Watch this video of Professor Jim Skea, founding member of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change:
Click the video to play

What specific policies will this use?

While the Act doesn’t force the Government to take on any specific policies, it requires them to develop a clear plan to meet the targets. It maintains flexibility for the government of the day to choose its preferred policy mix. However, the independent climate commission helps to build a cross-party consensus on the best way to hit the targets.

Who else has set zero carbon goals?

Many countries have emissions targets coming close to zero by 2050.

  • The European Union as a bloc aims to reduce its emissions to 80-95% below 1990 levels by 2050.

  • Denmark has comprehensive plans to be fossil fuel free by 2050. Sweden aims to do the same.

  • Norway has agreed a goal of being carbon neutral by 2030 (although it will rely on buying carbon credits from other countries to achieve this in that timeframe). Following the Paris Agreement,

  • The UK has a legally binding target to reduce emissions by at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 under its Climate Change Act. Following the Paris Agreement, The UK Government is now discussing amending the Act with a zero carbon target.


Several cities and regions have also made zero carbon commitments.

Who supports having a zero carbon goal?

The World Bank - read here

The OECD - “If we are to succeed, every country should be able to explain how its policies will get it onto a trajectory that leads in the second half of this century to the elimination of fossil fuel emissions. Governments need to be held accountable.
Read more here.

The B Team - read here

The New Zealand Sustainable Business Council - “Our members are looking for a clear and ambitious pathway to net zero emissions by the second half of the century and a reduction in gross emissions domestically.”
Read more here.