New Zealand introduces climate bill to become carbon neutral

New Zealand Climate Change Minister James Shaw, left, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talk to reporters on Wednesday, May 8, 2019, in Wellington, New Zealand. The government has introduced an ambitious climate change bill which aims to make the nation carbon neutral by 2050 while giving some leeway to farmers.(AP Photo/Nick Perry)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand's government on Wednesday introduced an ambitious climate change bill that aims to make the nation mostly carbon neutral by 2050 while giving some leeway to farmers.

However, some farming industry groups say the measures remain too onerous and threaten the future of regional communities, while some environmentalists say the bill doesn't go far enough because there are no penalties for noncompliance.

The bill represents a campaign promise from the liberal government that was elected 18 months ago. The government has also promised to plant 1 billion trees over 10 years and ensure that the electricity grid runs entirely from renewable energy by 2035.

The bill would require all greenhouse gases except methane from animals to be reduced to net zero by 2050. Methane emissions would be reduced by 10 percent by 2030 and by between about one-quarter and one-half by 2050.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said climate change was the biggest single challenge facing the world.

"We know the climate is changing. People can see that," Ardern said. "This legislation makes a start on tackling climate change because the alternative is the catastrophic cost of doing nothing."

Agriculture is a key source of overseas revenue for New Zealand, which is home to just under 5 million people but more than 10 million cows and some 28 million sheep.

Those animals burp and fart methane, resulting in an unusual greenhouse gas emission profile for the country. Almost half of total emissions come from agriculture. The bill says the lower targets for methane reduction reflect that it stays in the atmosphere for a much shorter time than carbon dioxide.

Tim Ritchie, the chief executive of the Meat Industry Association, said meat processors and exporters are alarmed at the targets, which could only be achieved by reducing herds.

"This will impose enormous economic costs on the country and threaten many regional communities who depend on pastoral agriculture," he said in a release.

Meanwhile, Russel Norman, the executive director of Greenpeace in New Zealand, said the bill would have little clout because there was no mechanism to hold anybody to account.

To come into effect, the bill would need to be passed by a majority in the Parliament. A final vote is expected later this year.

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