The government is defending its decision not to commit to the second stage of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, acknowledging the previous government "may have had a stronger emphasis" on the issue.
Climate Change Minister Tim Groser said on Friday the government would not sign up for the second commitment period of Kyoto, and will instead opt for the United Nation's Convention Framework, following the lead of major economies such as the United States, Japan, China, India, Canada, Brazil and Russia.
The government has since been criticised by Labour, the Greens and WWF, who say the decision leaves New Zealand's "clean and green" image in tatters, with Australia and European countries reaffirming their Kyoto commitment.
But Prime Minister John Key says the new convention will still see New Zealand name a binding commitment on climate change.
"We'll actually have a physical rate that we're going to hit ... We'll essentially be able to set our own rules outside [of the Kyoto Protocol]," Mr Key told TVNZ's Breakfast.
"New Zealand needs to play its part, it is playing its part - it's already got an Emissions Trading Scheme, we've made quite a number of other changes ... but I think we never want to be a world leader in climate change.
"We've always wanted to be what is affectionately called a `fast follower'."
Mr Key says the previous government may have had more of an emphasis on climate change, but his government wants to "make sure we're sensible in this area".
"What we do environmentally matters a great deal, but we also want jobs and we also want to make sure we're not prioritising that over everything else. I think we've got that balance about right."
Mr Key added that New Zealand wants to change some of the rules governing the Kyoto Protocol, including "around land use and things like that".