New Zealand will help some people buy electric vehicles, end its dependence on fossil fuels, reduce agricultural emissions and reduce waste going to landfill, the government has promised in the most important announcement on the action against climate change in the country’s history.
The Emissions Reduction Plan sets the direction for climate action for the next 15 years, with a cap on the amount of greenhouse gases New Zealand can emit, in order to meet targets to limit carbon emissions. average global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
The government announced details of New Zealand’s first comprehensive plan to cut climate emissions and how it will be funded in parliament on Monday.
The plan garnered close cross-party support last week, giving it lasting influence should the government change. Two smaller parties did not support the plan – the right-wing ACT party, which said it was not necessary, while Te Pati Māori (the Maori party) said it did not go far enough.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson has revealed how the “climate emergency response fund” – generated by emissions trading and earmarked for climate spending – will be allocated, ahead of the primary budget announcement on Thursday.
“This is a milestone day in our transition to a low-emissions future,” Jacinda Ardern said in a statement. It will be a bittersweet day for the Prime Minister, who has called climate change this generation’s ‘nuclear-free moment’ and has long campaigned on the promise to cut emissions, but was unable to attend the announcement due to testing positive for Covid-19 and needing to isolate at home.
“The emissions reduction plan provides the biggest opportunity we’ve had in decades to tackle climate change,” Ardern said. “We can’t shirk the effects of climate change, so we can’t shirk action.”
Climate Change Minister James Shaw said the plan would pave the way for a net zero future where more people can buy electric vehicles, cities have better transport infrastructure, the biggest emitters switch to energy clean, farmers would grow food in a way that helps the climate, and warmer, more affordable heating options for homes would exist.
This would ensure a just transition for Maori, by developing a Maori Action Plan and funding and providing resources for Maori-led programs and solutions.
“This is a historic day for climate action in Aotearoa,” Shaw said. “Thanks to this work, New Zealand is on track to bend its emissions curve downwards for the first time in its history.”
One of the most important initiatives is the Clean Car Upgrade Program, which will help low- and middle-income families switch to low-emission alternatives through a “scrap and replace” trial. This will allow eligible families to trade in their vehicles and receive assistance to purchase electric or hybrid vehicles, which will in turn be cheaper to operate.
This, and plans to improve public transport through greener bus fleets, better cycle lanes and footbridges, and more frequent trains, will put the country on track to make zero-emission vehicles 30% of the fleet of light vehicles (cars, vans and utes) and reduce the total number of kilometers traveled by light vehicles to 20% by 2035, according to the government.
More than $1.2 billion had been allocated for this part of the plan, which was to cut emissions equivalent to taking 181,000 cars off the road by 2035, said Michael Wood, the transport minister.
The climate fund was created using an initial $4.5 billion from the emissions trading scheme – which charges certain companies for the greenhouse gases they emit – and meant that “polluters pay [for pollution]not households,” Robertson said.
Part of that fund – $1.3 billion – has been earmarked for international climate aid, half of which is earmarked for the Pacific. An additional $1.5 billion will be allocated in future budgets. Further spending announcements will be made as part of the overall 2022 budget announcement on Thursday.
On Monday, Robertson announced the first tranche of funding allocations. One of the largest investments, at just over $650 million over four years, will go towards decarbonizing industry and accelerating the shift to cleaner energy options.
Megan Woods, Minister of Energy and Resources, said: “Rising global energy prices that we cannot control show that we need to wean ourselves off expensive fossil fuels.”
Emissions from the energy and industry sectors accounted for 27% of New Zealand’s total emissions, she added.
Agricultural emissions are largely addressed in a separate policy called He Waka Eke Noa – a five-year program working with the sector to reduce methane and build resilience. But the government has committed more than $700 million over four years to reduce agricultural emissions, increase forestry’s contribution to carbon reduction and produce alternative “green” fuels.
This will be paid for by the emissions trading system, although the agricultural sector is exempt from the obligation to contribute until 2025.
At the heart of this is the creation of the new Climate Action Center on Agricultural Emissions, which will drive innovation and product development.
New Zealand has long relied on its “clean green” image for tourism, commerce and the wider global cultural cache, and has regularly made headlines for some of its grandest gestures, including when Ardern has declared a climate emergency.
But the country’s green reputation has become more untenable in recent years. The country’s gross emissions per person are high and it is one of the worst in the world for rising emissions. Emissions in New Zealand increased by 57% between 1990 and 2018 – the second highest increase of any industrialized country.
“New Zealand is trading on its environmental reputation – it’s key to the continued safety of our main exports and tourism, our two main sources of export revenue,” Robertson said, adding that investing in low-emission projects and industries would protect those industries.
“These [overall] the plans mark the greatest transformation of the New Zealand economy and society of my time in politics.
Climate Change Committee Chairman Rod Carr told Newsroom the plan was a good step, but said the car scratching program would need to be carefully designed.
“The evidence overseas, as I understand it, is that scrapping programs as implemented overseas have been relatively expensive ways to reduce emissions. But that entirely depends on how they are targeted and who gets the benefit and what the benefit is for.
Professor Lisa Ellis of the University of Otago, who is also a member of the He Kaupapa Hononga/Otago Climate Change Research Network, told the Science Media Center: “The good news…is that we finally we have the legal and policy infrastructure to drive the transition to a sustainable and equitable low-emissions economy.
The bad news, Ellis added, was that show budgets were low. “As a country with one of the highest per capita emissions levels in the world, we have a responsibility to do our fair share by taking swift action to prevent runaway climate change.”