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May 28, 2018 | by  | in News Opinion |
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Draft Report Proposed

The proposed path for a low carbon emissions transition of our economy has been set – what does it actually mean? 

The Productivity Commission of the Government launched its “Low Emissions Economy – Draft report” on 27 April. The report can fundamentally influence the policy directions of the country, and your life. The work behind it is commendable, and the importance for us as a society to do our part to combat climate change cannot be overstated, but the report still lacks concrete actions, although such actions, supposedly, will be the work the upcoming climate change commission. We need more rigorous debate and clarity on the way forward.

The report makes it clear that the transition to a low carbon emissions economy will be a long, uncertain, and challenging journey. It suggests that New Zealand can make the transition at costs similar to those that other developed countries may occur. However, the sooner we begin to reduce carbon emissions, the less disruptive the transition will be — or so their “modelling” suggests. I believe they are right.

According to the report, three key drivers will set New Zealand on a path to achieving its mitigation goals: reducing the carbon emissions intensity in agriculture, mainly from those farted gases from cows and sheep; switching from petrol and diesel to electric vehicles where feasible, since our electricity is mainly derived from renewable resources; and planting trees, since they absorb carbon from the atmosphere. The latter, however, will only buy us time, and we need disruptive technologies to emerge, like different feed for dairy, hydrogen and biofuels for heavy transport and aviation, fast and in-road charging of electric vehicles, and so on. I think we need more rigorous analyses to prioritise these technologies for New Zealand, which they do acknowledge.

The report then suggests that to help the private sector and civil society to plan and take long-term decisions with confidence, a stable and credible policy environment is needed. That is great and they provide very high-level focus areas:
• Getting carbon emissions pricing (basically a new tax) right, to send the right signals to motivate investment in low-emissions technologies and processes;

• Harnessing the full potential of innovation and supporting investment in low-emissions activities and technologies;
• Creating laws and institutions that endure over time and act as a commitment device for future Governments;

• Ensuring other supportive regulations and policies are in place to encourage an inclusive transition, which basically means we cannot undermine the needs of the poor to get the rich to do better.

But look at the briefing info that the public is provided with. Is all this just political jargon as usual?

Yes, our agriculture sector is vital to our response. But do we risk influencing one of our key exports? What should our farmers change to, given global shifts? We are not going to provide meat and dairy products to China in the future; they are making other plans with, for example, synthetic protein – and yes, that is real. And our farmers are just used to doing the same old thing year after year. We need multiple economic benefits from our land (and other) resources. What about biofuel production alongside food, feed, and fibre?

Yes, we should shift to Electrical Vehicles, but does that mean we will restrict – or ban – the import of those “cheap” Japanese second hand cars? Ouch, I have one. WOFs will have to include a carbon emissions testing and pricing (aka tax), for us to make the switch to EVs. But it will have to be introduced gradually to allow the second-hand market to catch up.

Forestry and fast-growing biomass is certainly something we should consider, but we need to be careful to enter global markets that will demand our resources. You open the door to export biomass then, well, you are not exporting biomass, but the nutrients from our soils, our (pristine) water, and the opportunity for socio-economic development to meet local needs.

These are some, not all, of the issues that we need to challenge/discuss/question. We need integrated (systems) thinking, because if you do something on the one end, what are the implications elsewhere? You cannot think about these issues in isolation. An example is tariff structures that allow for prosumers, or consumers that also produce electricity for the grid. The more wealthy can afford it, but it means the poor need to (potentially) pay higher electricity prices to maintain the grid infrastructure.

We all need to work together to resolve these complex issue in an effective trialogue. Are you going to have your say? The Productivity Commission welcomes input from all stakeholders on their website, by 8 June.

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