Businesses in New Zealand compete on a playing field that undercharges for pollution and thus disadvantages low-carbon and environmentally-friendly practice. Similarly, business-as-usual mindsets hinder low-carbon and environmentally-friendly transport and land use plans. We need strong climate law to break through to progressive action. Tomorrow, consultation for the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill comes to a close. The legislation is ground-breaking, and could lead New Zealand out of polluting, exploitative practices into a sustainable, low-emissions, circular economy. Submitting with support for the Bill is important; some industries will be trying to resist any curtailment of their activities by submitting against.
Here is Greater Auckland’s draft submission v2. In the submission, we particularly consider the emissions considerations of transport, and urban planning. We will consider anything you write in the comments section for inclusion in the final submission before we send it.
For this post, though, I thought I’d mention a few other aspects. I include links to submissions [edit: this one by Greenpeace is last year’s!] and Auckland Council, a media release from Beef and Lamb NZ, and submission guidelines from The Green Party and Generation Zero. The views of these organisations do not all agree, but give a range of views.
Auckland Council’s submission has surprised me. It is excellent. It has restored my hope that this city can develop sound consultation practice. I don’t agree with everything in their submission, but I can see that it has been written in response to the lengthy process of real engagement that they undertook as part of forming the Council’s own draft Climate Action Framework. Using diverse communications methods, Council was able to solicit opinion, provide platforms for experts to inform, and encourage discussion between residents, without it degenerating into defensive conflict.
Instead of trying to cover the whole bill, I’m going to focus on the weakest parts, which if tidied up, will allow the Bill to bring real change to how we operate:
3 Consultation Process.
The 2002 Act and this 2019 Bill establish policy frameworks for meeting New Zealand’s commitment to reducing its emissions. The 2002 Act considered the commitments to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol. The current Bill seeks to meet our commitments to the Paris Agreement.
The Bill establishes a new Climate Change Commission. The task they have of setting emissions budgets, advising, and monitoring progress in emissions reductions is huge. Unfortunately, this Bill also adds the job of advising and monitoring how we adapt to climate change.
Greenpeace expresses concerns around this inclusion of adaptation in the Commission’s scope:
Existing guidance and policy on adaptation is currently insufficient in NZ and needs to be adequately resourced but this does not sit under the remit of the Zero Carbon Bill… Preparing for a severe 3-4o C warming by the end of this century, for example, would be extremely costly and quite likely futile; while investing all efforts, including international diplomatic efforts, in keeping warming within 1.5o C avoids catastrophic impacts and the consequent need for certain adaptations. A strategy for adapting to climate change impacts should be prioritised and well-resourced by central Government. However, this is not the purpose of the Zero Carbon Bill.
Auckland Council also notes the huge work involved with the Commission needing to cover adaptation as well as emission reduction, but they believe adaptation is an important part of the Commission’s work:
We believe that the integrated approach can enable actions that deliver multiple outcomes instead of hindering or undermining progress in either field of mitigation and adaptation.
On balance, I believe Greenpeace has got this issue right. While younger people are striking for action on reducing emissions, there are industries and individuals who are comfortable with doing the minimum possible. Focus on adaptation needs to be kept independent to prevent it becoming the easier path for the Commission to fall back on when they find “emissions reductions” too difficult politically. (Ironically, the behaviour change required to radically reduce emissions is the best adaptation we could devise.)
What does this mean for transport in Auckland, for example? If the Climate Change Commission is solely focused on reducing emissions, AT and Council will need to reduce vehicle km travelled (vkt) for Auckland. And it will need to be reduced more than elsewhere, for equity – Auckland has many more transport options than regional areas do. In reality, Auckland may need to reduced its transport emissions by about 60% by 2030 so the regional areas don’t have to reduce theirs so much. Focusing on reducing vkt rather than just electrifying is paramount, as in the process, the many vkt travelled unwillingly (as chauffeurs, as children having to accompany siblings, as people facing longer-than-desirable commutes, and as reluctant drivers aware of the dangers presented by vehicles) can be reduced. Healthier streets, better safety and more connected communities are co-benefits. This is the chart I’ve put into the submission about different levers available to reduce vkt:
If the Climate Change Commission gets side-tracked onto adaptation instead, they might get more concerned about adaptation needs such as raising roads to avoid deluge from rising sea levels, and much of our transport budget could get spent on that. At the end of the century, our grandchildren won’t be impressed if we raised roads for thrice-a-year floods in the 2020’s if in doing so we’d allowed our emissions to continue to rise. But they’ll be very thankful if we’d established a low carbon transport network by 2030. They’d be able to look back at 70 years of Auckland and see that we hadn’t wasted our money on fuel, cars and carbon abatement costs, so were able to invest in other improvements to the city. They’d also see that New Zealand had been able to take part confidently in international treaties and negotiations, and know that we’d therefore been a part of the movement that had limited warming.
