Earlier this year, the Climate Change Commission (CCC) released their advice to the government on how to meet our domestic emissions targets. There was some really good stuff in there though we thought it wasn’t quite ambitious enough, especially around the need for mode-shift.
We also had the Ministry of Transport’s ‘green paper’, a discussion document which presented the ministry’s view on how to meet the emissions targets set by the CCC. Most notably, they didn’t agree with the CCC on the level of uptake of electric vehicles that would occur – which meant reducing, avoiding, and/or mode-shifting travel as needed to make a much larger contribution. They suggested that we would need around a 40% reduction in the kilometres that light vehicles travel by 2035, and an over 55% reduction in VKT by 2050.
Today the government has released its first Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) for consultation.
The Government is inviting New Zealanders to inform the country’s first Emissions Reduction Plan with the release of a consultation document containing a range of policy ideas to decrease the country’s emissions, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Climate Change Minister James Shaw announced today.
The Emissions Reduction Plan will set the direction for climate action through to 2035. It will set out action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across a range of areas, including energy, transport, waste, agriculture, construction and financial services.
“We are putting forward for discussion a range of ideas that that would reduce our emissions and can also create jobs and new opportunities for Kiwi businesses and our economy,” Jacinda Ardern said.
As you might expect, I’ve focused my attention on the topics we discuss the most, mainly transport and housing.
Looking through the ERP, it is unsurprising to see it has a lot of similarities to the work previously completed by the CCC and MoT. They have taken on the CCC’s recommendation to reduce emissions from transport by 41% by 2035 compared to 2019 levels. This is equivalent to a 6.7 mega-tonne (Mt) reduction, and represents a significant difference to our current path as shown below. However, this target is currently being challenged in court by the Lawyers for Climate Action.
To achieve its stated target, the government have set four transport targets:
Four transport targets
- Reduce vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) by cars and light vehicles by 20 per cent by 2035 through providing better travel options, particularly in our largest cities.
- Increase zero-emissions vehicles to 30 per cent of the light fleet by 2035.
- Reduce emissions from freight transport by 25 per cent by 2035.
- Reduce the emissions intensity of transport fuel by 15 per cent by 2035.
The first two of those are the aspect of the ERP I was most interested to look at, to see where the government landed, as this was an area where the CCC and MoT differed significantly.
The CCC estimated that by 2035, around 36% of our light vehicle fleet would be electric (down from the estimates in their draft of about 44%). The MoT weren’t so optimistic, suggesting it would be less than 20%. As you can see above, the government have come in between these two figures, with a target of 30% by 2035.
The number of EVs in the fleet impacts how much we need to reduce travel by. In short, the fewer EVs we have, the more we need to achieve emissions reductions by other methods like reduced travel or shifting it to other less emitting modes. The MoT suggested that based on their estimates, we’d need about a 40% reduction in light Vehicle Kilometres Travelled (VKT) by 2035. The CCC didn’t give a 2035 figure, but said it could be just 9% by 2030. As with the EV levels, the government have gone for a figure between these, proposing a 20% reduction in VKT.
Taking a broader view of this number crunching, it’s clear that a robust figure for VKT reduction is required, because the number of EV’s that New Zealand is able to import depends heavily on international factors that our government has less influence over. Planning more ambitiously, to achieve the MoT figure of 40% VKT reduction, would create a system far more resilient to EV supply problems. It would also require the sector to really overhaul its systems and processes – like the outdated business case approach – and this would be helpful in many ways.
The ERP’s 20% VKT reduction reduction sounds like quite a lot to people in the sector, but we’re seeing a much larger reduction right now, albeit a temporary pandemic-induced one. Vehicles in NZ travel just under 48 billion kms every year, so a 20% reduction would see that drop to about 39 billion km. The last time VKT was at that level was about 2004 – when there were nearly a million fewer people living in NZ. That was also about the time we really started ramping up highway spending. I wonder what VKT would be today if instead we had poured all that effort into alternatives?
