WELLINGTON, Nov. 9 (Xinhua) -- The New Zealand government announced Friday it would not be signing up to a second commitment period on greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, opting instead for a non-binding pledge.
Climate Change Minister Tim Groser said New Zealand would take an emissions pledge under the United Nations Framework Agreement on Climate Change from Jan. 1 next year.
The controversial move would align New Zealand's climate change efforts with a group of developed and developing countries that were collectively responsible for 85 percent of global emissions.
These countries included the United States, Japan, China, India, Canada, Brazil and Russia.
"I want to emphasize that New Zealand stands 100-percent behind its existing Kyoto Protocol commitment," Groser said in a statement.
"We are on track to achieving our target indeed we are forecasting a projected surplus of 23.1 million tonnes. Furthermore, we will remain full members of the Kyoto Protocol. There is no question of withdrawing. The issue was always different: where would we take our next commitment under the Kyoto Protocol or under the Convention with the large majority of economies? We have decided that it is New Zealand's best interests to do the latter," said Groser.
"It is our intention to apply the broad Kyoto Framework of rules to our next commitment. This will ensure that at least New Zealand has started a process of carrying forward the structure created under the Kyoto Framework into the broader Convention Framework. This had been a point of principle of some importance to many developing countries. It would also mean that there would be no changes in domestic policy settings which had been modeled on the Kyoto Protocol rules."
The next decision would be to set a formal target for New Zealand's future emissions track through to 2020 to sit alongside its conditional offer to reduce emissions between 10 percent and 20 percent below 1990 levels.
"Cabinet has agreed in principle to set that target once we know exactly what the final rules will be on some crucial technical issues, including access to international carbon markets. "
Opposition political parties and environmental campaign groups condemned the government's decision, which follows the passage of the Emissions Trading Scheme Bill legislation that has widely criticized for watering down requirements for businesses joining the scheme.
The main opposition Labor Party said the center-right National Party government had humiliated the country on the same day that neighboring Australia and 36 other nations committed to the Kyoto Protocol.
"National doesn't take climate change seriously. It has gutted the emissions trading scheme and has now withdrawn from Kyoto commitments," Labor climate change spokesperson Moana Mackey said in a statement.
"There is no longer an effective tool for limiting our gross carbon emissions."
The opposition Green Party climate change spokesperson, Kennedy Graham, said New Zealand's clean and green reputation and economy were at risk with the decision.
"In his statement Tim Groser talks about aligning with 'major economies' omitting that many other countries, and the European Union, are in the pro-Kyoto camp and want to take real action to combat climate change," Graham said in a statement.
"Australia understands that its businesses need certainty for the future and that by acting now it can save money."
International conservation group WWF called on the New Zealand government to set a legally binding commitment and policies to cut emissions.
Greenpeace New Zealand said the backwards move could do irreparable damage to the country's global standing and economy.
According to the United Nations, the major distinction between the Protocol and the Convention is that the Convention just encourages industrialized countries to stabilize emissions, while the Protocol commits them to doing so.
Adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 and implemented in 2005, the Protocol recognized that developed countries, such as New Zealand, were principally responsible for the high level of emissions and placed a greater burden on them under the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities."