NZ welcomes climate agreement

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New Zealand climate change ministers have welcomed the result of the UN Climate Change negotiations that ended in Durban Monday, despite "unanswered" questions and what they admitted was its inadequacy of the agreement in addressing climate change.

"This agreement meets all the realistic expectations the New Zealand delegation had when it arrived in South Africa two weeks ago," said Minister Responsible for International Climate Change Negotiations Tim Groser, who is joined by Smith as Minister for Climate Change Issues in the new Cabinet line-up announced Monday.

A statement from Smith and Groser said the agreement maintained the legal structure of the existing Kyoto Protocol, while improving rules in the treatment of land use and forestry, which made "more sense for New Zealand moving forward."

The statement said that Groser, at the request of the South African government, had facilitated negotiations on a more comprehensive international approach to combating climate change that the Kyoto deal by reinforcing commitments made in principle by all major emitters at Cancun last year for the period beyond 2012 to 2020.

Smith said New Zealand had a robust suite of climate change policies in place centered around the emissions trading scheme ( ETS), which the statement said, was described by the OECD in its November Environmental Outlook as the most developed and most comprehensive trading scheme in the world.

Both ministers said there were still important questions left unanswered, such as the date for the next Kyoto commitments still to be finalized, and the negotiations for the long-term regime beyond 2020 would be long and arduous.

The Durban texts themselves, which were "deep and complex agreements put together under great pressure, would unquestionably contain problems and issues which could not yet be seen clearly," said the statement.

"Most important, we, and no doubt Australia, will each need to make a decision in coming months whether to join Europe in inscribing our next set of international commitments within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol or to join all the developing countries, the United States, Canada, Japan, Russia and others, in making those commitments under the alternative transitional arrangements described in different texts.

"It is not a matter of whether we make commitments - New Zealand will - but where they are made and how ambitious we should be," said the statement. "Like all countries, we will need to take account of our national circumstances and compare our efforts to the efforts of others. We want to do our fair share, but it will not be clear for some time what exactly others will be committing to."

Groser said New Zealand's negotiating team "worked hand in glove" with its Australian counterparts, led by Greg Combet, Australian Minister for Climate Change.

"The cooperation at Durban will be matched by cooperation in domestic policy development. In particular, we will be exploring with Australia how to link in a practical way our two schemes, once the Australian scheme switches to a trading scheme in 2015," Smith said.

"We recognize that these developments, welcome though they are, still leave many important questions unanswered.

"Internationally, there will still be many concerned at the overall level of ambition being less than required for an adequate global response looking forward to 2050. "Equally, we can be certain that there will be concerns, particularly in developing countries that do not have well established climate change policies, that the Durban agreements may put too much adjustment pressures on them. While these conflicting concerns are legitimate, we can all move forward with increasing confidence given this outcome," Groser said.

Environmental campaigners and political opponents have criticized the New Zealand government for its negotiating position at the Durban talks

Green Party Climate Change spokesperson Kennedy Graham issued a statement Sunday, describing New Zealand as a "pariah" at the negotiations and criticizing its lack of commitment to a binding agreement.

"New Zealand is failing the test of responsible global citizenship by willfully opposing the more positive initiatives in Durban which might avert the worst of climate change, and would at least assist our Pacific Island neighbors adapt," said Graham.

"New Zealand negotiators have been intent on getting rules for forestry that might favor our own future pine plantation plans but which would be disastrous for tropical forestry where it really counts, globally. "As a result of our weak negotiating position, we have been heavily criticized by other countries and observers, and rightly so," said Graham.

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