The delay of New Zealand’s emissions reduction plan is embarrassing – we need action now

Last week, New Zealand’s government announced a five-month delay to the emissions reduction plan (ERP) – its key programme for combatting climate change. This is gutting – climate decisions by many organisations and institutions have been delayed since 2017; first to wait for the Zero Carbon Act, then the advice of the Climate Change Commission, and now the ERP, which won’t be announced until the budget in May.

The postponement even requires an embarrassing legislative change to the Zero Carbon Act to get around the December 2021 deadline for the plan, which is currently enshrined in law. Every day of delay makes the transition we will have to make to a low-carbon Aotearoa – and the ability to make it fair for affected communities – more and more difficult.

Two years ago, I was ashamed to be part of the New Zealand government delegation to the last climate conference, Cop25. Despite officials trying to talk us up as a climate leader, people from across the world regularly came up to us and asked what had gone so wrong with our agricultural policy. It has only gotten worse since. Climate Action Tracker recently released a damning assessment of New Zealand’s climate policies, ranking us “highly insufficient” and putting us alongside famous climate laggards like Australia and Brazil.

New Zealand now won’t have any part of the emissions reduction plan to declare at the crucially important Cop26 in November (yet again – New Zealand didn’t attend the climate leaders summit last year either because we had no climate policies to announce). It will announce an updated nationally determined contribution (NDC), the emissions reduction target we pledge to the rest of the world.

Concerningly, New Zealand last week decided not to do any public consultation whatsoever on the formation of the NDC. A report from Oxfam argued that when considering our historical responsibility, New Zealand’s “fair share” NDC would be a reduction of at least 99% below 1990 levels by 2030 – a far cry from the 11% reduction pledge in our current NDC.

If the government wants to show a commitment to what prime minister Jacinda Ardern has called her generation’s “nuclear-free moment”, this is the time to do it. Until the “climate” budget and ERP are released together in May next year, we need businesses, councils and government agencies to do all they can on climate now, during the response to Covid-19. We cannot keep waiting for the ERP – the announcement in May that we need will have to be so bold and transformational that decision makers should have picked all of the proverbial low-hanging fruit beforehand; like making public and active transport options more desirable and stopping the expansion of coalmines, motorways, and dairy farms.

Ultimately, New Zealand has an opportunity to make its emissions reduction plan change everything.

It could ban the import of the fossil fuel cars that pollute our air and the phosphate and synthetic nitrogen fertilisers that drive unsustainable dairy farming. It could make an unprecedented investment of billions of dollars in creating clean, living-wage union jobs for all who want them, whether that be teaching our tamariki (children), caring for vulnerable people in society, or building clean transport infrastructure and tens of thousands of warm, dry state homes.

Every fossil fuel worker could be promised a clean job or early retirement, and sticks and carrots could be implemented in our farming system to move towards a regenerative farming system that works with nature, not against it. Core benefits could be increased so everyone in Aotearoa has enough to thrive.

Funding can be diverted from prisons and military warcraft and instead iwi and hapū (tribes) could be properly resourced to lead and implement the solutions we know they possess. The Resource Management Act reforms can signal a shift from a system that regulates the exploitation of nature to one that protects Te Taiao (the environment) and honours New Zealand’s founding document, Te Tiriti O Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi).

Politicians have proven that they’re not going to make those decisions – the bold leadership we need – unless people power forces them to act. The pressure is ramping up; climate justice groups from across Aotearoa will converge on Taranaki, New Zealand’s so-called energy centre, during Cop26.

Diverse communities across Aotearoa are doing their bit; protecting native forests, building community gardens and creating popup cycle lanes. The government needs to lift its game and deliver the transformational emissions reductions plan and budget 2022 that we so sorely need.

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