National's Climate Change team; spokesperson Scott Simpson with Agriculture spokesman Todd Muller (back)

National called a special caucus meeting late last night to decide whether to abandon its support for the Zero Carbon Bill.

The party is keeping the decision tight, but if they have decided to vote against the Bill, that would end any chance of it being called a bipartisan initiative.

But  POLITIK understands that senior figures in the caucus are likely to recommend that the party support the Bill.

They will argue that instead of opposing it they should include the changes they want in their 2020 election manifesto.

National’s caucus has long been divided over the Bill.

Judith Collins has been threatening to cross the floor of the House to oppose, but POLITIK has been told she has now agreed not to do that.

The party  has been under pressure from farmer and others to vote against the Bill  after what some sources have described as the Government “stopping listening” to the agriculture lobby who want stronger assurances that the post 2030 methane targets will be reviewed.

But the Labour part of the Government is caught between its coalition partners.

The Greens — and Climate Change Minister, James Shaw, in particular — need a win on the Bill.

They have already had to agree to a backdown on putting agriculture into the Emissions Trading Scheme.

Meanwhile, New Zealand First is not saying what it would do, but it would seem likely they will the opposite of whatever National decides.

National itself was coming under pressure yesterday to oppose the Bill.

The right-wing  New Zealand Centre for Political Research run by former ACT MP, Muriel Newman, was urging its supporters late yesterday to contact National MPs to tell them to oppose the Bill.

Speaking in the  Bill’s second reading in Parliament on Tuesday, National’s Climate Change spokesperson, Scott Simpson said National maintained its five bottom lines — the most important of which is that it wants the role of the Climate Change Commission in advising the Government on targets strengthened.

NZ First opposes that.

“ I think what’s important for the House to know is that the National Party has entered into this bill on the basis of good faith, on a sensible, balanced, pragmatic approach where we want to engage with the Government to try and achieve a result that can be, if it could possibly be, bipartisan and across the House,” said Simpson.

National’s main objection is that the inclusion of specific targets within the Bill for the methane reduction by 2050.

Agriculture organisations have been lobbying the Government in recent days to have the proposed 24 – 47 per cent target range stretched to a  lower start point with the final recommendation to be made by the Independent Climate Change Commission in 2021 rather than 2024 as is proposed in the Bill.

National’s former Climate Change spokesperson, Todd Muller, who developed the party’s support for a bipartisan approach on climate change pointed  the finger at NZ First during the debate on Tuesday.

“I’m struck by the fact that what we have seen here is an ongoing wrestle between the character and integrity and willingness to reflect on other people’s perspectives, as personified by the Minister for Climate Change, and the random, pock-marked, irrelevant-at-times, highly partisan political contributions from New Zealand First, which at every point of the process has sought to derail that consensus,” he said.

Muller said the consensus was potentially still in front of Parliament.

He  repeated National’s call for change on the post-2030 methane targets.

“The target for the biological methane reduction, looking out to 2050, is to be recommended by the independent Climate Change Commission, as opposed to the target range that’s in the Bill

“The precise purpose of establishing this commission is that they not only provide the capacity to review these targets—for both the methane and the CO2—but to change them if necessary.

“We are giving them the power to do this every five years.

“We are asking them to start this journey by confirming what the target should be—not acceptable.”

Muller’s voice in National’s internal debate willhave been important; he is currently the agriculture spokesperson. He has won strong support for his stance on climate change from the party’s rural base.

But he is also a potential leadership rival to Simon Bridges and Bridges’ response to him can sometimes appear to be tempered by that rivalry.

Bridges himself will be well aware of polling which shows that National cannot afford to be seen as climate change deniers if they wish to increase their vote in Auckland.

That desire for a bipartisan Bill was clearly evident in a speech by Wellignton list MP, Nicola Willis, a member of National’s liberal urban faction..

“Because we’re an optimistic bunch on this side, we believe that this Bill should strengthen its commitment to research and development, because we are optimistic that, actually, New Zealand can make a significant contribution to reducing global emissions and, in fact, lead the world in some areas, including the way that we reduce emissions from agricultural production

“But if we’re to do that, we must take the opportunity on all sides of this House not to accuse each other of bad motives, not to accuse each other of having been divisive, but to instead focus on creating a principled, pragmatic piece of legislation that gets the incentives right, that’s fair to Kiwi families.

“I urge members in the Green Party, members in the Labour Party, to consider our proposals in good faith so that this can truly be a long-term, enduring zero carbon bill that actually continues to make a difference for future generations.”

It will be a historic event if National does support the Bill; for there to be bipartisan support for such a crucial piece of legislation which has massive economic implications is unprecedented in recent years.

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