It’s the emissions, stupid!

Matt Burgess
Insights Newsletter
20 November, 2020

The Government has declared a climate crisis, so there should be no room for bad emissions policies. But you could drive a bus through the Government’s current strategy and processes on climate.

Under the Paris Agreement, New Zealand must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. By 2050, net emissions – gross emissions minus offsets such as planting trees – must reach zero.

This precision makes it uncomfortably clear how difficult these targets will be.

New Zealand’s reliance on its primary sector will make the road to net zero especially challenging. The country will simply run out of money long before the destination if it spends too much to cut too few emissions. Effective policies are essential.

Unfortunately, that is not how the Government sees things.

As far as we know, none of the Government’s emissions policies make any real difference. That is because nobody has checked. This week, the Ministry for the Environment, in response to Official Information Act requests, revealed how many policies have been tested for their actual effects on emissions in the last five years. That number is zero.

This says a lot about how seriously the Government takes climate change. The Government has more data on the price of haircuts than on the effectiveness of its emissions policies.

Harder things are already being measured. For example, the Ministry of Social Development measures the dollar value of early support for people on benefits. And Pharmac knows how many dollars it takes for each drug to add one year of life.

Yet the Government has taken on the impossibly difficult task of choosing where and how to cut emissions without the systems it needs to make good decisions. Inevitably, as bad policies like 100% renewable electricity lead to missed targets, Kiwis will be called on to do more, always more. Climate change is the party you can never leave.

Ministers and senior officials declare New Zealand needs “climate action.” It is “urgent,” they say. Actually, New Zealand needs lower emissions. That is what the text of this country’s legislation and international agreements say.

And the problem is not urgency, but that policymakers do not understand that the task is to find the shortest path to lower emissions. Only robust and disciplined analysis will reveal the way.

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