The Herald’s political and specialist reporters examine the big issues facing New Zealand and how the main political parties plan to deal with them. Today, Jamie Morton looks at climate change.
Our extreme summer made it a top-five issue among Kiwis – and the potential for wildfires and scorching temperatures in a coming El Niño-influenced season promises to place it front and centre once more.
Even through a pandemic and a cost-of-living crisis, surveys have shown increasingly widespread concern over climate change – and an appetite for action from our political and business leaders.
New Zealand’s gross emissions may have fallen over the last two years, but the trend since 1990 has been a 19 per cent jump.
That’s largely been driven by agriculture and its cattle-belched biogenic methane – but other emissions sources like transport are also making sizeable contributions.
Through our Zero Carbon Act – and the mandated emissions budgets and reduction plans that come with it – our country now has the legislative architecture to force net emissions down to zero by 2050.
But parties have widely varying positions on how to meet our climate commitments - especially when it comes to the headache of how to slash those large-looming agricultural emissions.
Biogenic methane emissions aren’t subject to our hard mid-century target – they instead need to come down by between 24 to 47 per cent by 2050 – but there have been moves to make farmers pay for their climate pollution as other industries do.
Labour is sticking with plans to measure and price emissions at farm level by 2025 – with all raised revenue going back to the sector to help it meet its climate targets – or otherwise force the sector into the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) by 2026.
That policy has drawn criticism from parts of the farming sector, amid concern it could hurt New Zealand’s market competitiveness and that the climate-heating component of methane and nitrogen is being unfairly accounted for under current measures.
There’s also been heated debate around how the ETS – still our main policy tool for cutting emissions – should itself be overhauled, with the Government’s last few carbon auctions proving embarrassing failures.
Labour admits the current price of carbon isn’t high enough to drive major change and proposes using existing levers within the ETS to raise it - alongside alternative redesigns that’d incentivise emissions reductions and forestry planting through separate markets.
National, too, is putting the ETS - which it views as the primary vehicle to meet our 2030 and 2050 targets - square in its policy sights.
While the party’s happy for landowners to earn ETS credits through farm-level sequestration, and supports measuring farm emissions by 2025, it’s opposed to pricing them as early as Labour seeks to - and is willing to wait as long as 2030 to introduce what it says would be a “fair and sustainable” system.
As well, National draws on several billion dollars of Climate Emergency Response Fund revenue - paid for by polluters through the ETS – to help fund its pledged tax cuts for families.
Elsewhere, National proposes to fast-track the consent process for new renewable power projects - it touts a goal of doubling the country’s renewable energy generation - while scrapping the need for consent for upgrading existing transmission and local lines infrastructure.
It’s also floated building 10,000 more charging stations for electric vehicles.
But it’s indicated it would review the Clean Car Standard - suggesting it needs to be designed with the industry - and would altogether scrap the EV-subsidising Clean Car Discount, dubbing it a “ute tax” that unfairly penalises essential work vehicles used by farmers and tradies unable to make the shift.
The party would reverse the ban on new permits for offshore oil and gas exploration – one of the boldest climate moves of the Labour-led government’s last term – and cancel long-gestating pumped-hydro plans for Lake Onslow.
Labour is sticking by that project, its offshore oil and gas ban, and the subsidy for EV buyers, who’d also benefit from its plans to put charging hubs in place every 150km to 200km on main highways by 2028.
This week, Labour announced more plans in a climate “manifesto” - including a new post of a Minister for Just Transitions, a 12-point plan to boost renewable electricity generation, removing diesel generators from schools, pumping $300m more into NZ Green Investment Finance and steering $50m towards climate-focused research.
Though Labour is maintaining many of its existing flagship policies – including pledges to phase out coal boilers by 2037, offer rebates to homeowners for green retrofits and improve access to public transport – it this year notably ditched its “cash-for-clunkers” scheme that was aimed at helping clean up our aged vehicle fleet.
As for adapting to and paying for the actual impacts of climate change – an ever-growing threat that recent disasters have shown New Zealand sorely prepared for – the main parties agree on some measures, but diverge on others.
Like Labour, National supports new laws to address the hairy issue of managed retreat – and would work with councils, insurers, banks and communities to develop a framework for adaptation.
This framework would set the rules for who pays the costs and how retreat is managed – but the party didn’t support new regulations limiting development in at-risk spots, nor the notion of subsidising insurance.
A survey by the Muriwai Stickered Residents Group however found both Labour and National did back financial relief for businesses hit by extreme weather, although both opposed any mechanisms requiring banks to pause mortgage and interest accumulation on stickered homes while they awaited assessment.
Neither party was keen on also mandating insurers to honour the contractual spirit of “total loss” for undamaged but condemned homes - but while Labour agreed to an extent that permanently red-stickered homeowners and businesses should get state compensation for knock-on losses, National didn’t agree with offering it for every type of loss.
Between both main parties’ key support partners, the climate policy gulf was vastly wider.
The Green Party goes to the election with pledges to price farm emissions, ensure government decisions match efforts required to limit warming to 1.5C, and enable the independent Climate Change Commission to set the supply of units in the ETS.
It saw pricing farm emissions as an urgent priority and didn’t support Cabinet-set levy-based schemes, considering them too vulnerable to lobbying.
It’d also phase out nitrogen fertiliser on farms, ban all oil and gas exploration, increase public transport subsidies, raise fees on high-polluting vehicle buys and place a hard deadline on importing fossil-fuelled cars.
The party wanted a stand-alone Ministry for Climate Change, with functions for both mitigation and adaptation.
