Prime Minister John Key has defended the decision to not sign the second round of the Kyoto Protocol, saying New Zealand "never wanted to be a world leader in climate change".
New Zealand is breaking from Australia and another 36 countries to go with an alternate climate change 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 - which was previously slow to the party on the first Kyoto commitment period - pledged to support the second commitment period of the process.
Groser said New Zealand "will be aligning its climate change efforts with developed and developing economies which collectively are responsible for 85% of global emissions", including the US, Japan, China, India, Canada, Brazil and Russia.
Key told TV ONE's Breakfast "it makes sense" for New Zealand to be sitting with these countries.
Key said New Zealand is "a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of rural emissions", and the country already has an emissions trading scheme.
He said the previous government may have had a stronger emphasis on the climate change.
"But I think we never wanted to a world leader in climate change we've always wanted to be what is affectionately called a fast follower," Key said.
"My Government takes the view that we want to play our fair share, do our part, make sure we're sensible in this area, our image does matter and what we do environment matters a great deal but we also want jobs and we also want to make sure that we're not prioritising that over everything else and I think we've got that balance about right."
Key said from New Zealand's point of view he wants to see some of the rules that govern Kyoto change, including the rules that surround land use.
The Government's decision to abandon its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol has been widely criticised by environmental groups, with Greenpeace saying New Zealand is 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.
WWF New Zealand said it was "extremely disappointed that the New Zealand Government is not prepared to commit to legally binding action on climate change."
"The government's approach to climate policy is effectively telling the world we have no intention of reducing our emissions," Peter Hardstaff, climate change campaigner for WWF-New Zealand said.
Political condemnation was quick to surface as well, with the Labour Party calling it a "day of shame" where New Zealand's international reputation has taken a "massive" hit.
"To pull out of Kyoto the same day that Australia committed is humiliating," Labour's Climate Change spokesperson Moana Mackey said.
"National doesn't take climate change seriously. It has gutted the Emissions Trading Scheme and has now withdrawn from Kyoto commitments."
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 our 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 will continue to work closely with Australia.
The Government remains on track to formally commit to cut New Zealand's future emissions to between 10% and 20% below 1990 emissions levels, "once we know exactly what the final rules will be on some crucial technical issues."
- With BusinessDesk