Climate scientists have strongly attacked the Government's decision not sign up to phase two of the Kyoto Protocol.
Australia has committed to join a second phase but New Zealand will opt out and instead make voluntary pledges under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
This country will remain a full member of the Kyoto Protocol though it will not face financial penalties if it exceeds emissions targets when the first commitment period finishes at the end of this year.
Environmental economist Ralph Chapman who was involved in the Kyoto negotiations says moving to the Framework Convention means New Zealand is no longer under a legally binding obligation to reduce emissions.
"The Framework Convention is looser, it's more voluntary, and that's what people are worried about - that at a time when the climate change problem is getting worse ... New Zealand's going the other way."
NIWA's former chief climate researcher and a past president of the New Zealand Association of Scientists James Renwick says New Zealand is not doing its fair share in the fight against climate change.
He says the Emissions Trading Scheme has been emasculated to the point of being completely useless.
"It sends a very poor signal internationally and it just indicates the Government isn't serious."
Former lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Jim Salinger says the move is short sighted. He says global warming of up to six degrees by the end of the century will create food and water shortages and bring more damaging storms like Hurricane Sandy.
However Climate Change Minister Tim Groser has said 85% of global carbon emissions come from countries that have not signed the protocol and the future is in the common space. He said the next step will be to set a formal target for New Zealand future emissions through to 2020.
Though the Government's move breaks ranks with Australia, it aligns New Zealand with other major economies such as the United States, Japan, China, India and Russia.
The protocol, adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, is aimed at fighting global warming by setting legally binding targets for countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
NZ position 'undermined'
Conservation group WWF New Zealand says the Government has undermined its position in future climate change negotiations by refusing to sign up to the second stage.
WWF New Zealand says the Government has shown it is not interested in reducing emissions at a time when efforts are underway to include all countries in a climate change regime that would begin after 2020.
Spokesperson Peter Hardstaff says New Zealand could be showing the rest of the world how to achieve a low carbon economy and a clean energy future.
Greenpeace says the Government was worried that stronger commitment to the Kyoto Protocol from other countries, including Australia, meant a second phase of Kyoto would be a near certainty and it wants to sabotage that in order to avoid restrictions on high emission industries.
However, Mr Groser says that suggestion is ridiculous because other countries made their minds up on Kyoto a long time ago and will not be infuenced by New Zealand's decision.
The Kyoto Forestry Association says the Government has pulled the rug from under investors who have sunk many millions of dollars into forestry on the basis that it was earning carbon credits and the result will be deforestation on a large scale.