At a time when the need to address climate change is becoming more evident than ever before, it’s astounding that Labour seem to be running scared of addressing it.
Last week we covered the government’s indicative priorities for their next Government Policy Statement (GPS). Some of the key updates over the current GPS included elevating Emissions Reduction to becoming an overarching priority, ensuring that the GPS is used to guide all transport funding, using maintenance and renewals to make a greater contribution to improving the transport system, and placing greater importance on resilience.
But yesterday, following a typical Herald beat up which insinuated that it’s all about raising fuel taxes and forcing people onto buses and bikes, it seems that by the same afternoon, the plan was moved to the scrap heap.
Under this approach, the government wanted to reallocate some of the money normally spent on road maintenance – that tallies nearly $2 billion a year – towards bus and bike lanes.
It has now U-turned on this plan. Transport Minister Michael Wood said Cyclone Gabrielle had changed the transport priorities.
“We are now working on an emergency style GPS that will focus on the huge task of reconstruction of roads and bridges washed out by the cyclone and flooding, as well as building greater resilience so our transport network can better withstand the increasing frequency of extreme weather events like we have seen this year.”
Let’s just quickly address the bus and bike issue.
This seems to largely be a misinterpretation of what is actually proposed. The paragraph that seems to have caused all of the concern is below.
For example, we maintain or renew around nine percent of the entire roading network every year. A key part of the GPS 2024 investment programme to achieve reduction in transport emissions will involve “building back better”. This means, rather than replacing like-for-like, as part of maintenance and and renewal programmes roads need to be upgraded to achieve their desired future state. This may, for example mean resilience and safety improvements, or creating additional space for a bus lane or active transport.
Digging up roads to maintain them and return them in a like-for-like state, only to have to dig them up again a few years later to implement changes we know we want/need to make is a sure-fire way to waste huge amounts of additional money while also generating more disruption and emissions.
The GPS proposal is (or was) effectively to implement what is sometimes called a “dig-once” approach and sometimes could be as simple as changing the markings on the road. This also doesn’t mean everything is all paid for out of the maintenance budget, just that the works happen at the same time.
A good example of this approach is the recent discussion over Meola Rd. AT needs to rebuild the road this year, so it makes sense to add cycle lanes at the same time.
The biggest challenge with this idea is likely to get it to filter down to become a common, everyday process at road-controlling authorities: a new, fiscally prudent and climate-savvy business-as-usual.
Labour should be able to talk confidently about this stuff and explain easily that it isn’t some kind of “culture war”, as some like to portray it, but just common sense that will save us money and frustration in the short and medium term while also taking the most sensible long term view.
And that statement goes for climate change too.
Hipkins said “a lot had changed” in the last few months that would have a bearing on the final GPS.
“It will change from what was previously consulted on. Clearly, there’s been a change in leadership of the Government but also we’ve dealt with an event that is going to have a significant impact on transport infrastructure and where we have to prioritise.”
Our transport policy shouldn’t be a case of emissions reduction OR resilience adaptation but emissions reduction AND resilience adaptation. Put another way:
Using climate disaster as an excuse to back away from climate action is quite something https://t.co/9Gh0pPY6cv
— Aaron Hawkins (@A_G_Hawkins) March 6, 2023
There is absolutely no debate that we need to restore access to communities cut off by the events of the last few months. It’s also important that we build back appropriately, and not focus on expensive, decades long four-lane expressway solutions. Often, resilience means doing simple stuff right, clearing culverts, identifying roads prone to slips and floods, and fixing them.
As a number of articles in recent weeks have highlighted, if this is the kind of impact we get from 1.2º of warming, how much harder will everything become with warming at more than twice that – which the world is currently on track for.
Instead of work to improve resilience coming at the expense of emissions reduction, it should instead come at the expense of the types of projects that will contribute to making climate change worse – projects like Otaki to North of Levin, Mill Rd and numerous other large road projects.
If anything, recent events should provide a clear and easy opportunity for Labour to lead on this, and to explain why change is needed.