3 Feb 2021

The climate and changes - what they mean for you

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 3 February 2021
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Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Fewer internal combustion engine cars. More expensive petrol. No gas connections in new home builds. Millions fewer sheep and cows. More native forest plantations. More wind turbines.

That’s a peek of the dramatic changes in society, should the government embrace the recommendations of the Climate Change Commission, which unveiled its long-awaited report over the weekend.

The government is under no obligation to act on the advice. But given the group was set up with support across the political spectrum - and a fundamental point is de-politicising climate action – it would take a brave politician to ignore the advice.

So what would these changes mean for everyday people?

Today on The Detail, Emile Donovan sits down with Stuff.co.nz climate change editor Eloise Gibson to look past the academic discussion of megatons and CO2 levels, and dig into how these policies will affect people's lives.

Some of the proposed changes may seem ambitious to the point of ludicrousness: for example, 40 percent of the light vehicle fleet being electric by 2035, when currently EVs make up about one percent of the fleet.

Eloise Gibson says this chasm shows the need for bold incentives to help force the transition away from fossil fuels.

While planting more trees - therefore reducing our net emissions - is acknowledged as important, the Commission warns against seeing this as a silver bullet option, preferring to focus on decreasing emissions at the source.

It also advocates a move away from planting masses of pine and towards planting native forest on marginally productive land - a more sensible long-term move, the Commission says, as it takes up less arable land and sucks up more carbon dioxide in the long-term.

In the agricultural sector, things are a bit more uncertain.

The Commission wants the overall herd size in New Zealand to be reduced by about 15 percent over the next 15 years.

It's projected that even without intervention, the herd size is already on track to drop by 8-10 percent over that time - and nobody is seriously advocating a large-scale cattle cull.

But New Zealand does produce a lot of food, and it's a big export earner.

The Commission projects that even with the smaller herd sizes, improvements in farming practices will mean we're still producing the same amount of meat and dairy.

But this is an assumption - and changes in practice could result in increased conglomeration of primary producers, perhaps cutting smaller operators out of the market.

However, Gibson says this could open up possibilities for smaller farms who use their sustainable practices and stories as a selling point for overseas markets.

Gibson acknowledges some of these changes will face pushback.

People get used to their ways of life: a big household doesn't want to worry about the hot water running out. Restaurants like the instantaneous heat gas cooking can provide. Some hothouses which rely on coal to grow tomatoes out of season may have to shut down, which could affect the price of tomatoes out of season. There might be a premium on a margarita pizza in July-August. If you're building a new house, you might have to accept you won't have a gas stove.

But Gibson believes the court of public opinion is weighted towards change - whether bold or incremental - and that, in the end, this will shine through.

"There are things that become symbolic despite probably not mattering that much in the scheme of the runaway, catastrophic climate change that we're trying to avert.

"But I do think people have moved on considerably in the last 18 years. And I think they're ready."