The impact of the VKT reduction target is likely to be much larger in our biggest cities. That’s because those are the places where alternatives to driving will be the most viable and so will have to do most of the heavy lifting to achieve that target.
As a quick exercise, let’s assume the focus is on the big cities, and therefore rural areas and smaller towns achieved just a 5% decrease on their current VKT. That would mean VKT in our six biggest cities would need to reduce by about 60% in order to achieve the national target.Imagine Auckland with 60% fewer cars on the roads.
There are of course a lot of opportunities in small towns too, especially with cycling networks. In which case, a 10% reduction in the rest of the country would require about a 46% reduction in the cities.
To achieve that level of change is going to require a significant improvement in alternatives. Below is an overview of how they say this VKT target will be achieved.
As with both the CCC and MoT reports, there’s a lot more detail in the ERP about these topics and some great language around it. Like everything, though, we’ll have to believe these changes when we actually see them.
One of the first things we’re likely to see in the coming few years will be mode-shift plans. Auckland already has one, but it has been completely ignored by all agencies involved.
The new and revised plans will set mode-shift targets for each urban area and prioritise:
- urban development in areas with frequent public transport routes
- using transport demand management approaches, alongside changes to the way we plan and manage urban form
- reallocating significant amounts of road/street space to rapidly deliver more dedicated bus lanes and safe separated bike/scooter lanes
- completing connected cycle networks
- more traffic-calming and low-traffic neighbourhoods
- improving footpaths/crossings for pedestrians.
Here is the overview of the proposed actions for the other three targets:
And finally for transport, these are the questions they’re asking for feedback on.
Outside of transport, there is also a section on planning. The part from it that stood out to me is below.
Integrating emissions into urban planning and funding
We do not know the total emissions contribution of urban areas. We need to develop a way to measure the emissions associated with urban development decisions. This should incorporate the likely lifetime emissions of transport and energy use that would be enabled under different scenarios, and embodied emissions in buildings and infrastructure.
Understanding the emissions impact could inform strategic, spatial and local planning and investment decisions, and drive emissions reductions going forward.
There are major opportunities in planning and investing for a more compact mixed-use urban form, oriented around public and active transport. As noted in the Transport section, the Government will require transport emissions impact assessments for urban developments and factor these into planning decisions (with requirements to avoid, minimise and mitigate transport emissions impacts). Transport plans and future investments will also strongly prioritise travel by public transport, walking, and cycling.
Future work could explore the:
- economic benefits and distributional impacts of intensifying development in towns and cities
- price signals and economic instruments to support this.
This includes options proposed by the Resource Management Review Panel, such as ‘value capture’ tools, as well encouraging the uptake of alternative, low-carbon infrastructure and its financing.
That “future work” part seems somewhat redundant. There is already a heap of work on these kinds of things internationally – so this sounds like someone trying to reinvent the wheel than using what is already available. Unfortunately, the tendency to “do another study” rather than tackle our problem of sprawl is contributing to our transport, infrastructure and biodiversity problems.
Overall, there are some really good things in the ERP – but the challenge will be seeing it actually implemented.
I worry there isn’t enough ambition in the plan, nor resilience to change; especially if it’s weakened following consultation, or various agencies undermine it by just ignoring it as they have with other plans. Perhaps one thing that is needed is some trigger points that will modify it. For example, if after a few years the EV uptake and VKT reduction are not at the levels expected, this should trigger a requirement for additional measures to be delivered.
There is also a lot of discussion in the climate space right now. How will the government change the plan if it becomes clear that much higher international emissions cuts are going to be required? How will they change the plan if emissions aren’t reducing as required?
Finally, it would be useful to take a leaf out of the UK’s great cycling and walking plan. One of the measures in that is that local authority performance on delivering walking and cycling changes can influence how much overall funding they get.
The consultation is open till 24 November.