ACT is on fire. The courageous call to reverse taking 17 year olds out of adult justice has been widely covered. ACT’s regional rally at Tauranga attracted 450 people, on the same weekend the Greens attracted 150 to their annual general meeting — their main annual event — in Auckland. Here’s a good example of why: skip to 8.30 to watch as Jack Tame asks Marama Davidson ‘why are you a Minister?’
Also on the weekend, the Greens banged on about climate change. That’s not unusual but here’s something that you might find strange. James Shaw’s speech mentioned ACT three times as well as David Seymour, but the Zero Carbon Act only twice. Why the preoccupation? Apparently it’s because ACT would undo Shaw’s climate efforts, but the truth is there’s not much there to undo.
The Greens have been terrible at climate policy. The numbers speak for themselves. In the first four years of James Shaw was Minister — that we have internationally comparable OECD data for – New Zealand went from the fifth worst Greenhouse Gas emitter in the OECD to the fourth worst. That’s measured by tonnes of GHG equivalent per capita. In 2017 New Zealand’s emissions were 16.3 tonnes per capita, by 2021 they were 15 tonnes per capita. If reduction is the goal, New Zealand finished 21st out of 32 OECD countries reporting data. What’s interesting, is that if you count only CO2 emissions, New Zealand’s performance is even worse, with increasing emissions per capita, taking us from the 19th worst to the 15th highest emissions. On CO2 alone, New Zealand’s per capita emissions actually rose from 6.67 tonnes per capita to 6.73, after falling in the prior four years. This was the 36th worst performance out of 39 OECD countries reporting data. Now, you might be wondering why all this matters so much. Well, people vote Green because they’re supposed to be effective on climate change. According to these internationally comparable OECD data, they’re not. Also, if you accept our trading partners will want to do business with low carbon producers, then the trick is to reduce emissions at least cost. At a time when there’s never been more money, bureaucracy, or hand wringing over climate, New Zealand’s performance at actually reducing emissions has been weak. But that’s just the start. Government climate policy has failed in a bigger way. Even if New Zealand emissions were reducing faster, that wouldn’t change the climate. Extreme weather events would still occur, but the Government has not prepared New Zealand for them. When Cyclone Gabrielle and the Auckland floods hit, the $4.5 billion dollar Climate Emergency Response Fund had not put a single dollar into adaptation – dealing with the impacts of climate change. It all went into mitigation of climate emissions, which turned out to be completely ineffective. The Greens went through the theatre of declaring a climate emergency, but did nothing practical to prepare for actual emergencies. New leadership and initiative is needed where the Greens have failed on climate change, and you cannot help but think they know it. James Shaw and the Greens have had their chance. They blew it all on nice trips to international conferences, but completely failed at the job. No wonder they are salty. ACT in fact has the best climate policy, and by best we mean the simplest, most politically durable, and realistic. ACT would remove the Zero Carbon Act and retain the Emissions Trading Scheme. We would make to crucial modifications to the ETS. First, ACT will cap total New Zealand emissions in line with our top five trading partners. This would mean that the number of credits auctioned, and therefore the price of emitting, would be similar to our trading partners. New Zealand is a trading nation. As such we cannot afford to be a climate pariah. Equally we cannot afford a Government that drives activity offshore, especially if foreign producers are actually less carbon efficient. Second, ACT would introduce a climate dividend called the Carbon Tax Refund, giving the roughly $1 billion in ETS revenue to citizens and permanent residents as an annual payment. This would ensure widespread buy-in to the Emissions Trading Scheme, allowing it to persist over generations. This system does not require fanciful goal setting, special subsidies for electric vehicles, taxes on utes, or special accounting and reporting. It simply ties New Zealand’s emissions to our trading partners’ emission levels, and lets households and firms get on with life, mindful that there is a cost to emitting CO2. No wonder James Shaw’s speech mentions ACT more than the Zero Carbon Act, deep down he knows ACT is more relevant to climate policy, and has more sensible climate policies to boot.
As regular readers know, our stance is that CO2 should be removed from all considerations of emissions; it’s a friend, not a foe. There are other compounds from burning fossil fuels that need to be reduced, however. —Eds