Speaking at New Zealand's Climate Change Research Institute Forum Thursday, Climate Change Minister Nick Smith said that feedback from a recent survey supported setting a long-term emissions reduction target, with responses ranging from skepticism about climate change to those who wanted a much stronger target.
"We believe a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050 … strikes the right balance. It has New Zealand doing our fair share and is comparable with the targets set by our major trading partners," Smith said.
But environmental group WWF of New Zealand said the target was ''totally inadequate."
"The science tells us we need to reduce emissions by at least 80 percent below 1990 levels if we are to head off runaway climate change. Now is the time for action not empty promises," WWF climate change manager Peter Hardstaff said in a statement.
Many of the government's current policies, he said, are putting the country on a course to increase emissions, such as allowing state-owned Solid Energy to follow through with plans to convert lignite into liquid fuel. If this fuel replaces diesel from crude oil, New Zealand's total emissions could increase by as much as 10 percent, he said.
Noting that there would be 13 elections in New Zealand by 2050, Hardstaff said the government should instead set milestones for greenhouse gas reductions every three to five years.
But Smith said the new target would need to be regularly reviewed to take into account the latest science, development of new technologies and progress by other countries.
"New Zealand's contribution to global emissions is very small and our objective should be neither to lead nor lag but do our fair share," Smith said.
New Zealand's emissions, nearly half of which come from agriculture, have increased by 25 percent in the last 20 years.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, the country's net greenhouse gas emissions must be at the 1990 level by next year, a target that is widely expected to be achieved.
Smith said the government had invested in several programs aimed at cutting emissions, including funding home insulation, solar water heating systems, biofuels, electric cars and the electrification of the Auckland rail system.
Smith said that halving New Zealand's emissions would require "major changes" in the economy over the next 40 years.