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Insights 42: 8 November 2019
New report - Real Action, Not Empty Words: How to make the Zero Carbon Bill about cutting emissions.
Oliver Hartwich talks to Kim Campbell about why think tanks are important and the work of the Initiative.
New report - The Price is Right: The road to a better transport system.

Zero Carbon Bill fails the climate
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
Parliament rushed through the final stages of the Government’s Zero Carbon legislation this week, passing the Bill yesterday with support from all parties but ACT.

For a law that will fundamentally affect the economy, and for a Bill that received over 12,500 submissions, the speed with which it was ushered through Parliament is remarkable.

Unfortunately, that speed came at the expense of public scrutiny. While the media talked endlessly about the inclusion of agriculture in the Emissions Trading Scheme, some big flaws of this legislation went almost unnoticed.

In our submission to Parliament, in our oral evidence to the Select Committee, in private meetings with MPs and finally in our report Real Action, not Empty Words we explained what we regard as the crucial problems with this Bill’s approach.

In our view, the Zero Carbon Bill will make only a derisory contribution to reducing emissions. It thus falls short of delivering on the challenge that is climate change.

There are three main problems: First, nothing in the legislation requires the Climate Change Minister or the Climate Change Commission to focus on the effectiveness or efficiency of their policies. Second, New Zealand is effectively cutting itself off from international carbon markets, reducing the impact of our actions. Third, the new 5-year plans for carbon budgets come without parliamentary scrutiny or executive implementation powers. As they stand, they are pointless.

As Greta Thunberg might say, the Bill is empty words. It is New Zealand failing to act. What measures New Zealand will take under the legislation risk doing little at great cost.

It is disappointing the National opposition did not point out these flaws. For fear of being labelled climate deniers, the party went along with the Government. And the Government just wanted to have the Bill passed before this month’s UN climate summit.

Politically, all this may be understandable. But that does not make it good policy.

Once the dust has settled on the Zero Carbon law, perhaps after next year’s elections, the legislation should be revisited. It would not take much to make this a better piece of law. Our report shows how.

It is not enough to just say you care about the climate. We want to see effective and efficient measures to cut emissions. The Zero Carbon Bill, passed yesterday, does not deliver them.

The Price is Right
Dr Patrick Carvalho | Research Fellow |
Chronic road congestion is taking a toll on the mobility of goods, services and people in New Zealand’s major urban centres, costing us over a billion dollars every year on wasted hours idling in traffic.

That means lower productivity growth (i.e. lower wages), increased carbon emissions and lesser social interaction.

Without suitable policy action, road overcrowding at peak times is all but certain to intensify. Government forecasts show that New Zealand’s total vehicle kilometres travelled might increase by as much as 66 percent by 2040.

With these concerns in mind, The New Zealand Initiative launched this week a new report showing congestion pricing, which charges drivers a user fee at peak times in overcrowded routes, can solve New Zealand’s congestion woes.

In The Price is Right: The road to a better transport system, we find congestion pricing is not a new concept, with close to 100 years of academic research and plenty of international case studies validating it.

Although building more and better roads is a welcome initiative to increase average throughput volume, it is not the best strategy to reduce unpriced congestion. That means to build roads targeting peak capacity is simply not the best use of budget resources, particularly when road space on increasingly high-value public land will be underused most of the time.

Put simply, congestion pricing is the single most effective way to deal with chronic traffic bottlenecks while providing incentives to increase public transport use.

Variable peak and off-peak rates are already part of our daily lives, from electricity bills and cinema tickets to hotel rates and public transport fares. The same logic should apply to roads.

By letting drivers face the costs of adding a vehicle to clogged roads, congestion charges can encourage commuters to find trip alternatives, such as other travel times, routes and transport modes. That would reduce the overuse of road services at peak times.

But there is an important caveat to any successful implementation of congestion charging.

To avoid congestion charges becoming “just another tax”, commuters should expect the government to commit in return to a revenue-neutral system – where every net dollar raised through congestion charges would be offset by, say, a dollar less through property rate collection or lower fuel prices.

With those caveats in place, the report concludes New Zealand is well-suited to implement a comprehensive, world-class road pricing system based on decades of international experience and research.

But only if the price is right.

Intense History
Joel Hernandez | Policy Analyst |
Philosopher George Santayana famously said, “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” – unless it was too intense and bad for our mental health.

Wait, no, that’s not right. That last bit was added by Instagram influencer Freddie Bentley in an interview with Good Morning Britain last Friday.

In a recent episode of “The Apprentice”, one team struggled to state the year in which World War II began (1939). In response, Bentley said students shouldn’t have to learn about one of the most horrific events in history because “it’s so intense” and harmful to young people’s mental health. 

Does this mean school kids shouldn’t learn about the atrocities enacted by Stalin, Mao or Mussolini, either? Should we whitewash from our collective consciousness the history of the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China and fascist Italy just because they are pretty intense, too?

Instead, Bentley suggests schools teach the implications of current events like Brexit and climate change.

I don’t know whether Bentley has been keeping up with Brexit and climate change, but neither topic is exactly mellow or peaceful.

How do you teach school kids about the implications of Brexit without understanding British history, and the origins and evolution of Europe and international trade?

Quite frankly, I’m not sure British MPs or even the PM understand Brexit at this point. It has become so complex and convoluted that I’m sure only a handful of people in the world really understand what’s going on.

The Initiative’s own executive director, Oliver Hartwich, writes a lot about Brexit knowledgeably.  Except he could say or write almost anything about the United Kingdom and Boris Johnson, and I wouldn’t have a clue whether he is making it up or not.

As for the other top dinner party discussion, British psychologists are saying children are increasingly suffering eco-anxiety over the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change.

If writing about the causes of WWII was stressful, imagine the trauma of writing a 2,000-word school essay on the impacts of Brexit or solutions to climate change.

Each assignment would have to come with a trigger warning on the front cover.

It’s not like Brexit and climate change aren’t important – they are. But without background knowledge of the world – warts, wonders, warlords and all – it is difficult, nigh impossible to understand the twists and turns of Brexit or what to do about climate change.

On The Record
All Things Considered
  • Graph of the week: Car streets ahead for travel to work and education.
  • Greens have a tenuous relationship with science.
  • "For a university that deserves the name". The issues at AUT last year commemorating Tiananmen aren't that different from the ones at Massey now.
  • The Trillion Dollar Idea.
  • How Irn-Bru got woke and (almost) went broke.
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