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Zero Carbon Bill fails the climate

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 8 November 2019

Parliament rushed through the final stages of the Government’s Zero Carbon legislation this week, passing the Bill yesterday with support from all parties but ACT.

For a law that will fundamentally affect the economy, and for a Bill that received over 12,500 submissions, the speed with which it was ushered through Parliament is remarkable.

Unfortunately, that speed came at the expense of public scrutiny. While the media talked endlessly about the inclusion of agriculture in the Emissions Trading Scheme, some big flaws of this legislation went almost unnoticed.

In our submission to Parliament, in our oral evidence to the Select Committee, in private meetings with MPs and finally in our report Real Action, not Empty Words we explained what we regard as the crucial problems with this Bill’s approach.

In our view, the Zero Carbon Bill will make only a derisory contribution to reducing emissions. It thus falls short of delivering on the challenge that is climate change.

There are three main problems: First, nothing in the legislation requires the Climate Change Minister or the Climate Change Commission to focus on the effectiveness or efficiency of their policies. Second, New Zealand is effectively cutting itself off from international carbon markets, reducing the impact of our actions. Third, the new 5-year plans for carbon budgets come without parliamentary scrutiny or executive implementation powers. As they stand, they are pointless.

As Greta Thunberg might say, the Bill is empty words. It is New Zealand failing to act. What measures New Zealand will take under the legislation risk doing little at great cost.

It is disappointing the National opposition did not point out these flaws. For fear of being labelled climate deniers, the party went along with the Government. And the Government just wanted to have the Bill passed before this month’s UN climate summit.

Politically, all this may be understandable. But that does not make it good policy.

Once the dust has settled on the Zero Carbon law, perhaps after next year’s elections, the legislation should be revisited. It would not take much to make this a better piece of law. Our report shows how.

It is not enough to just say you care about the climate. We want to see effective and efficient measures to cut emissions. The Zero Carbon Bill, passed yesterday, does not deliver them.

 

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