What is a Climate Change Minister to do?

Insights Newsletter
22 October, 2021

Last week, the government unveiled the first draft of its plan for how this country will lower emissions over the coming decades.

The Emissions Reduction Plan lacks specifics but signals intent. If only half of it comes to pass, the plan will permanently change what governments do in this country. It is nothing if not ambitious.

The manifesto was greeted not with fears of overreach but with disappointment.

“More waffle than brunch time in Ponsonby,” said the Green Building Council.

Failed to say who will drive the Circular Economy agenda, said the Zero Waste Network of Aotearoa.

“Kicking the can down the road,” said the Council of Trade Unions.

The Public Service Association complained about the “lack of tangible actions to make the emission reductions we need.”

The Sustainable Business Council and Climate Leaders Coalition want more detail. And on it went.

The New Zealand Initiative was almost alone in pointing out the Emissions Reduction Plan will not reduce emissions. The government has already put a sinking lid on emissions via the Emissions Trading Scheme. Policies under this cap cannot lower emissions any further.

No environmental groups share our concern. Their demand is clear: more taxes, more regulations, bans and subsidies. More government. Whether this cuts emissions is either taken as given or seen as irrelevant.

What is a Climate Change Minister to do? Push climate change policies which work? Or pander to a voting base that demands visible but useless actions?

For now, activists in ministries and environmental groups hold sway. But for how long?

As the government’s radical policies bite, voters will become more receptive to the idea that their sacrifices are for nothing. Their pain is not the necessary by-product of lowering emissions, but of wasteful policies which do not work as promised.

Sooner or later, the median voter will see the lie and demand one of two things. Either the government stops virtue signalling at their expense and does what works for the climate. Or that it ceases any further action on climate at all.

So far, the government has chosen to pander to a vocal but mistaken minority. It has pushed policies knowing they will not work. But the government cannot mislead voters all the way to net zero emissions.

A larger political audience – a silent majority who want effective actions without the needless pain – lies in wait.

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