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Climate change minister James Shaw and PM Jacinda Ardern (Phil Smith / Radio NZ)
Climate change minister James Shaw and PM Jacinda Ardern (Phil Smith / Radio NZ)

The BulletinMay 9, 2019

The Bulletin: Is anyone happy with Zero Carbon bill?

Climate change minister James Shaw and PM Jacinda Ardern (Phil Smith / Radio NZ)
Climate change minister James Shaw and PM Jacinda Ardern (Phil Smith / Radio NZ)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Zero carbon bill finally unveiled to mixed response, OCR cut to record lows, and Auckland councillor alleges poorer suburbs are subsidising wealthier areas. 

Last year, climate change minister James Shaw told Newshub Nation that he’d be happy if everyone else was “equally unhappy” with the final shape of the Zero Carbon bill. It looks like he has come pretty close to getting his wish. The long awaited legislation has finally been put to parliament today as an amendment to the existing climate change act, and will now be known as the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill.

Where to begin with this piece of legislation – quite possibly the most important this government will introduce this term? First – the basics: What will it do? A clear summary from Toby Manhire can be found here. Targets of net zero emissions by 2050 will be enshrined in law, with further incremental targets leading up to that. A Climate Change Commission will be established, who will assess and monitor targets, and issue five-yearly “emissions budgets”. And a ‘split-gas approach’ will be taken, so that longer lived gases like carbon and nitrous oxide will be treated differently for reduction, compared to gases like methane which stay in the atmosphere for a much shorter amount of time.

On that last point though – a bit of a caveat. While methane only stays in the atmosphere for about a decade, it still has an effect long after that, according to a study reported on by The Atlantic in 2017. The effect of methane in the atmosphere is also much more intense than carbon. And given we don’t really have a lot of time left to cut emissions before catastrophic tipping points take effect, that remains a really serious problem. A full range of scientific reaction to the split gas targets has been compiled by the Science Media Centre.

The targets for methane include a 10% reduction in emissions by 2030, and ““aims for a provisional reduction ranging from 24% to 47% by 2050”. The 2030 target should be manageable with existing technology and improvements, rather than production cuts – though it is certain that eventually it will mean fewer cows. Farming groups have already labelled the targets as unfair.

As the NBR (paywalled) reports, National are also unhappy about the upper targets on methane, and may pull support for the bill as a result. With NZ First on side, the government doesn’t need National’s votes to pass it. But a major reason why the legislation is now in the shape it is in is because the Greens wanted enough of a parliamentary consensus that the legislation would survive them being booted out of office. James Shaw spoke extensively about that in this interview with The Spinoff.

The only party to explicitly oppose the legislation so far is the ACT Party. Their objection is that New Zealand’s emissions are small on a global scale, so cuts made here won’t be meaningful. “A more sensible approach would be to simply tie the carbon price charged under the Emissions Trading Scheme to the prices paid in our top five trading partners,” said David Seymour.

That shape of the legislation is deeply concerning for many environmentalists. Greenpeace in particular have reacted with contempt, with executive director Russel Norman saying there is no meaningful mechanism by which any person, politician or organisation can be held to account for targets not being reached. He also says it has been watered down to appease farmers. And if public submissions on the bill are anything to go by, he’s got a point – 91% of the 15,000 respondents “wanted a target of net zero emissions across all greenhouse gases by 2050,” rather than the split gas approach which will now be taken. The School Strikes for Climate group have also indicated that they think the bill is too weak, and will be protesting for it to be strengthened in Select Committee. And Bronwyn Hayward, a leading NZ scientist who was part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, told Radio NZ that the bar on methane reduction had been set too low.

What will really matter most now is the actual policies that are taken to reach those targets. Setting targets is a wonderful way to make it feel like something is happening, but actually carrying it out is much more difficult. So what will that look like? Well, how about this suggestion from former cabinet minister Wayne Mapp to get us started – massive subsidies for low income families to buy electric cars, and a future ban on importing petrol cars. Other countries have done the latter, so it is actually possible. Transport accounts for an immense share of New Zealand’s emissions. But as has been mentioned here a couple of times now, there have been heavy delays on incentive packages from the government for electric vehicles.

