Govt puts ideas to slash emissions out for feedback – asks people, business to fill gaps
Composting, cheaper bus fares, and rent-to-own ebikes are among the ideas, but the document has large gaps and proposes a slower start to carbon-cutting. Eloise Gibson and Olivia Wannan report.
The Government has released its draft carbon-cutting ideas to the public, so anyone can have a say.
Under the Zero Carbon Act, an emissions reduction plan was meant to be in law by the end of December, but the Government gave itself a five-month extension.
Now the Government is proposing giving the country a slower start to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, by allowing more emissions during the next four years – though it says it will more than make up the difference later.
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The proposal document shows that – almost two years after passing the Zero Carbon Act and almost a year after declaring a climate emergency – many of the suggested proposals have not had feasibility, costing, or estimates of their emissions savings confirmed by government departments.
The Government wants to add two million tonnes to the carbon budgets proposed by the Climate Change Commission, the independent experts it appointed to chart a path to carbon neutrality. But it plans to more than make up for the excess by allowing 16m tonnes less climate pollution from 2025-35.
The justification is a survey of forestry owners, which found they are planning to plant more new trees than previously assumed. The Government says this wasn’t available to the climate commission.
In December, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared a climate emergency. But the carbon-cutting plan has been delayed.
While the new trees will eventually be a carbon sink, the Government says the early years of planting could churn up soil and release more carbon dioxide from changing land use than previously expected. Once the forests grow, they will more than compensate for their early emissions, the document says.
Ultimately, the Government says, this leaves the climate 14m tonnes of pollution better off.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Government would prioritise ideas that saved people money, like cleaner energy that leads to lower power bills.
But climate campaigners Generation Zero called the draft “a disgrace”, criticising the lack of policies for agriculture. “It fails to meet even the Climate Change Commission’s unambitious emissions budgets,” said campaigner Adam Currie.
Forest & Bird’s Kevin Hague said the Government was not acting like there was a climate emergency. “The lack of clear policy suggestions on agriculture, energy and nature-based solutions suggests that some agencies still haven’t got the message that New Zealand is committed to tackling climate change.”
“It’s remarkable that the Government has published over thirty pages of thinking and analysis on transport but only four pages on agriculture, our biggest source of emissions,” said Hague.
New Zealand’s emissions have long sat around 80m tonnes a year, but hit a record 82.3m at last count, in 2019, after a dry year pushed up coal burning to make electricity.
The commission’s report to the Government in May suggested budgets and a path to get there – and blamed previous governments led by both major parties for creating a last-minute scramble by choosing years of short-term thinking and easy options over real change.
To meet the Government’s proposed budget for the next four years, the country would need to slash 7.7m tonnes off the tally it is tracking towards, under current policy settings.
Preliminary estimates suggest that its new proposals could shave off 2.6 to 5.6m tonnes, depending on factors such as how high the carbon price goes, how polluters react to that price, and finer details such as whether people embrace composting.
That still leaves a gap of between 2.1m and 5.1m tonnes, even accounting for the more lenient budget.
But not all proposals in the document have had their climate benefits counted, so unquantified policies could help fill the gap, though it’s difficult to guess how much.
The most detailed proposals cover transport, which the Government says needs more than a rising carbon price (pushing up petrol prices) to shift where it needs to go.
A congestion charge for Auckland in the next four years, subsidised EV and ebike sharing schemes and rent-to-buy schemes, cheaper train and bus trips and safer routes to schools are among the proposals. Thirty per cent of cars would be electric by 2035, and people (especially in cities) will travel a fifth less by car.
Drive Electric’s Mark Gilbert said the 30 per cent EV share was possible and “definitely preferable” for climate reasons. “We are starting to send signals to the global automotive industry that New Zealand is serious about electrification.”
People might be headed for more composting – even if it goes in a kerbside collection bin – under a proposal to ban food waste, paper and garden waste from landfills by 2030.
Trucking companies, airports, helicopter tourism operators and other big emitters might need to go public with their carbon footprints.
And the waste caused by draughty homes and offices, and building emissions-encouraging new roads are also up for scrutiny.
Despite a delay in cutting emissions, Climate Change Minister James Shaw said his long-term goal remained the same.
In his introduction, Climate Change Minister James Shaw said the shift in the emissions timeline didn’t change the goal of net-zero emissions.
“Since the Commission’s final advice was published, additional work has been done on our starting point for the next three emissions budgets. This work shows the task ahead is more significant than the Commission anticipated.”
