The Covid 19 Stay Safe order has returned air quality to Los Angeles. Image credit: Debbie La Torre
An unprecedented amount of $52 billion has been made available to spend in response to the Covid 19 crisis, including for economic recovery. How much of this money to spend, and on what, is still to be determined:
In an interview with Stuff, Robertson also sounded a warning: the post-lockdown economy is going to be tough, unemployment will soar and the entire domestic economic structure of New Zealand could need rethinking.
The Government, he admits, is still trying to get its head around the depth of a potential economic nosedive.
The government’s response to this Covid crisis has been impressive, and gives hope that we can now expect an equally comprehensive response to the even larger problem of climate change.
On the other hand, there’s a very real threat that governments will choose to stimulate economic recovery in a way that worsens the climate:
the pandemic will likely slow the world’s efforts to fight climate change as governments and industries pause investments in clean energy and infrastructure…
Relative to the parallel world in which the COVID-19 outbreak never occurred, our path to net zero emissions may very well have become more challenging, not less.
The government will be receiving lots of advice from a range of lobbyists of all stripes, within New Zealand and internationally. One of the more thoughtful pieces I’ve read is an article from energy expert Michael Liebreich:
If you think this will be over in a couple of months, I have some luxury cruise tickets to sell you…
The idea that pouring billions of dollars into electric vehicle charging stations, renewable energy projects or solar rooftops over the next few months is the best way to do this is fanciful.
As soon as the immediate crisis has passed, however, and attention moves to reflating economies, that is the time to ensure that clean energy, transport and smart infrastructure is at the heart of any longer-term stimulus. How might that be achieved?
Liebreich had visited New Zealand last year and was surprised at the lack of action in some sectors and industries.
Covid has given us the opportunity to reimagine the motorway system put to better use.
It’s important to remember the $52 billion is not from existing funds accumulated from tax revenue. It will be largely borrowed, to be paid back by future taxpayers. And although borrowing for economic stimulus is not new, the scale of this outlay and the knowledge that what we are experienced in building is not what our children will need, creates an enormous need for caution. This money will be wasted if it doesn’t work towards achieving the massive change that the IPCC has said is required to keep our planet liveable.
One question to ask about any spending is: How will our children cope if faced with a pandemic like we are facing?
They may have already struggled economically with climate change-induced wildfires, floods, droughts, horticultural pests and diseases, high numbers of climate refugees, or loss of markets due to geo-political instability. They’ll probably already be paying billions in carbon credits and mitigation.
Can we really load them with the cost of our recovery from Covid 19, while they’re coping with the cost of their own pandemic? If we are to spend their money, it must be in a way that improves their environment, and that also gives them the best chance of being able to pay this money back, in the climate-stressed future they will inherit.
In short, the economic recovery must involve establishing a New Climate Economy.
Image credit: Riddell, The Guardian
The new Climate Change Commission will need to be closely involved with the investment decisions for this recovery effort, because the government’s responsibility to reduce our emissions has been formalised by both international agreements and national legislation. Last year, the commission’s technical reference groups of subject experts met three times.
The terms of reference for the Technical Reference Groups say they:
will help the Committee/Commission Secretariat develop the analysis and test the robustness of the results and conclusions. This will involve providing a sounding board on mitigation options (including availability, cost trajectories, and likely uptake over time); feedback on modelling approaches and results; and exploring policy options and feasibility.
Even experts’ understanding of the options available to us seems highly variable. Where are these experts drawn from? Are they ‘agents of change’? Are they prepared to overturn decades of established practice in order to rapidly prepare each sector for a climate-ready economic reboot? Do they understand the need to:
- Transform our transport system, with a focus on modeshift,
- Transform our urban form, using the international guidelines from organisations such as C40,
- Rebalance our range of industries in order to drastically reduce our shipping and aviation emissions and be more resilient,
- Decouple economic health from economic growth, by establishing a circular economy,
- Transform our democratic systems, to overcome the bias towards the status quo?
Auckland’s Motorway Network during Covid 19. Image credit: Kākāriki Two Ticks
Let’s look at the organisations represented.
The participants of the Climate Commission’s Transport Technical Reference Group are from:
- Motor Industry Association
- Kiwi Rail
- Aviation New Zealand
- Ports of Auckland
- Auckland Forecasting Centre
- Intelligent Transport System NZ
- Drive Electric
- Air New Zealand
- Ministry of Transport (observers)
- New Zealand Transport Agency (observer)
- Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (observer)
Will these organisations benefit from a complete overhaul of our economy and a radical new way of doing things?
The participants of the Climate Commission’s Land Use Technical Reference Group are from:
- Toi Ohomai
- Beef and Lamb
- Ngāi Tahu Farming
- Horticulture New Zealand
- He Oranga mo Nga Uri Tuku Iho Trust
- Lincoln University
- Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research
- Department of Conservation (observer)
- Ministry for Primary Industries (observer)
- Ministry for the Environment (observer)
Will these organisations work to overhaul urban land use planning? Actually, this is quite an exciting list for a group to advise on rural land use changes, so perhaps another Technical Reference Group, with urban land use as the focus, should be formed.
“So nice to be Queens of the Road”. Image credit: E.S.
Appointments to the technical reference groups were probably made by the Interim Climate Change Committee with guidance from bureaucrats from the relevant ministries. Was there sufficient focus on determining which sectors need the most change, and on finding people already demonstrating vision for how to make that change?
It is expected that they will meet at least three more times before mid-late 2020 and that the Commission will also engage with a wider range of technical stakeholders through additional workshops and meetings.
Engaging with this wider range of technical stakeholders is critical and instills hope that the obvious gaps might be filled.
Our government is focused on the well-being of our people, present and future. It’s important the advice they hear now, in preparing a response to Covid 19 – at a scale of spending that we have never seen before – is not just from the incumbent sectors that have resisted the change to a low-carbon economy. They need to hear from progressive experts thinking outside the square who can help us establish a better future; one in which we can adapt to and minimise climate change.
Dominion Rd during Covid 19