On Sunday the Green Party announced a Climate Tax plan. It's a relatively bold move in the right direction but will it cut emissions fast enough?
The greatest failure of our time is political leadership on climate change. The most striking example of this being the Copenhagen Crumble in 2009. So it’s great to see the Greens doing what all parties should be doing - trying to devise effective strategies to transition our economy away from fossil fuels.
The policy has generally been well received - even the right wing commentator Matthew Hooton has reluctantly approved...
All of the three major parties essentially agree that some sort of price on carbon is the way to go and in 2008 the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) was the chosen strategy.
Fundamentally it was a strategy that could have worked back then but the ETS was watered down under Labour and since has become a joke under the National Government which has systematically dismantled it to the point where it is now completely ineffectual, unfair and costly to the NZ taxpayer.
The Greens' Climate Tax plan would be better on all counts but one question troubles us. Carbon pricing is essentially a “trust the market” strategy. It presumes that by giving cost signals to industry and households that people’s behaviour will change and our society will clean itself up over time.
The problem is that we are way beyond a time when subtle patient transition is going to do the trick. Climate change, as Russell Norman rightly noted, is the challenge of our time. It’s big and it’s urgent. Slow incremental change will not cut it - we need system change.
Also, when people have little option but to drive to work because the public transport is so poor, then behaviour incentives are simply punitive rather than encouraging.
Therefore ensuring targeted investment in real solutions from the proceeds of a carbon tax should be the most important part of any such plan.
Direct targeted investment in public transport and a specific strategy for shutting down the Huntly coal and gas burning power station and replacing it with renewable electricity for example, would be most efficient ways to cut actual emissions.
Similarly targeting excessive use of nitrogen fertiliser in agriculture as both a climate pollutant and one key reason our rivers are dying would be popular and would also better get to the root of the problem.
We applaud a target of 100% renewable by 2030. Greenpeace says it could be 2025 but 2030 is a good start. These sorts of targets can be met with a raft of strategies but pricing alone won’t do it.
The Greens aren’t proposing pricing alone of course, but it could be that pricing is among the least effective climate policy whilst being the most politically risky. The greatest concern is that something as important as climate policy continues to be a football to be booted across political divides. Sadly it is not the quality of the idea that will determine whether the Green’s Carbon Tax policy comes to fruition or not but the politics of election year. And meanwhile, the multi-billion dollar opportunity that exists for New Zealand in the clean economy risks dying in the cold because of those politics.
One of the misconceptions that plagues the climate change challenge is that many people, including Governments, assume that doing something about it means taking a bitter pill of increased costs. But it doesn’t. Decarbonising our society would actually mean improvements in quality of life and represents a massive economic opportunity, especially for New Zealand.
Strategies to lower emissions lead to a healthier, cleaner, wealthier, safer, warmer, cheaper society. For example improved transport networks would see more people getting time with their family rather than sitting in traffic jams, provide more mobility options for everyone, and improve air quality.
Warmer dryer homes will improve health and lower energy bills through efficiency. Strategies such as solarisation of homes or renewable electrification of transport give us more national and personal energy independence, avoid oils spills, and can give householders an income from selling electricity back to the grid.
Climate change aside, these are all things that are worth doing.
The global politics of climate change have shifted since the Copenhagen failure. Time has run out for relying on only market mechanisms to effect the scale of change required. If we are to avoid runaway climate change, direct policy intervention by Governments in eliminating fossil fuels and enabling the alternatives is the only realistic option. Radical system-change in the way we power our societies is the reality that must be faced given the failure of political action to date.
But that system-change is only going to be possible when climate action is seen as a positive necessity. One that not only gives us a better quality of life but may ensure our survival.
This blog is part of the #election2014 series. The series discusses New Zealand politics and the policies and, sometimes, lack of them, of our political parties. We hope that it provokes a bit of debate.
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