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New Zealand will not sign up for fresh commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, Climate Change Minister Tim Groser announced yesterday.
The climate change treaty's first commitment period expires at the end of the year and New Zealand expects to slightly exceed its target.
But it is joining Japan, Canada and Russia - and parting company with Europe and Australia - in pulling out of the Kyoto system going forward.
Groser said Kyoto would now cover only about 15 per cent of global emissions.
It was better to contribute to efforts under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to reach a deal that would tackle the lion's share of the problem.
There was just too much uncertainty about what would be achieved in international climate talks, and by when, for New Zealand to lock itself into another binding commitment, most likely until 2020.
"I don't think it is on balance in New Zealand's interests to be stuck in the Kyoto space for another eight years," Groser said. "I don't want to tie a future Government's hands to that for eight years."
Greens climate change spokesman Kennedy Graham said that meant committing to producing hot air at talks but not agreeing to legally binding measures to reduce emissions.
"Not content to pass a law [on Thursday] to gut New Zealand's emissions trading scheme, the National Government is now out to undermine any international credibility the nation ever had on climate change."
Graham said Australia - which yesterday said it would undertake commitments under Kyoto's second commitment period - understood that its businesses needed certainty for the future and that by acting now it could save money in the longer term.
Groser said participants in the ETS would notice no difference from proceeding down the conventional rather than the Kyoto track.
New Zealand would continue to have access to international carbon markets - which are creatures of the Kyoto Protocol - until 2015 when countries with obligations under the first commitment period square accounts with each other.
Beyond that there was a risk, he acknowledged, that access to those markets would be denied.
He thought that unlikely, though, as the exclusion of Japan in particular from the demand side of the market would be likely to kill it.
"But you can never rule out the irrational in international affairs."
Access to international carbon markets is one of the conditions the Government has attached to the pledge it has tabled to reduce emissions to between 10 and 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.
Asked when the Government would firm up a decision on that target, Groser said: "The intention is next year, and not late next year, we will have a discussion in Cabinet about that - once we can see what other countries are going to do."
He wanted to see precisely what the rules about access to carbon markets would be, and on the carry-over of surplus units from the first commitment period.
Groser said 2015 would be a big year for climate change. It would see the release of the next major report on the science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
It was also the target date countries had set themselves in Durban last year for concluding a single long-term global climate agreement.
- By Brian Fallow of the New Zealand Herald