The Government is asking the private sector to put forward proposals of what companies can do to deepen emissions cuts – and what they would need from the Government.
It is also asking the public to propose new measures.
The document has little in the way of detailed new proposals for agriculture, which is subject to an industry-government climate partnership and will not contribute much to emissions reductions before 2025.
Although the Government acknowledges the Climate Change Commission’s recommendation that it set a target for renewable energy (including for boilers and heating), it hasn’t come up with a target yet.
The commission also recommended abandoning a push for 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2030, and settling for the high 90s instead.
The Government won’t decide on that until 2025, after feasibility studies on pumped hydro and other green power ideas are done.
While the number of native trees being planted versus pine trees has long been a hot climate issue, the document does not put forward ideas to shift the balance (though it asks for feedback on this).
The proposals include:
- A cash-for-old-dunger scheme to help people trade in polluting cars.
- A possible ban on importing the highest-polluting vehicles.
- An Auckland congestion charge around the city centre by 2025.
- Funding for EV and ebike share schemes for communities/iwi/hapū.
- Removing regulatory hurdles to trialling ‘pop-up’ walking and cycling lanes.
- Big energy users (emitting more than 1,000 tonnes a year) would have to publicise their carbon footprints (including Fonterra, airports, big retailers, big trucking companies, helicopter tourism companies and shipping companies).
- Discounted public transport fares, especially for Community Service Card-holders.
- Cheap lending to retro-fit old buildings so they use less energy.
- Kerbside collection of kitchen compost in all cities.
- Avoid adding more or bigger roads if it will encourage more people to drive.
- Safer walking and cycling routes around schools.
- A ban from 2030 on sending paper, food and green waste to landfills.
- Unspecified moves to bolster native tree planting.
- A decision next year on whether to regulate carbon farming (planting permanent forests to earn carbon credits).
- Measuring how much a pest control blitz could help boost carbon stored in old native forests.
The draft is open for submissions until the end of 24 November 2021.
Here are the highlights, by sector:
Robert Cianflone/Getty Images
Across the country, coal is used to heat buildings, produce hot water and steam for factories and to dry milk into powder.
ENERGY AND INDUSTRY
Share of emissions: 26 per cent.
Key proposals: This is the biggest chunk of the nation’s emissions and covers: burning coal and gas to make electricity, cement, steel or aluminium, plus coal boilers drying milk powder, coal and gas heating for greenhouses, hospitals, schools and homes, as well as so-called “fugitive emissions” from oil and gas supply.
A rising carbon price in the Emissions Trading Scheme should put a big dent in these industrial emissions, with an added boost from existing Government funding for businesses wanting to switch to cleaner boilers.
As electricity replaces an increasing share of petrol, diesel, coal and gas, the Government needs to boost the electricity supply, as well as the share that comes from hydro, wind and solar. The plan is to “retire fossil fuel power stations in an orderly way”, though there are few concrete details, other than to say that work is underway to make sure the electricity supply is secure.
Bioenergy, such as wood waste, and green hydrogen may replace some fossil fuels, and the Government wants to know what people think about it giving more funding to biofuel and hydrogen.
Big energy users (emitting more than 1,000 tonnes a year) might need to report their carbon footprints to the public. This would capture Fonterra, airports, big retailers, trucking companies, shipping companies – about 200 companies in total.
Estimated emissions savings by 2025: 1.5-3.3m tonnes.
Gaps: The proposal acknowledges the commission’s advice on energy: to aim for 50 per cent of all energy to be renewable by 2035, and settle for 95-98 per cent of electricity (not 100 per cent, as the Government wanted) to be renewable by 2030. But there is no proposed renewable energy target in the document.
As for the 100 per cent clean electricity goal, the Government says it will review this in 2025, when it will know more about solutions to the problem of dry years (when the hydro lakes are low, causing supply problems).
The proposal also asks for input on phasing out gas, leaving submitters to suggest a timeline.
New, separated cycle lanes and proposals to help people buy ebikes have been suggested in the consultation document.
Share of emissions: 20 per cent.
Key proposals: Even as the population grows, the average number of kilometres travelled in cars will fall by 20 per cent – a more ambitious path than the climate commission’s.
In its plan, the commission relied on large numbers of people switching from petrol and diesel cars to EVs, disappointing active and public transport campaigners. The Government’s proposal is less optimistic about this.
