The Greens released a decent centre-left policy this weekend, flexing their muscle in a space vacated by Labour’s pivot to the stodgy centre.
It would offer $6000 grants for installing solar panels and making energy-efficient upgrades to homes, as well as offer interest-free loans of up to $30,000 to cover the cost of other climate change-friendly home upgrades. Most of the $682 million cost would be paid for by Emissions Trading Scheme receipts, recycling money from pollution into reducing emissions.
Pretty good, standard centre-left stuff revolving around a levy on one thing to pay for another. In a different world, it’s possible to imagine a greener iteration of the National Party putting its name to such a policy.
That would of course, require the party to have any serious climate policy - which it currently does not (with one or two exceptions).
The party has announced roughly 30 policies thus far, with Luxon making up in 2023 for a rather policy-light first full year in 2022. So far, however, there is precious little in the way of emissions reductions policy.
The Herald put that allegation that the party was light on climate to the party’s Climate Change spokesman Simon Watts, who said it was a bit “biased” to call National out for a lack of climate policy. He said National was the only party to release an agricultural emissions policy, for example.
There are several shades of wrong with this.
National does have an agricultural emissions policy, but it’s only to to delay the start date at which agriculture will pay an emissions price to 2030, from Labour and the Greens’ date of 2025.
It’s a sort of un-policy - a policy to undo a policy. It won’t reduce emissions.
It’s not even correct that National is the only party with an agricultural emissions policy. The idea of delaying the start date is a watered-down version of on an Act idea, which is that New Zealand farmers should not pay an agricultural emissions price until our major trading partners do.
Not only is National not the only party with an agricultural emissions policy - it’s not even the only party with their policy.
This problem bleeds through all of National’s climate agenda. The party is committed to the Government’s emissions budgets, and New Zealand’s Paris Agreement commitments, but doesn’t have a credible plan to reach these goals.
It wants to scrap the GIDI fund, which hands out hundreds of millions of dollars of money earned from the Emissions Trading Scheme to industry to help it decarbonise. Disbursements from the fund rarely fail to raise eyebrows for their cost, but the emissions reductions achieved by the fund are also impressive.
A $140m investment in a new furnace for New Zealand Steel will contribute 5.3 per cent of the emissions reductions needed for New Zealand’s 2026-2030 emissions budget.
National also wants to scrap the Government’s electric vehicle subsidies, which charge fees on polluting cars to fund subsidies on clean ones. This scheme is also wildly successful - so successful that it needed to be tweaked to remain affordable.
It will reduce emissions 230 per cent more than originally estimated by 2025 - a 50 percent more reduction in emissions than originally estimated by 2035.
National’s opposition to all three of these policies is perfectly reasonable.
We have a very concerning current account deficit of $33 billion or 8.5 per cent of GDP in the year to June, worse than at any point in the last 20 years.
Primary industries are New Zealand’s breadwinner. It’s perfectly reasonable to question the speed and extent to which they are brought into an emissions pricing regime.
National says the GIDI fund is corporate welfare. They’re absolutely right.
It hands over hundreds of millions of public money (money paid by polluters, mind) to companies, many of which are doing very well, thank you very much, in order to fund investments the companies should really make themselves.
And the electric vehicle subsidies are absolutely a ute tax, as National lampoons them to be. They tax cars like utes in order to fund vast subsidies to the purchasers of Teslas (which get the bulk of the subsidies).
But beyond very reasonable critiques (many of which some Labour MPs would quietly agree with), there is very little policy with which Labour and the Greens’ emissions reduction agenda would be replaced.
The choice is currently between a flawed status quo and a leap into the abyss.
One bright spot is National’s Electrify New Zealand policy, a sensible-enough-sounding plan to make it easier to consent renewable generation. It was good enough to apparently prompt the Government into publishing its own, very similar plan, which had been in the works for a while but got lost in the pipes of government.
But beyond this, the climate platform is lacklustre.
Watts conceded the party has not modelled any potential emissions reductions from its climate policies.
It’s hard to know what to think about that. On the one hand, we cannot expect parties to spend tens of thousands of dollars modelling emissions reductions; on the other, National is sitting on a million-dollar campaign war chest and if it wants to look a bit more serious, it might want to think about diverting some of the marketing budget into policy design.
Climate change policy in the coming decades will require drastic changes to the economy. Parties should start thinking about contracting this work out for modelling and fact-checking to external agencies as they currently do with their fiscal policies. In decades to come, emissions holes will matter as much, if not more, than fiscal ones.
The other problem is personnel. Watts is a serious man, and often spoken of as someone who is going places in the party. He has a future, and will be likely be a Cabinet minister. He is not, however, the equal of his opposite number, James Shaw, a seasoned parliamentarian approaching a decade of experience in Parliament and six years as a minister.
Stuart Smith, the party’s energy spokesman, can be taxonomised as the “good sort” genus of MP, a good constituent MP, but certainly not the equal of Energy Minister Megan Woods, ranked fifth on Labour’s list, and one of its strongest MPs.
It’s doubtful this problem will cost National too dearly this election. It is a cost of living and law and order election. The efforts of Todd Muller and Simon Bridges to bring National behind the Zero Carbon Act framework have bought the party some time. It will avoid - at least for this election - the fate of the Australian Liberals, thanks to climate-minded “teal” voters in Australia.
But they should be careful. Events like the summer cyclones and floods can quickly elevate climate change to the top of the agenda. The party would do well to ensure they’re not caught on the back foot.
National lists the following as its climate change-related policies, in its own words.
National is absolutely committed to climate change targets. We signed the Paris climate agreement, voted for the Zero Carbon bill and support emissions budgets.
National backs the ETS as the main tool to lower emissions.
National is focused on the key drivers of emissions. New Zealand’s biggest emitters are the agriculture and energy sectors, which contributes to 80 per cent of the country’s overall emissions. National has already announced two key polices in these areas.
More policies focused on other drivers of emissions will be announced soon.
Labour has used the Climate Emergency Response Fund [Cerf] for pet projects which have little to no emissions reduction potential. For some initiatives funded by Cerf, they don’t know how many emissions they’ll reduce.
It’s big talk and big spending, like everything else under Labour, and we are still not on track to deliver New Zealand’s 2030 and 2050 goals.
National will price emissions by 2030 and give farmers the tools they need to reduce their emissions - including gene technologies.
National will establish the Agriculture Emissions Pricing Board in 2024 and have farm level emissions measured by 2025.
All the Government has given farmers is options to reduce herd sizes or go offshore. Neither of those is viable.
This is about putting the right tools and systems in place for sustainable emissions reduction in agriculture; if we can do it sooner, we will.
The Government has set an unworkable deadline for pricing and lost the confidence of farmers and growers. He Waka Eke Noa is dead in the water.
While Labour and the Greens remain silent on how they will help farms lower their emissions, National has a plan.
National’s Electrify NZ policy will help double renewable energy generation that’s needed to put New Zealand on track to its climate change targets.
We’ll cut red tape, require consents for most renewable energy and upgrades existing infrastructure to be completed in a year or less.
As the fleet electrifies and we move to more renewables, the enormous demand that will be placed on the grid needs to be planned for. Removing barriers to building those renewables is the best thing we can do.
Labour and the Green’s answer to energy is to gift taxpayers’ money in handouts to profitable multinationals. The real issue is the red tape that is holding back investments in clean energy.
The Government recently announced fast-tracking for a few renewable projects. Under Labour, that’s an exception. Under National, that’s the rule.