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On Monday, New Zealand finally stepped towards doing something nationally about the concatenating problems of climate change.
Climate Change Minister James Shaw released the long-awaited Emissions Reduction Plan, which aims to provide a road-map — whoops, don’t mention roads — towards the target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The task facing New Zealand and the world is to change behaviours and reduce emissions to keep global temperature rise by 2100 to well below 2degC above pre-industrial era levels, at which point it is believed runaway heating would begin.
It would be far more preferable to keep warming to 1.5degC or lower this century. However, the planet is getting hotter all the time and already appears on track — yes, tracks are much more politically correct to mention — to reach that point.
Better late than never when it comes to a plan. But “long-awaited” as a description is very much a euphemism. It’s getting on for 50 years since the first warnings were sounded about rising carbon dioxide levels in the southern hemisphere. Politicians and activists have been talking about the need to do something about it all since at least the early 1990s.
Mr Shaw and his team have worked hard on producing the plan and should be applauded for finally dragging something out into the limelight. But there is a sense that some of the more radical Green Party MPs and members, and those who want to see quick gains, will not be happy with something that seems merely acceptable rather than revolutionary.
One thing that does seem to be missing is a sense of urgency. Realistically, though, a balance has to be struck to ensure as many people buy into the plan as possible, and that is more likely with a moderate approach, as least initially. It has been a huge week for the Government, with an emissions plan, a Budget — and a big Budget at that — and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stuck at home with Covid-19. Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief now the weekend is here. He has done a good job in tricky circumstances.
But be honest — who has really been paying attention? There have been a lot of figures flying around and it is easy to become swamped by them.
Mr Robertson called Monday “the most significant day in our country’s history on climate action”. He said the move from “piecemeal” to “smart, long-term investment” was being made possible through a $4.5 billion response pot funded by the emissions trading scheme. An initial tranche of $2.9b was being invested in reduction plans over the next four years.
The plan largely targets transport, with $1.2b set aside. That includes $569 million for the Clean Car Upgrade scheme, to help lower and middle-income households get rid of older, petrol-hungry vehicles and buy more expensive electric and hybrid cars instead.
Emissions from transport are about 17% of the total amount and have risen by 76% since 1990. Earlier proposals by the Climate Change Commission to stop importing petrol and diesel vehicles by 2025 have been put off.
But what about coal and agriculture? Many critics have pointed out that agriculture, our biggest emitter, is not part of this first plan.
They also say that hyped new initiatives, such as a Centre for Climate Action on Agricultural Emissions to research how to reduce methane and other emissions, appear the same as the NZ Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, which has been working towards these goals with limited on-farm success for almost a decade.
When it comes to burning coal, there might be a ban on the installation of new coal boilers, but existing plants are not due to be mothballed until 2037.
Ms Ardern might be calling climate change action her generation’s “nuclear-free moment”, but in that instance we were leading the world, not struggling to keep up.