A good decision

Matt Burgess
Insights Newsletter
19 July, 2019

Lost in the government’s response to the Interim Climate Change Committee this week was the decision to put on ice its 100% renewable electricity policy to focus on other more effective measures.

It is hard to overstate the significance of this decision. First some background to explain why.

The policy, a commitment to 100% renewable electricity in New Zealand by 2035, was agreed shortly after the 2017 general election in negotiations between the Labour and Green parties. The policy is in their agreement on confidence and supply.

In December 2017, Cabinet agreed to set up an interim committee to plan the 100% renewables policy, among other things, while it established a permanent Climate Change Commission, also in the coalition agreement.

After renegotiating its terms of reference, the interim committee took a careful look at the 100% renewables policy. It found the policy would increase power prices but do little to reduce emissions in New Zealand’s already green electricity system.

The committee recommended the government focus on electric vehicles and the electrification of industrial heating. Transport and process heat together produce five times electricity emissions.

This week, the government accepted the committee’s recommendations. The 100% renewables policy is now an aspiration, something to pursue when technology permits. The policy will be reviewed every five years.

This week’s decision by the government is significant because emissions policies vary enormously in their effectiveness. Policies raise emissions with disturbing frequency.

That means the results of New Zealand’s emissions efforts will be decided by its ability to find and scale policies and approaches that work, and avoid policy mistakes like 100% renewables.

New Zealand will do more for the environment if its political leaders are granted the room by voters to let go of emissions policies that do not work.

That the government wore almost no criticism and even got a couple of pats on the back for its decision may have revealed a political market for effective action on climate.

This all points to a willingness to link decisions on emissions policy to actual results for the environment, rather a wellbeing approach for the environment.

The interim committee can take considerable credit for this week’s result. It was only on the committee’s initiative that the 100% renewables policy was tested at all.

The committee is directly responsible for saving New Zealand from a policy disaster, a historic contribution. And kudos to the government for heeding its advice.

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