Mixed reactions to the Climate Change Commission’s advice

On 9 June 2021 the Climate Change Commission (Commission) released Ināia tonu nei: a low emissions future for Aotearoa, its first substantial advice to the Government on climate action required in New Zealand.

The Commission received more than 15,000 submissions on its draft advice – exceeding the number of submissions made on the Zero Carbon Bill. It is fair to say the Commission’s advice captured the attention of individuals and businesses across all parts of New Zealand. It called to question the Commission’s role and what change it could bring to ‘business as usual’ in the future.

The Climate Change Commission is a statutory body with advisory and monitoring roles

The Commission is a Crown entity with a statutory purpose of providing independent, expert advice to the Government on mitigating climate change and adapting to the effects of climate change. The Commission’s first advice will assist the Minister for Climate Change to set the first three emissions budgets and an emissions reduction plan which will act as pathways to achieving the budgets and 2050 target. These decisions are likely to be made before November when Minister Shaw goes to COP26 in Glasgow to account for New Zealand’s progress toward the goals of the Paris Agreement. The decisions must be made by the end of 2021.

The Commission also has the potential to champion change and put the Government on track to meet its emissions budgets and 2050 target. In addition to its advisory role, the Commission also serves an accountability purpose, monitoring and reporting on the Government’s progress towards meeting its emissions budgets and the 2050 target.

We expect the Commission to use its potentially powerful position to question whether the Government is doing enough to meet the Commission’s own recommendations, and to create other advice that will influence sectors throughout the country.

The Government will face significant pressure to deliver on the advice

The Government has set emissions reduction targets at a national and international level, established the Commission and it is now facing significant pressure to implement change and deliver. The Commission will call the Government out if it fails to act or take enough action.

The briefing to the incoming Minister for Climate Change 2020 signalled the pressure on the Government to act. It reported that “Drivers of climate change are hard-wired into the global economy and a successful response will require an economic transition ultimately on the scale of the industrial revolution. The changes needed to current production and consumption patterns, including in New Zealand, are profound.”

Mixed reactions to the advice

The general response to the Commission’s draft advice has been that its recommendations will require significant change (in some sectors more than others) but are achievable. However, there are a range of divergent views.

Because the recommendations are generally seen as achievable, some consider that the Commission is not striving for enough change and there is an opportunity to do more. Coupled with this view is a concern that later emissions budgets may be disproportionately harsh if the first few budgets are not adequately ambitious.

Strong reactions have been expressed by those who are only starting their sustainability journey – those that did not previously understand or appreciate the ramifications of moving to a low carbon economy. This group is starting to understand that there are both unavoidable risks and opportunities associated with climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Some organisations consider that the Commission is misguided, not in its overall approach, but in its recommended pathways to reduce emissions. Some consider that certain pathways rely on unrealistic assumptions, are simply not achievable, and that the Commission should focus on different areas where emissions can be reduced.

For example, Toyota has suggested that electric vehicles are not the silver bullet for reducing transport emissions; they are priced beyond the reach of most car buyers, they continue to be in short supply and cheap electric vehicles sourced from new markets will not be highly rated from a sfety point of view. On the other hand, some consider that the Commission has not built in enough flexibility to allow for technological developments (that may still be in their infancy or not even dreamt of yet) that will ultimately achieve the same low emissions goal.

It is recognised that significant policy changes will be necessary to encourage, incentivise and mandate behaviour change towards a lower emissions future. The regulatory framework in many areas is out of date, inflexible and reflects a pre-Carbon Zero Act society. It prescribes reliance on coal, diesel and natural gas and does not provide for innovation. Significant change to this framework will be needed as ‘business as usual’ changes. Support for businesses affected by these changes will be crucial.

Expect a trend of sustainability-centric policy changes

The Commission’s advice will assist the Minister for the Environment to set the first three emissions budgets for 2022 – 2035 and the pathway required to achieve those budgets and New Zealand’s longer- term emissions targets. These decisions are required by 31 December 2021.

We expect a range of policy changes affecting all sectors as a result. Profound changes will be needed to achieve the “economic transition ultimately on the scale of the industrial revolution” diagnosed above.

Read Sustainable Impact - Issue one

Who can help