Campaigners will be far more pleased with plans to invest heavily in mass transit starting with Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and lower fares for public transport – particularly to Community Service Card-holders. Streets could be redesigned, particularly around schools, with more space handed over to footpaths, cycle lanes and features to slow cars and create safer conditions for active travellers.
Auckland and Wellington drivers could face a congestion charge by 2025. Christchurch would be next on the agenda.
The Government is proposing an emissions cap, above which a heavy-emitting vehicle would not be allowed into the country – an add-on to existing policies under which car salesrooms can buy a polluting vehicle as long as they also buy EVs for balance.
There’s also a proposal to review fringe benefit tax exemptions for high-emitting vehicles, currently seen as an incentive for workplaces to buy double cab utes.
Exemptions to fringe benefit tax for work vehicles could be reviewed, as the policy may encourage the purchase of utes.
EVs aren’t completely out of the picture: the Government wants to support electric bike and car leasing and sharing.
It’s also considering pushing forward an import ban on standard petrol and diesel cars to 2030. Five years later, hybrids – non-plug-in and plug-in alike – would also be barred from entry (though ones already in the country could still be sold). By this point, 30 per cent of cars on the roads would run on electricity.
For the gas-guzzlers, the Government wants a rising proportion of petrol at pumps to come from renewable sources, making fuel 15 per cent less polluting by 2035. Old dungers could be swapped for cash, to help buy cleaner vehicles, including e-bikes.
Trucks would become fewer, with more freight transported by rail and ships.
New housing projects may need to show how they’ll encourage residents to walk, cycle and use public transport.
Estimated emissions savings by 2025: 0.7-1.3m tonnes.
Gaps: Researchers believe transport choices are heavily influenced by advertising. The Government proposes an awareness campaign, but there’s nothing to restrict the promotion of polluting products such as utes.
As the location and composition of housing influences emissions, new policies will shape these towards greener options.
BUILDING AND HOUSING
Share of emissions: 4 per cent. (More counting indirect emissions from making building materials, and energy use).
Key proposals: Snug buildings made without too much waste can cut emissions from electricity and construction, but the Government does not want its efforts to make houses even more expensive.
The building code could be tightened so new houses stay snug or cool with less electricity.
Commercial buildings – even those already built – could face minimum requirements. Also on the cards are Energy Performance Certificates, which encourage transparency around energy use – a move welcomed by the Green Building Council.
Agencies such as Kāinga Ora could fast-track lower-carbon construction to lead the way for others (and help people in poverty spend less on power bills).
Cheap lending to retro-fit old buildings is an option, along with subsidies, rates or tax rebates for low-emissions buildings.
The commission recommended that the Government set an end date for connecting new houses to the gas network, but the proposals steer clear of venturing a view. Alternatively, new buildings could get a cap on how much pollution they take to run, people could decide how to meet the cap.
New housing projects could need to be built near existing or planned public transport, walking and cycling. And the rules will be weighted against new roads, so any that are built to connect new communities will need to build in low-emissions alternatives, such as paths, cycleways and EV charging systems.
Estimated emissions savings from Govt proposals by 2025: Unquantified.
Gaps: The plan mentions the Warmer Kiwi Homes scheme (which subsidises heat pumps and insulation), but there’s no talk of a significant scale up in funding to get through the estimated 600,000 homes that are under-insulated.
The amount of organic waste, paper and card sent to landfill would be dramatically curbed after 2030, in a new proposal.
Share of emissions: 4 per cent.
Key proposals: The major problem here is methane emissions from organic waste ending up in landfill – food, paper, timber and garden scraps.
Landfills sometimes capture this gas and burn it for electricity, but success varies widely.
Landfills may be required to instal systems to catch their gas, if they don’t have them, with a possible ban eventually on receiving organic waste for any landfills that can’t catch methane.
In the meantime, a lot more organic waste could be diverted from getting to landfill.
Since not everyone has a big enough backyard for a compost bin, the Government says most communities are going to need kerbside compost collections, as well as options for green or garden waste. Food businesses could be required to separate food waste for use by commercial compost collectors, or as animal food.
Junk mail could be phased out, and clothing stores made responsible for disposing of old, unwanted items.
Paper and cardboard are very recyclable. Dumping these in landfill could be banned by 2030, along with dumping food and green waste.
Estimated emissions savings from Govt proposals by 2025: 0.1-0.3m tonnes.
Gaps: Ideas to curb non-landfill emissions are missing, for example farm dumps.
