Climate change: James Shaw says policy based on polluter-pays, equity and Te Tiriti to drive emissions reduction plan
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Climate Change Minister James Shaw. Photo / Greg Bowker Action on climate change needs to be equity-based and avoid causing social unrest such as seen in the "yellow vest" protests in France, Climate Change Minister James Shaw says. In a speech outlining five principles guiding the upcoming emission reduction plans, Shaw said the focus would be on "polluter-pays" policies, equity and Te Tiriti o Waitangi in designing the path to zero carbon. He also signalled to businesses it would be "science-led" and that the Government would do all it could to provide long-term certainty over direction. The first and most-important guiding principle was ensuring a just transition, he said. "Far too many families and vulnerable communities have been excluded from New Zealand's story of change, our story of progress," Shaw said. "This time has to be different." Shaw warned if the transition was not just, the social licence could be lost, as had happened with the yellow vest protests in France. "If the transition simply locks in or exacerbates those existing patterns of inequality then we simply won't have the social licence to continue the transition. "It will become, in itself, unsustainable. "Witness the yellow vest protests in France. France is a country with huge public support for climate action. "But when the government brought in a carbon tax on fossil fuels, increasing household costs, it faced tremendous opposition, because the distributional impacts of the transition weren't managed at the same time." The Climate Change Commission released its final advice in June on the country's pathway to net-zero emissions of long-lived greenhouse gases by 2050. The Government has to decide which if not all of the commission's recommendations it will factor into its own Emissions Reductions Plan, due by December 31. If it decides to ignore the commission's blueprint altogether, it will have to come up with something better. The commission warned drastic change was required, including imports of used petrol cars, for instance, would need to be wound down by 2032, and around 380,000ha of new exotic forestry would need to be planted by 2035. Livestock numbers would require a sizeable cull this decade. Such issues had caused considerable opposition already, such as to the Government's recent moves to increase electric vehicle uptake and phase out utes with "non-legitimate use". Shaw said the "communication could have been better" on those topics. He also acknowledged less support from the opposition National Party for climate policies compared to previous terms, noting "different pressures". Shaw said the second principle was that the Government's approach would be "science-led". "That is absolutely non-negotiable." Ensuring solutions were nature-based would also help solve the biodiversity crisis, he said of the "third principle". The fourth principle was ensuring the transition helped to "undo the damage done by nearly two centuries of failure in upholding the rights and property of iwi/Maori". "So much of the modern history of Aotearoa can be traced back to the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the broken promise of Maori autonomy and authority over the land." This would involve applying a tikanga Maori lens to the transition to a low emissions economy, he said. The fifth principle was to provide business with a policy environment that was predictable and stable over the long term, providing the level of certainty they need to invest in low carbon solutions, Shaw said. "It is our job as a Government to create the conditions where people, businesses, and communities can invest in reducing emissions." The framework would become clearer over the next few months but Shaw said he could assure policies would be signalled early, they would seek consensus and cross-party support and ensure market-based approaches like the Emissions Trading Scheme provide the right price signals so the polluter pays. "And we will look at what support measures can be put in place so that low-carbon technologies are accessible to everyone, so that families up and down the country have the same chance to enjoy the benefits of the transition. "For all of this to happen, we need to rise above day-to-day political divisions and come together in a collective effort to address the biggest issues facing the country." The Zero Carbon Act requires that from December 2021, there must be one current and two prospective emissions budgets in place at any one time. The first budget will cover the period 2022 to 2025, the second 2026 to 2030 and the third 2031 to 2035. The commission's advisory budgets set out cuts of all net greenhouse gas emissions by 12 per cent, 27 per cent and 42 per cent below 2019 levels by 2025, 2030 and 2035 respectively. By 2035, 60 per cent of New Zealand's energy would need to come from renewable sources, and by mid-century, low and medium temperature heat in industry and buildings would come from electricity and biomass. It found road transport New Zealand's fastest-growing source of emissions, and making up nearly half the CO2 we send into the atmosphere today could be "almost completely" decarbonised by 2050. That would come through more cycling, walking and use of public transport, along with working from home and switching to low emissions vehicles. But it'd also require a "rapid increase" in EV sales, so that all nearly all cars entering the country were electric by 2035 or four years after the commission assumed that new EVs would hit price parity with new petrol cars. The road for agriculture was similarly steep: and without new technologies, meeting the more ambitious end of the commission's target range would likely require more land use change and "significantly" lower agricultural production from livestock. But perhaps the biggest takeaway was the economic pain the country could save itself by going hard and early. Going ahead with the commission's recommended budgets would see the level of GDP fall by around 0.5 per cent in 2035, and 1.2 per cent in 2050 but not acting would mean double that hit. The IRD says the new Government's tax cuts could be applied retrospectively.