Some groups are actually happy with the legislation, and they tend to be those who have been demanding certainty so they can plan for the future. Top of that list – the Insurance Council, who say that “insurers have a lot of knowledge around the risks climate change poses through increased frequency and severity of storms and changes in flood risk from natural causes, and the sorts of costs these changes incur.” The Climate Leaders Coalition – a collection of businesses who have committed to gradually reducing their own emissions – are now calling for “a stable and predictable policy pathway to transition New Zealand to a low emissions economy by 2050.”

And finally, let Generation Zero be an inspiration to any citizen that wonders whether they can make a difference in the world. The group pretty much wrote the early stages of this bill, and have campaigned hard for it ever since. Regardless of where you stand on the legislation, you’ve got to admire their hustle. Unfortunately for this group of volunteers and their precious weekends, just because this bill has been introduced, that doesn’t mean the political work of climate change activism is over.

A cut in the official cash rate is likely to make house prices start to rise again. That’s one conclusion in this story from the NZ Herald. The OCR is now down to 1.5%, a record low, and property investors will be licking their chops at the prospect of both extremely cheap money, and no prospect of a capital gains tax in the near future. Those with floating mortgage rates might also see a bit of benefit out of the move, as Newshub reports some banks have already said they’ll lower their rates accordingly.

For what it means for the rest of the economy, Gyles Beckford at Radio NZ is as always very helpful. It’s basically a move aimed at stimulating the economy and creating more jobs. But does the economy really need a stimulus right now? A quote from Beckford’s article was rather funny on this point – “one commentator said before the decision that a rate cut would be like sending out the whole fire brigade to rescue one kitten up a tree.”

Auckland councillor Efeso Collins is hitting out at money from a South Auckland council-owned land sale going to wealthier North Shore suburbs, reports Radio NZ. The land originally owned by the Manukau City Council will bring in about $145 million when sold, but only 60% of that money will then go back to services in South Auckland. Cr Collins says he’s happy with some of the money being shared, but at the moment it’s a case of the poor subsidising the wealthy.

Now I’m not in the sort of income demographic that owns a timeshare, but if I were, I’d want to know about this company. The NBR (paywalled) reports an office has been opened in Paihia for a company that helps to crowbar people out of timeshare contracts they no longer want. Owners often become disillusioned with owning timeshares, because once they’ve bought in they tend to still have to pay maintenance fees. Naturally, the timeshare sales industry isn’t happy about it.

Workers at a Mt Albert bottle store say they were paid as little at $6 an hour, and had to work up to 90 hours a week, reports Stuff. The franchise owner denies the allegations, but the union representing the two complainants say it’s one of the worst cases of migrant worker exploitation they’ve ever seen. It’s a really twisted story, and carries a lot of details about how this sort of (alleged) exploitation takes place in practice – including through the forced repayment of wages, and threats of deportation.

The impact of swine fever is being felt on pork prices, reports Newsroom’s podcast The Detail. While it’s not at all harmful to humans, swine fever has been sweeping through China, and New Zealand’s border patrol is on high alert. Penalties will apply to those who try and bring illegal pork into the country.

For today’s dose of parliament satirising itself, Dr Nick Smith was ‘named’ yesterday by Speaker Trevor Mallard. It includes a suspension and is considered a Very Big Deal. You can watch a full video of the proceedings here. They were discussing an incredibly serious topic – a motorist killed by a drugged driver – but of course all of that got lost in the point scoring and name calling. Police minister Stuart Nash should also share some of the blame for this, for making everyone mad by conveniently forgetting a statement everyone else was adamant he had made.

From our partners: A two-tier system of energy use is developing, with those on high incomes much more able to reduce their bills than households on lower incomes. Vector’s Chief Risk and Sustainability Officer Kate Beddoe outlines what the company plans to do about that.

