New Zealand will help some people to buy electric vehicles, end its reliance on fossil fuels, lower agricultural emissions, and reduce waste going to landfill, the government has promised in the most significant announcement on climate change action 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 gas New Zealand can emit, in order to meet targets to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels .
The government announced the details of New Zealand’s first comprehensive plan to slash climate emissions and how it will be funded at parliament on Monday.
The plan last week garnered near cross-party support, which will give it enduring influence if there is a change in government. Two minor parties did not support the plan – the rightwing ACT party, which said it is not necessary, while Te Pati Māori (the Māori Party) said it does not go far enough.
The finance minister, Grant Robertson, has revealed how the “climate emergency response fund” – generated from emissions trading and ringfenced for climate spending – will be allocated, ahead of the primary budget announcement on Thursday.
“This is a landmark day in our transition to a low emissions future,” Jacinda Ardern said in a statement. The day will be bittersweet for the prime minister, who has called climate change this generation’s “nuclear-free moment” and long campaigned on the promise to slash emissions, but was unable to attend the announcement due to positive testing for Covid-19 and needing to isolate at home.
“The emissions reduction plan delivers the greatest opportunity we’ve had in decades to address climate change,” Ardern said. “We can’t opt out of the effects of climate change so we can’t opt out of taking action.”
The minister of climate change, James Shaw, said the plan would lay the path towards a net zero future where more people could buy electric vehicles, towns and cities would have better transport infrastructure, the highest emitters would switch to clean energy, farmers would grow food in a way that helps the climate, and warmer, more affordable heating options for homes would exist.
It would ensure an equitable transition for Māori, through developing a Māori action plan and through funding and resources for Māori-led programs and solutions.
“This is a historic day for climate action in Aotearoa,” Shaw said. “Because of this work, New Zealand is on track to bend the curve of its emissions downwards for the first time in its history.”
One of the most significant initiatives is the clean car upgrade programme, which will support lower and middle income families to transition to low-emission alternatives through a “scrap and replace” trial. That will allow eligible families to trade in their vehicles and receive support to buy electric or hybrid vehicles, which will in turn be cheaper to run.
This, and plans to improve public transport through greener bus fleets, better cycleways and walkways, and more frequent trains, will put the country on track to make zero-emissions vehicles 30% of the light vehicle fleet (cars, vans and utes) and reduce the total kilometers light vehicles travel by to 20% by 2035, the government says.
More than $1.2bn had been allocated towards this part of the plan, which was expected to reduce emissions equivalent to taking 181,000 cars off the road between now and 2035, said Michael Wood, the minister of transport.
The climate fund was established using an initial $4.5bn from the emissions trading scheme – which charges certain businesses for the greenhouse gases they emit – and meant “the polluters are paying [for pollution]not households,” Robertson said.
A portion of that fund – $1.3bn – has been earmarked for international climate aid, with half committed to the Pacific. Another $1.5bn 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 $650m over four years, will go towards decarbonising industry and speeding up the switch to cleaner energy options.
Megan Woods, the minister of energy and resources, said: “Rising global energy prices we cannot control show we must wean ourselves off expensive fossil fuels.”
Emissions from the energy and industry sectors made up 27% of New Zealand’s total emissions, she added.
Agricultural emissions are being largely dealt with 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 $700m over four years to lower agricultural emissions, expand the contribution of forestry to reduce carbon, and produce alternative “green” fuels.
This will be paid for by the emissions trading scheme, despite the agriculture sector being exempt from having to pay into it until 2025.
Central to this is the establishment of the new center for climate action on agricultural emissions, which will drive innovation and product development.
New Zealand has long relied on its “clean green” image for tourism, trade and wider global cultural cache, and has regularly made headlines for some of its grander gestures, including when Ardern 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 world’s worst performers on emissions increases. Emissions in New Zealand rose by 57% between 1990 and 2018 – the second-greatest increase of all industrialized countries.
“New Zealand trades on its environmental reputation – it is the key to the ongoing security of our primary exports and tourism, our two main export earners,” Robertson said, adding that investing in low-emissions projects and industries would protect those industries.
“Estos [overall] plans mark the greatest transformation for the economy and New Zealand society in my time in politics.”
The chair of the climate change commission, Rod Carr, told Newsroom the plan was a good step, but said the car scraping scheme would need to be carefully designed.
“The evidence overseas as I understand it is that scrappage schemes as implemented overseas have been relatively expensive ways of reducing emissions. But that depends entirely on how they’re targeted and who gets the benefit and what the benefit is used for.”
The University of Otago’s Prof Lisa Ellis, who is also a member of He Kaupapa Hononga/Otago’s Climate Change Research Network, told the Science Media Centre: “The good news … is that we finally have the legal and political infrastructure to drive the transition to a sustainable and equitable low-emissions economy.”
The bad news, Ellis added, was that the emissions budgets were weak. “As a country with one of the world’s highest per capita emissions, we have a responsibility to do our fair share by taking prompt action to prevent runaway climate change.”