(BusinessDesk) New Zealand is abandoning its pursuit of a second Commitment Period under the Kyoto Protocol governing global action on climate change, plumping instead for a competing initiative that involves the major emitters seen as crucial to any new global deal: the US and China.
The move, announced by International Climate Change Negotiations Minister Tim Groser, came just hours after Australia - previously slow to the party on the first Kyoto commitment period - pledged to support the Kyoto 2 process.
The reversal in trans-Tasman positions comes as Australia seeks to implement an emissions trading scheme from 2015 which could, in theory, mesh with New Zealand's, and in the same week as Wellington pushed through controversial legislation watering down the local ETS indefinitely.
Groser said "New Zealand "will be aligning its climate change efforts with developed and developing economies which collectively are responsible for 85 percent of global emissions", including the US, Japan, China, India, Canada, Brazil and Russia.
The decision caused immediate dismay among environmental lobbyists, with Greenpeace saying New Zealand was turning its back on Kyoto "to join an infamous club of the world's dirtiest economies and most belligerent climate wreckers" by deciding to take its next commitment under the United Nations Framework Commitment on climate change.
The decision follows Barack Obama's re-election US president this week. Obama lifted activists' hopes by referring to tackling climate change in his acceptance speech, which came days after Hurricane Sandy devastated swathes of the heavily populated north-eastern US seaboard, igniting US public debate about climate change action.
However, the US has never signed up to the Kyoto Protocol and is pursuing climate change initiatives under the UN Framework Convention.
Groser indicated the government would continue to adhere to the international obligations it has signed up to under the First Commitment Period of the Kyoto Protocol, which runs from 2008 to the end of this year. New Zealand expects to report a small surplus of 23.1 million tonnes of carbon, but faces a massive increase in carbon liabilities later this decade when plantation forestry is due for harvest.
It was also New Zealand's "intention to apply the broad Kyoto Framework of rules to out next commitment," said Groser. Such an approach is understood to be essential if New Zealand is to keep access to various special rules it has fought hard to win in Kyoto negotiations, including the right to count carbon sequestered in timber against carbon reduction targets.
The move puts New Zealand on a different path from two of the only other parts of the world with ETS-style carbon schemes. The European Union and Australia are committed to the second commitment period negotiations under the Kyoto Protocol.
Groser acknowledged the difference, saying "Australia currently has a different set of domestic policies in place, at least until 2015, when the fixed priced regime is intended to be replaced by an ETS."
New Zealand would continue to work closely with Australia.
The government remained on track to formally commit to cut New Zealand's future emissions to between 10 per cent and 20 percent below 1990 emissions levels, "once we know exactly what the final rules will be on some crucial technical issues."