27 Sep 2023

Equitable Transitions Strategy: Government delays plan to make climate action fairer

4:30 pm on 27 September 2023
loading an electric car

The Equitable Transitions Strategy aims to ease the impact on jobs and living costs of a switch to cleaner jobs, energy and transport. Photo: 123RF

The government has delayed its strategy to help struggling households manage the costs of shifting to a low carbon economy.

The Equitable Transitions Strategy is supposed to ease the impact on jobs and living costs as we switch to cleaner jobs, energy and transport, particularly for the most vulnerable.

The government ran workshops in March, and was originally going to publish a draft for consultation in June before releasing a final strategy by June 2024.

But the draft was delayed until "early 2024" to "allow time for further consideration", according to documents posted on the Ministry for Social Development's website.

One of the ministers in charge of the strategy, Barbara Edmonds, said since starting the work there had been a series of extreme weather events and cost of living pressures that had "thrown up a range of issues we need to examine".

"A short delay to get this work right will benefit New Zealanders in the long term," she said.

Sharing the load

Just as climate change itself is expected to hit vulnerable people and communities worst, the cost of cutting emissions to stop the problem is also predicted to be uneven.

Climate action will also benefit some industries and communities, and, crucially, lower the costs of the crisis long-term.

The Zero Carbon Act requires the government to consider the "distribution of those impacts across the regions and communities of New Zealand, and from generation to generation".

The Climate Change Commission's latest draft advice to the government says the strategy on a fair transition needs to be "actively implemented" from 2025-2030 or sooner "if it is to be in place before the largest impacts occur".

SkyPath Trust chair Christine Rose.

Christine Rose Photo: Supplied / Brian Moorhead

Greenpeace lead climate campaigner Christine Rose said the delay of the strategy mirrored how climate action itself was being kicked down the road.

"There is no justification for delaying the Equitable Transitions Strategy, when the cost of living crisis is driven by the climate crisis - and made worse by a lack of climate solutions," Rose said.

"Those most affected by the climate crisis are also those locked into systems that cost more and generate the most emissions - that includes car dependency from a lack of safe walking and cycling and affordable accessible public transport options. The cost of food is being driven upwards in part by climate change impacts affecting food production in places like Tai Rāwhiti and Hawke's Bay."

The Climate Change Commission's draft advice notes it is often easier for wealthier households to reduce the impacts of rising emissions prices on their costs, for example by making their homes more insulated and energy-efficient so they use less energy. That is a harder task for renters, or those who cannot afford the upfront cost.

But climate action can also help those on low incomes, for example by making cycling and public transport better and cheaper, to reduce the need to pay for running and maintaining a car, the commission wrote.

The commission urged the government not to pull back from letting the carbon price rise and drive down emissions. Instead, it wrote, the impacts on low earners could be managed in other ways.

For example, it would cost the median household about $5.90 a week in extra food and fuel costs if the price of carbon rose by $50 a tonne, or $3.30 for low income households. But kind of increase was dwarfed by increases to benefits and the minimum wage under Labour since 2017, the commission wrote, showing other policies could protect the most vulnerable.

When it comes to keeping jobs and re-deploying fossil fuel-related workers, the government has been working on tailored plans for places such as Taranaki and Southland. It plans to extend similar strategies to the rest of the country.

Labour has also promised to appoint a Minister for Just Transitions, if re-elected.

The decision to delay the transitions strategy was made in August by the Cabinet Social Wellbeing Committee, and Ministers Barbara Edmonds and Carmel Sepuloni are due to report back to Cabinet by the end of this year with a new timeline and scope for the strategy (election outcome depending).

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