The weakest part of the Amendment is in sections 5ZJ and 5ZK:
5ZJ Effect of failure to meet 2050 target and emissions budgets
- No remedy or relief is available for failure to meet the 2050 target or an emissions budget, and the 2050 target and emissions budgets are not enforceable in a court of law, except as set out in this section.
- If the 2050 target or an emissions budget is not met, a court may make a declaration to that effect, together with an award of costs…
5ZK 2050 target and emissions budget are permissive considerations
- A person or body may, if they think fit, take the 2050 target or an emissions budget into account in the exercise or performance of a public function, power, or duty conferred on that person or body by or under law (subject to other requirements that apply by or under law).
- However, a failure by any person or body to take the 2050 target, an emissions budget, or guidance issued under section 5ZL into account does not invalidate anything done by that person or body…
The Green Party suggests:
4. Require all politicians and senior public servants to take emissions reduction plans into account when making other decisions…
5. Increase accountability by making point 4) enforceable through Judicial Review…
Generation Zero says:
Section 5ZJ must be removed to allow the court to take other steps.
Auckland Council says:
Auckland Council has concerns around the ambiguity and limited consequences for failure to reach the 2050 targets and emissions budgets… We propose that if there was an award of costs for failure to meet the target, it must be of an adequate level to act as a financial driver for climate change action. We also request that the bill clarifies to whom the costs would be awarded…
Permissive action, outlined in section 5ZK of the bill, enables organisations and sectors to continue business as usual when urgent action is critical. We would like to see a stronger enforcement ability within the bill to ensure New Zealand transitions to a net zero future.
We must learn from the oversights of the UK Climate Change Act in which vague drafting means there is considerable uncertainty around what the courts could do. In particular, the Zero Carbon Act should clarify the legal implications of the Government failing to (a) achieve an emissions budget; or (b) set policy plans capable of meeting future budgets. We recommend that the Zero Carbon Act is drafted so as to allow the courts to compel compliance.
Currently, in urban planning, attempts to get local government to follow policy are often unsuccessful, and involve huge amounts of time on the part of residents, green business advocates, community groups, academics, local board members, councillors, and officers. It shouldn’t be this way.
If given teeth, this Bill could free these many people from advocacy so they can work more directly on directly developing good climate-ready practices.
Sections 5ZJ and 5ZK must be revised.
A note about submitting. As Action Station has said in their emails encouraging members to submit:
The more of us that speak out now, the more politicians will know they have the mandate to do more, and sooner. By making a submission you will show politicians there is strong public support for more ambitious targets that are enforceable in the courts.
However, the summary of feedback on the draft bill last year split out results into “long” (full submission) and “short” (ie using the 3-question shortened form available on the Zero Carbon web page). Furthermore it split the “long” submissions into “unique” submissions and those using pro-forma submissions.
I hope this doesn’t indicate a disregard for the burden that consultation places on the public. Whereas industry can afford to pay people to research and write submissions, the public need to do it in their spare time. Some demographics have more time than others to do so. People may submit on one or two aspects that they know about, they may compare submissions from different community organisations and choose the one that matches their beliefs best, or they may follow a templated submission process inserting their own beliefs wherever they differ. Giving less weight to submissions of people with limited time to write their own, long, unique submissions would be undemocratic.
So please, submit, and use whatever prepared submissions you find that represent your views. But please also point out that if the Government chooses to analyse the results, they must treat all submissions as information to consider. Any statistical analysis is irrelevant. The numbers game happens when we vote at the general election.
*Silver Pine and Pohutukawa images are from “The Structure of New Zealand Woods” by Meyland and Butterfield.