Labour has begun to make its way through their list of promises for the first 100 days in office. So far we have been somewhat underwhelmed by the policy announcements made; you can see our thoughts on Labour’s minimum wage increases and their foreign ownership ban here. In general this Labour-led Government looks like a continuation of the red/blue duopoly we have seen in recent decades. They are keen to look like they are busy doing something but in essence are addressing symptoms without really dealing with the underlying issues behind them.
In saying that, there is one policy in particular that gives us confidence that Labour’s coalition can be the progressive, forward thinking Government many had hoped for. That is their approach to what the Prime Minister called our generation's “nuclear free moment”; climate change. Climate change was one area in particular that National completely and utterly dropped the ball, in fact they outright cheated. Between 1990 and 2015 our net emissions rose 64%, but the Government relied on forests planted in the 1990s and cheap, dodgy foreign credits to meet our international commitments. Contrast this with the UK where net emissions have fallen 38% and you can quickly see how deceitful the previous National Government has been.
One of the main drivers behind the UK’s success was the creation of their climate act in 2008, which has seen C02 emissions fall to their lowest since 1894. Generation Zero have pushed for the Zero Carbon Act change since seeing the success of this approach in the UK and a number of other countries; Denmark, Finland, Mexico and Ireland. Labour have even adopted Generation Zero’s ambitious target to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Of course, it remains to see how serious the coalition is about achieving the reductions needed. A Climate Commission will only make recommendations about how to reduce emissions, achieving this goal will still require some big policy changes from this Government. The commitment to planting a billion trees is fantastic, but as a country, we can’t escape the need to reduce our fossil fuel use. Hopefully, they will honour NZ First’s pledge to not rely on buying overseas credits to honour our commitments.
On the face of it then, it looks highly promising. Labour have followed what has worked overseas, and have drawn a line in the sand on something that all New Zealanders should care about. Kudos to them. Having taken the first big step, the ball now lies squarely in National’s court. By offering cross-party support, National can ensure that this initiative has the best possible opportunity at making a real difference to New Zealand's action on climate change. We won’t hold our breath; its track record, and now handing the Climate portfolio to Todd Muller (who was 43rd on their list) makes it seem like lip service remains the extent of National’s commitment.
Of course the Green Party are claiming this new focus on climate change as a win, but in reality, it isn’t. A Zero Carbon Act and independent Climate Commission was part of the manifestos for both Labour and even New Zealand First; it is something that all 3 parties agree on and so was an inevitable part of this new government.
The proof of this Government’s commitment will be in the pudding. The Climate Commission and the tree planting pledge are just words so far. At TOP we’d like to see Generation Zero’s Zero Carbon Act in place – and without reliance on buying foreign credit. And then there’s the matter of adaptation – the commitment to mitigation is what we signed up to in Paris, steps to deal with the consequences of the already-inevitable climate change are quite another.
From hope to action – on both mitigation and adaptation – is the bar the new coalition has set. We have grounds to expect action, not just words.