At the other end of the political spectrum, Act favoured repealing the Zero Carbon Act and its carbon budgets with a “no-nonsense climate change plan” it said would tie New Zealand’s carbon price to those paid by our top five trading partners.
The party wanted the ETS to have a hard cap on net CO2 emissions while ensuring it created a price to drive reductions – and proposed regulations to provide carbon credits for wood products that stored carbon for at least 50 years.
At the same time, it’s indicated a halt to work to meet our nationally determined contributions set under the Paris Agreement, while also repealing the Clean Car Standard and EV discount and scrapping plans to price farm emissions.
Act also opposed to grants for home insulation and didn’t support managed retreat laws - but wanted more data to help insurance premiums to adjust, along with more flexible funding arrangements for councils to improve resilience.
NZ First held a similar stance on pricing agricultural emissions, which it didn’t support in “any form” unless adopted by trading partners, but it nonetheless supported a standardised reporting of farm-level emissions.
It also backed agricultural emissions mitigations being supported with ETS revenue and funds ear-marked for the purchase of overseas carbon credits.
Te Pāti Māori, meanwhile, has put forward dramatically different climate policy for agriculture – including pulling methane emissions into ETS and phasing out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser by 2025.
It also wanted an end to new onshore oil and gas permits – and a withdrawal of existing onshore and offshore oil and gas permits within five years – while proposing a national Māori strategy for renewable energy and clean tech.
As well, the party would ear-mark $1b for Māori-owned community energy projects and solar panel and insulation instillations on marae, kura, homes and papakāinga housing developments, as well as $300m for a fund to incentivise Māori farmers to “transition to regenerative and value-add farming practices”.
Climate Change: The policies
*Uphold the Zero Carbon Act, its set five-year carbon budgets and maintain New Zealand’s agreed international climate change pledges.
*Keep in place the Clean Car Discount and Clean Car Standard
*Price farm emissions by the end of 2025 or otherwise bring them under the Emissions Trading Scheme by 2026.
*Further reform the Emissions Trading Scheme to provide a stronger incentive for businesses to transition away from fossil fuels.
*Maintain funding to help industries phase out coal boilers by 2037 and offer new grants for home insulation and retrofitting
*Keep the current ban on new offshore oil and gas exploration
*Continue work on climate resilience as set out in the National Adaptation Plan
*Remove diesel generators in schools
*Establish a Minister for Just Transition role
*Commit $300m more for NZ Green Investment Finance
*Keep in place the Zero Carbon Act and maintain carbon budgets and New Zealand’s agreed international climate change pledges
*Review the Clean Car Standard and scrap the Clean Car Discount, while building 10,000 new EV charging stations
*Price farm emissions by 2030 at the latest, establish an Agricultural Emissions Pricing Board by 2024, and review set 2050 targets for methane
*Keep agriculture out of the Emissions Trading Scheme but allow landowners to earn credits through farm-level sequestration
*Repeal the ban on offshore oil and gas exploration and scrap pumped hydro plans for Lake Onslow
*Require faster decisions and longer consents on new renewable power projects and remove the need for consents for upgrading existing transmission and local lines infrastructure
*Support managed retreat laws, but not state-subsidised insurance or regulations that limit development in at-risk areas
*Strengthen the Zero Carbon Act by requiring all government policies, targets and pledges to be consistent with limiting global warming to within 1.5C
*Establish a stand-alone Ministry for Climate Change, with functions for mitigation and adaptation
*Maintain the Clean Car Discount and introduce a deadline for the end of new or used fossil fuel car imports, at or before 2030
*Further incentivise public and active transport and ensure networks are well-integrated
*Price farm emissions by 2025, with higher fees to support the sector in making cuts, while phasing out nitrogen fertiliser on farms
*Review the Emissions Trading Scheme and empower the independent Climate Change Commission to set the supply of units within it
*Ban all offshore oil and gas exploration, along with new fields and coal mines, with renewals prohibited for existing operations
*Limit development in at-risk areas
*Repeal the Zero Carbon Act and carbon budgets and replace with a new plan setting the carbon price to the price paid by top five trading partners
*Introduce a hard cap on net CO2 emissions while ensuring it created a price to drive reductions, while introducing regulations to provide carbon credits for wood products that store carbon for at least 50 years
*Repeal the Clean Car Standard and Clean Car Discount
*Keep agriculture out of the Emissions Trading Scheme and cancel plans to price farm emissions, unless competitors start
*Repeal the ban on offshore oil and gas exploration
*Supports more flexible funding arrangements for local councils to allow for projects to improve climate reliance
*Oppose agricultural emissions pricing unless adopted by trading partners
*Support adoption of standardised farm level reporting
*Incentivise uptake of the emissions reduction mitigations with Emissions Trading Scheme revenue and funds ear-marked for buying overseas carbon credits
*Amend the Emissions Trading Scheme to recognise farm forestry and shelter belts
Te Pāti Māori
*End new onshore oil and gas permits and withdraw existing onshore and offshore oil and gas permits within five years
*Phase out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser on farms by 2025 and bring methane emissions from agriculture into the Emissions Trading Scheme
*Develop a national Māori strategy for renewable energy and clean technology
*Establish a dedicated $1bn fund for Māori-owned community energy projects and solar panel and insulation instillations, along with a $300m fund to incentivise Māori farmers to transition to “regenerative and value-add” farming practices
*Ensure the Crown works with whānau, hapū and iwi to establish climate change adaptation plans and establish a fund to support Māori with adaptation
Jamie Morton is a specialist in science and environmental reporting. He joined the Herald in 2011 and writes about everything from conservation and climate change to natural hazards and new technology.