Budget 2021: Shaw responds to 'loose change' charges over climate spend
Cutting vehicle emissions is a major focus of this Budget's spending on climate change issues. Photo / Alex Burton The Government's new climate spending has been slammed as "loose change" - but minister James Shaw claims Budget 2021 actually targets close to $2.3 billion at slashing emissions. Direct spending on tackling the climate crisis included $300m to accelerate investment in low-carbon technology, $67m to help decarbonise the public sector by 2025, and nearly $20m to support the policy response to the Climate Change Commission's eagerly-awaited final advice. Greenpeace responded to the Budget by declaring the Government was "kicking the can down the road again" on climate action, and offering "little more than loose change" for tackling the crisis. "It's incredibly frustrating to watch this Government continue a slow and incremental approach to dealing with what is a major and urgent crisis," Greenpeace spokeswoman Amanda Larsson said. "Winning slowly on climate change is the same as losing." WWF-New Zealand's environmental science director, Dr Aroha Spinks, echoed the sentiment. "While the 2021 Budget does have some line items for the climate crisis, none of these investments are enough to make a significant difference and none of them will actually reduce emissions," she said. "There is no mention of how the Government will seriously reduce farm emissions or help farmers transition to regenerative farming practices." Associate Professor Janet Stephenson, the director of Otago University's Centre for Sustainability, said none of the Budget's allocations signalled a strong reset of the economy towards a low-carbon future. "For the most part, these are continuations of existing projects, or initiatives that have long been flagged but not yet implemented, such as incentivising low-emission vehicle uptake." Even the $24m allocated to research on reducing agricultural greenhouse gases followed similar levels of funding put into this area over at least the past 12 years, she said. "Compared to the scale and rapidity of changes required, the budget is underwhelming." Shaw however contended there was much in the Budget aimed at cutting emissions. "The problem ... is that the way budgets are organised, you kind of have to go hunting to see it," he told the Herald. Along with the $1.3b allocation for rail, $302m was tagged for a Clean Car Discount - it was unclear whether that spelt the revival of a mooted "feebate" that incentivised buying low-emissions vehicles over petrol cars - along with $56.7m toward a Clean Car Standard. There was also $120 million for warmer homes, $61m for agriculture and $8.1m for business to reduce agricultural emissions, $13.9m to help regions transition away from fossil fuels and $6m for a new biofuels mandate. "But these are recorded in different parts of the Budget documentation, which is why people don't see it." Shaw nonetheless said the Budget's number one priority around climate change was decarbonising transport. "If you take [the targeted allocations] as a package, I think that will really start to make quite a serious dent on our transport emissions from the cars that we drive over the coming years," he said. The transport sector currently produced 47 per cent of New Zealand's CO2 emissions and, between 1990 and 2018, domestic transport emissions increased by 90 per cent. Once the commission provided its final advice on the steps that needed to be taken to build a zero-carbon New Zealand by 2050, the Government would publish a 15-year roadmap. Ringfenced revenue from the Emissions Trading Scheme for implementing the forthcoming Emissions Reduction Plan was also forecast to deliver more than $3b of investment over the next five years to help meet our emissions reductions goals, Shaw said. The $67m to implement the Carbon Neutral Government Programme had already been announced before today's Budget was released. This included more low-emissions cars in its fleet and clean alternatives to replace coal burners in schools and hospitals, expected to cut carbon emissions by 76,000 tonnes over 10 years. The bulk of it - $41.8 million - was for leasing low-emission vehicles across the public sector, which followed the Government controversially abandoning its previous target of having an emissions-free fleet by 2025/26. Stephenson however saw the need for much more funding - particularly around helping communities transition, and supporting the targeted research and innovation needed to make the move. "It is laudable that some funds have been set aside for developing a strategy for our climate change transition and for policy responses to the forthcoming advice from the Climate Change Commission, but I fail to see any bold and farsighted initiatives that will reset Aotearoa New Zealand to a low-carbon trajectory." It's been 22 years since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York.