Agricultural policies aren’t expected to contribute to emissions cuts in the first carbon budget, between 2022 and 2025.
Share of emissions: 48 per cent.
Key proposals: The Government is relying on its He Waka Eke Noa partnership with the agriculture industry to deliver emissions cuts, but the impact of pricing farming emissions under that partnership won’t kick in until 2025 – after the first emissions budget.
While the Zero Carbon Act imposes a limit of 10 per cent methane cuts by 2030, the Government’s current mid-range projections are for a drop of just 6.5 per cent for methane from livestock. However, because landfill methane is headed for a bigger – 40 per cent – drop, the country as a whole may end up on track.
The second-biggest gas from agriculture is nitrous oxide – and that’s currently on track for just 3.1 per cent cuts by 2030. Both gases will be priced at the farm level from 2025, though no details have been announced.
He Waka Eke Noa is working on emissions pricing, on-farm emissions reporting, on-farm tree planting to suck in carbon, and other things.
The Government is considering adding more farm advisory services, and helping upskill farmers, growers and Māori landowners. It’s also working through the regulatory hoops for methane inhibitors – supplements farmers could feed their animals to reduce their methane burping.
Estimated emissions savings from Govt proposals by 2025: None.
Gaps: An emissions price, and products such as methane-quashing inhibitors should make a difference in future, but the proposals appear to expect little in the way of cuts in the next four years – unless farmers respond to the announcement of a price, before the price kicks in.
The chemicals used in heating and cooling devices – including commercial fridges – can be potent greenhouse gases.
Share of emissions: 2.5 per cent.
Estimated emissions savings from Govt proposals by 2025: 0.2-0.7m tonnes.
Key proposals: Fast-track the phase-out of the highest-polluting gases used in commercial-scale heating and cooling systems, as well as the import of heat pumps and fridges that use potent planet-warming gases. Encourage energy-efficient buildings that don’t need much heating and cooling.
Share of emissions: Carbon sink, absorbing roughly 32 per cent of emissions.
Estimated emissions savings from Govt proposals by 2025: 21-27m tonnes absorbed from the atmosphere, based on current policies alone.
Key proposals: Forests absorb carbon dioxide, but the Government wants feedback on how to manage that.
Under current ETS settings, new pine forests will mop up carbon dioxide cheaply but this might reduce incentives for other industries to cut their emissions. The latest projections say just 9 per cent of forests planted by 2035 will be native trees.
The Government is considering changing the ETS and other policies to exert more control over what is planted, where.
It’s also mulling whether to intervene in permanent pine forests being planted for carbon credits. A decision will be made by the end of 2022.
Also proposed is placing rules on carbon farmers who say they will transition their permanent pine forests to native trees, to ensure the right kind of management happens.
In old-growth native forests, the Government wants to know how much a pest control blitz could bolster their carbon stocks, by culling nibbling animals. A work programme on that will be agreed by the end of this year.
Other tree-related ideas include replacing some concrete and steel with engineered wood made in New Zealand, and using logging offcuts as biomass. The draft plan cites a report saying biofuel made from wood residues from logging could replace 70 per cent of domestic aviation fuel, or 30 per cent of diesel consumption.
Gaps: The Government says it is giving “careful consideration” to how to encourage a higher proportion of native trees on private land, but there’s little detail about how it might do that, beyond adding incentives and working with native tree nurseries to lower costs and raise seedling supply. There’s also no detail about how it might intervene in the carbon farming market.
The final Climate Change Commission report noted that the number of mechanics could decrease, in the switch to EVs.
JOBS AND BUSINESS
Share of emissions: Not applicable.
Key proposals: As the country consumes less fossil fuels, drives less and sends more freight by rail, jobs in the oil and gas, car maintenance and trucking industries will be affected, alongside others. The plan acknowledges there will be a need to identify these workers, offer them support and re-training.
The social insurance policy already announced in the last Budget is mentioned. The reform of the polytech system also gets a shout-out.
The Government currently spends about $2 billion – or 1.35 per cent of GDP – each year supporting research and development, but vows to raise that figure to 2 per cent.
It’s also hiring public servants to work in an equitable transition team. It’s already supporting builders and construction workers to upskill, via its Building for Climate Change project, established last year.
Gaps: For workers concerned about losing their jobs, there isn’t much detail that’ll reassure them. One of the only concrete new proposals on this subject is to develop an “equitable transitions strategy” – meaning the plan is to come up with a plan by 2025.
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