Setting a country like Aotearoa – a heavily agriculture and vehicle-based society – on a path to a low emissions future was never going to be a straightforward task. The Government has recognised the importance of focusing our collective efforts on transitioning to a lower emissions economy, implementing the Emissions Reduction Plan to set pathways for emission reductions for a wide range of sectors.
The Emissions Reduction Plan targets net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with a specific focus on transport, energy, building, agriculture, forestry, and waste. Over 300 actions to be taken are set out within the Plan, with $2.9 billion allocated in the 2020 budget to bring them to life.
While these actions sound good on paper, they play out differently for New Zealanders based on individual socioeconomic standings.
Take Transport for example. With estimations suggesting that transport accounts for around 40% of our greenhouse gas emissions, the Government is looking for real change in its approach to tackling transport emissions, and the Plan looks to reduce light vehicle use by 20% by 2035. The Plan also aims to increase the use of electric vehicles, including in the freight industry.
Aotearoa is a nation of vehicle owners. It’s not uncommon for a whānau of five to each have their own vehicle – it’s a rite of passage as a young person in this country and is practically important for getting from A to B in our widespread cities and isolated towns. Personal vehicle ownership aside, freight is also a vital and emission-heavy industry in Aotearoa. So, these are big targets, requiring widespread change.
The impact of that change will not be the same for everyone. Electric vehicles are costly and are not a realistic alternative for many individuals or the owners of many whanau-owned freight businesses. If we are going to be penalised for driving petrol cars or trucks, and we want the transition to a low emissions economy to be fair, there need to be more alternatives than buying an electric vehicle. New transport options are required – like car sharing, reliable public transport, and payment for giving up use of petrol or diesel vehicles – are all initiatives that need focus to address the unfairness that is inherent in asking all New Zealanders to drive less in petrol or diesel vehicles.
And while electric vehicles certainly have their place in helping to reduce emissions, what also needs to be carefully considered is our capacity to charge these vehicles – and indeed our homes. Our generating capacity is limited, and we need to balance increased demand with our ability to supply power -we do not want to move to electric vehicles only to inadvertently drive more demand for the truckloads of coal already being carted from the Port, through Te Tōangaroa and down to Huntly Power Station.
Kaitiakitanga (guardianship) and Rangatiratanga (leadership) are two of our guiding mātāpono (values) and are intrinsic in how we will do our part to reduce emissions. Whai Rawa recently received Toitū Carbon reduce certification as proof of our intent.
But our initiatives also need to be balanced and fair. As an example, our whanau housing developments will include sustainability features - but of course, these features come at a cost to the buyer. We cannot include every feature, as making housing affordable is a goal we have to balance with ensuring our homes reflect the drive towards sustainability.
It’s heartening to see the approach to reducing emissions in Aotearoa is being done in a unified, collective manner – but it must be acknowledged that not all New Zealanders are starting from a level playing field if the impact of the required changes is to be fair.