The power of quantifying emissions policies

Matt Burgess
Insights Newsletter
31 May, 2019

It has been four weeks since the Interim Climate Change Committee (ICCC) delivered to Minister James Shaw its analysis of the government’s 100% renewable electricity policy.

If reports from a conference presentation given by the committee’s chair in April are correct, the results are not kind to the government’s commitment.

The ICCC’s analysis seems to suggest the policy will substantially increase the retail price of electricity – by 14% for households and by 39% for industry. This is completely in line with findings from the Initiative’s report Switched On! on the 100% renewables policy released earlier this year.

Worse, 100% renewable electricity could block far greater emissions cuts through the electrification of transport and parts of industry. Emissions from these sectors are five times those from electricity, but higher electricity prices could prevent rapid electrification of these sectors.

Short story: The government’s renewables commitment might be well-intentioned but it also makes it harder to achieve New Zealand’s emissions goals.

That is probably not the advice the government had hoped for from its independent and highly credentialled committee. The question now is how the government will respond.

It is a big question. Governments rarely back off environmental policies because their political opponents – and supporters – can easily paint a back down from a bad environmental policy as a back down from the environment itself.

A decision to scrap the commitment to 100% renewables, a flagship policy enshrined in the coalition agreement between Labour and the Greens, would be momentous.

In view of the committee’s findings, let us hope the government drops 100% renewables and instead seeks lower emissions through other more effective channels.

The government can already take considerable credit for allowing scrutiny of its high-profile policy, and for carefully protecting the independence of its expert committee. That is what a sound policy process should be like. More please.

Let us also hope the government’s opponents resist the urge to portray a decision to back down from a bad policy as a failure, and instead recognise it for what it is: a significant win for the environment and for Kiwi households, and entirely consistent with a serious commitment to lower emissions.

Perhaps the committee’s greatest contribution will be in demonstrating the power of measurement to create political rewards for good environmental policies.

Don’t stop now, Minister.

 

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