We compared the new Government’s plans to reduce emissions with the latest official advice from the Climate Change Commission. While there’s some alignment between the two, there are a few glaring differences.

The Climate Change Commission last week released its latest advice on how New Zealand should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, with several recommendations directly contradicting the plans of the new coalition government.

The commission is an independent Crown entity charged with monitoring the Government’s progress in reaching the country’s emission reduction goals.

Its latest advice focuses on the policies needed from 2026 through to 2030 – the final years for New Zealand to meet its international commitments to reduce emissions.

Here is how its advice lines up with the plans of the National-led coalition.

Emissions pricing

One of the key pillars in the report is sorting out the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and the role of forests. The ETS puts a price on emissions and is designed to encourage lower-emissions behaviour within certain sectors.

The commission said the ETS is important for New Zealand’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but added that it needs an “urgent redesign” to encourage emissions reduction and manage the amount of forests being planted as carbon offsets.

The previous Labour government was in the process of reviewing the ETS.

However, National’s coalition agreement with New Zealand First noted the new government would stop that review of the ETS system "to restore confidence and certainty to the carbon trading market".

Encouraging the uptake of EVs

Transport emissions made up 18% of New Zealand’s gross greenhouse gas emissions in 2021, according to the Climate Change Commission. More than 90% of transport emissions come from road transport – and 70% of those come from light vehicles.

The commission said these emissions “need to reduce rapidly and on a steepening trajectory” with people encouraged to switch to electric vehicles (EVs).

It said the uptake of low-emissions vehicles had grown rapidly since the Clean Car Discount was introduced by the Labour government in 2021.

EVs made up more than 10% of vehicle registrations last year. Modelling showed New Zealand wasn’t expected to reach those kinds of levels until 2028.

The commission recommended the government encourage people to use EVs and rapidly upscale the infrastructure needed to charge them.

However, one of the first steps in the new Government's 100-day plan has been to repeal the Clean Car Discount scheme.

While National did make an election promise to deliver 10,000 more public EV chargers by 2030, its coalition agreement said that plan would now “take into account ACT’s concern that there be robust cost-benefit analysis to ensure maximum benefit for government investment”.

Increasing other low-emission transport options

The commission’s report also recommended making it easier for people to choose public or active transport. It said New Zealand lagged behind many countries when it came to using low emissions transport like walking, cycling and public transport.

It said transport infrastructure to support safe walking, cycling and public transport had been consistently underfunded. It recommended dedicated long-term funding for integrated cycle and rapid transport networks in major population centres.

While the Government’s 100-day plan included work on new public transport priorities, National’s coalition agreement with New Zealand First said the Government would reduce expenditure on cycleways.

Changing up energy emissions

The commission said adjusting energy supply and industrial processes could see big reductions in emissions.

“The biggest opportunity is to replace fossil fuels – like coal, gas and petrol – with renewable energy, to power our industries, our buildings and our transport systems,” Climate Change Commission chairperson Rod Carr said.

“This is a critical step where, in many cases, investments made now in energy efficiency, electric vehicles, and renewable energy will more than pay for themselves in the long term.”

The commission recommended the Government prioritise more renewable electricity, as well as phase down fossil fuel use. Doubling the country’s renewable energy production was a big plank in National’s climate plans, and work on this features in the Government’s 100-day plan. It said it aimed to double renewable electricity by 2050.

However, National’s coalition agreement with ACT also agreed to repeal the current ban on offshore oil and gas exploration.

The Green Party launched a petition urging the Government not to do this. "Re-starting oil and gas exploration makes no sense,” said party co-leader James Shaw.

“The idea that New Zealand's wind and solar need gas to underpin energy security is a myth being spread by the fossil fuel industry itself.”

Agricultural emissions

The Climate Change Commission said an effective agricultural emissions pricing system would be key to meeting targets.

The previous government announced plans in August for a farm-level split-gas levy, beginning in 2025, however no legislation was put in place for that before the election.

A split-gas levy gives methane, a short-lived gas, a separate price to other long-lived gases, like carbon dioxide. The commission’s latest report now recommends advancing that agricultural emissions pricing system.

However, ACT’s coalition agreement with National said the government would maintain its own split-gas approach to methane and carbon dioxide.

ACT’s climate spokesperson Simon Court was frank in what his party thought of the Climate Commission’s recommendations around agricultural emissions (and its other advice in general).

“The commission continues to ignore the difference between methane from farms and other types of emissions. They seem to have missed the memo: a split-gas target is set in stone in ACT’s coalition agreement with National,” he said in a statement.

“Behaviour like this is exactly why ACT called for the scrapping of the commission in our Alternative Budget. It’s costly taxpayer-funded lobbying and it needs to stop.”

Adjusting farming practices

The commission recommended a rapid rollout of low-emissions practices in farming, which was something the coalition government was already on board for.

The coalition agreements all pointed to supporting new technology to reduce agricultural emissions, including loosening the rules around GE and GM technologies to help create gene-edited crops – an issue that has caused some controversy in the past.

So, what now? 

The Government must now consider the Climate Change Commission’s report and has a year to come up with its plan for meeting the country's 2030 emission reduction targets.

The commission’s report said each government would have its own preferred approaches to acting on climate change, but it said those plans should happen sooner rather than later. It said small delays in the short term can lead to much higher costs and/or emissions in the longer term.

New Climate Change Minister Simon Watts welcomed the Commission’s report last week and said the Government would “take the actions required to deliver our climate change targets”.

Those comments were at odds with those of his coalition colleague, New Zealand First’s Shane Jones, who used a speech in Parliament last week to talk about the “hysteria” surrounding climate change. He also said, “one of the great lies about climate change is that, yes, apparently, it's a crisis”.

But speaking from the COP28 climate summit in Dubai last week, Watts told 1News the Government was “deadly serious” about meeting its climate targets.

“We just need to get on and do the doing,” he said.

Cover image by 1News graphics team.

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