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Illustration: Toby Morris

Right now on The Spinoff: Emily Writes has her play Rants in the Dark coming to Auckland, and she spoke to Sam Brooks about what it was like to see herself as a character on stage. Alex Casey speaks to some of the influential women of Instagram, and how they’re hoping to use their power to promote body positivity. There’s an excellent new episode of Two Sketches out, featuring the game-changing political cartoonist Sharon Murdoch.

And the other thing I wanted to mention is this: John Summers has taken a deep dive into the history of the Arcoroc mug. You think you don’t know what I’m talking about, but you absolutely do – it’s that tinted glass mug that you see in every staffroom, bowls club or marae. Dare I say it, it’s just as important a cultural artefact for New Zealand as Kiwi Onion Dip.

Here’s hoping formidable political operator Heather Simpson is a reader of The Bulletin, because you all have some suggestions for her. She’s in charge of the ongoing review into the health system, and there was quite a lot of feedback on whether the practice of electing DHBs made sense. On balance, those who got in touch say it does not – I’ll go through a few of the different points that were made:

Valerie got in touch to say that she isn’t often particularly impressed by the calibre of those standing for DHB elections. “Having worked in a hospital for over 30 years and known people on these Boards, some of them have been useless. It is a very very responsible job and not one to be taken lightly.” And Paul made a point along similar lines, about how the public were meant to know what sort of person someone standing was. “Are they competent professional administrator who is probably already busy enough, or a person who can afford to take on a part time job and risk losing it again after 3 years?”

Someone who gave their name as ‘P’ who works at a DHB said the government could take inspiration from other reviews going on right now. “I think the government should adopt a system a bit like the suggestions for Tomorrow’s Schools – more centralised control. Giving ‘power to the people’ is a myth – the elected members of the boards only have a one seat majority over the appointed members.”

As for whether there were too many DHBs in the first place for different regions, Stephen had a fair point to make. “There may be some regional differences – some areas may have more need to focus on diabetes while others are more concerned with cancer for instance. But those are not issues driven by democracy. They are driven by data. And they can presumably be managed locally by qualified staff rather than elected officials?”

However, the counter argument to that was put by Nicole, who said actually the partially democratic model was a great one for public service delivery. “Governance of our local public service institutions needs to be done with knowledge of the local context and hand in hand with the local communities. Health in particular is an area that is still struggling to address internal bias that results in sub-standard care for minority groups. Representatives at governance level either from or with knowledge of those communities is vital in improving the quality of service they receive.”

Tim charted a position somewhat between both of these, and had a lot of sensible things to say. “In essence the boards are the wrong way round; local accountability and oversight is critical but voted members should not be the majority of a board. These are multi thousand employee businesses with exceptional staff and budgets to go with it. There are not enough qualified CEO’s to run the DHB’s in NZ let alone people to undertake governance roles.”

And looking over the health system as a whole, Helen believes a big part of the problem with DHBs is that they have effectively been run like businesses since reforms in 1988. “Management until 1988 had a triumvirate of two clinical leaders (medical and nursing) and an administrator – each managed his/her own sector and the three worked together for the whole organisation with the aim of providing the best level of services related to local needs as could be managed.”

So, once again thanks for all your feedback, it’s always a pleasure getting your views. Besides, I’m pretty sure that together we’ve just solved all the health system’s problems, so I’m looking forward to seeing every suggestion implemented, even the contradictory ones.

If you follow Champions League football at all, you’ll know Barcelona losing is a relatively rare event. But what happened yesterday has totally dwarfed even that. Somehow Liverpool have overcome a three goal deficit to win their semifinal against Barcelona – taking the second leg 4-0. The Independent has a lyrical account of just how bizarre and unlikely what happened was, and about how the game will linger in the memory.

Finally today, a story about how you are never too old to reach for you dreams: Glynn Owens is about to turn 70, but has a shot at winning New Zealand’s most prestigious pole-dancing title, reports Te Waha Nui. Owens took up pole-dancing at the age of 63, in case you were wondering.

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