Government begins legislative process for carbon neutral New Zealand

The legislative process to make New Zealand carbon neutral began yesterday. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Climate Change Minister James Shaw announced an outline of the plan to introduce carbon neutral legislation to Parliament.

Whilst I support measures to reduce New Zealand’s carbon footprint, I have to be realistic here. New Zealand is probably not going to fully attain a carbon neutral status. All nations will be likely to have some sort of carbon footprint for several reasons:

  1. Alternative power sources are not completely reliable – a prolonged dry period or failure of winter snows in alpine catchment to replenish the water levels in hydro electric power storage lakes; long periods of windless days or prolonged cloudiness
  2. The rate of electric vehicle uptake in New Zealand has been largely symbolic with few private users buying them – possibly due to perceptions about the need to plug in; hybrids are still too expensive for many people despite their much lower fuel consumption
  3. Resistance in transport means that despite railways being able to haul significantly more, there will continue to be a significant trucking fleet on the road
  4. A sea change in consumer attitude is needed – banning plastic bags is just a minor step as large scale reduction of single use plastics is needed, which will require buy in from all parts of the economy, public and private sector alike
  5. Substantial investment in researching alternatives to plastic, ensuring they can recycled or biodegrade
  6. Major overhaul in planning – councils would have to revisit air plans, waste disposal bylaws and other legal options; possibly even retool
  7. Political consensus is necessary – right now A.C.T. openly denies climate change, and the National Party policy during its 2008-2017 tenure in office being business as usual
  8. N.I.M.B.Y. protesters who are known to oppose developments such as coal mines but also find the alternatives just as hard to take

Around the world there needs to be much greater international collaboration. This will be difficult in such a challenging geopolitical environment where a strident nationalist discourse permeates politics in numerous major players – particularly the United States, but also China and Russia.

New Zealand should be realistic. There is no point in busting a boiler for negligible gain if it is going to be wiped out by the lax approach of other nations. New Zealanders deserve to be warm and dry in their homes. We have to transport goods somehow. Economic adaptation to a carbon neutral environment is not going to happen with the flick of a switch, however nice that would be.

Even if we set the following timetable, I am guessing full implementation would still take a decade or more:

  • Legislation through Parliament by September 2018; takes effect January 2020 – significant resistance from energy, transport, industry and commerce; tourism, environmental and
  • Councils begin reviewing air quality plans, and other planning instruments; City/District/Regional Annual Plans for 2019-2020 provide for public input into reviews with statutory planning processes for new; revised plans
  • Private sector begins to react to law changes
  • Ongoing – significant air discharge permits will be reviewed as they expire

So the process begins. It will be in March 2018 when the Government expects officials to start preparing advice regarding the provisions of the new legislation. As National’s spokesperson for Climate Change, Todd Muller said, this cannot be rushed and there are significant impacts to be considered.

Time will tell how well this proceeds.

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