Net Zero NZ Thought Leader

The vision and the plan: a net zero carbon economy by 2050

Following the recent publication of the Vivid Economics’ report, the Green Party was the first to commit to the goal of becoming a Net-Zero Emission Economy by 2050. (And many thanks for Pure Advantage and your members for supporting the Vivid report.)

The Vivid report gave us the confidence that 2050 was the earliest technologically and economically feasible date by which we could reach that goal. Our view is that because we can, we should.

There are plenty of people who say New Zealand shouldn’t bother leading on climate change.

But if you added up all the countries in the world which each emit less than one percent of global emissions, together we add up to 23 percent. China accounts for 24 percent, the U.S. for 15 percent. If New Zealand opts out of our fair share because we’re small, every other small country has the right do also opt out – and a quarter of global emissions would continue to rise.

Being small doesn’t absolve us of responsibility – but being a wealthy, comparatively high emissions country means we have a greater responsibility than many countries.

Not only do I believe we have a responsibility to achieve Net Zero Emissions at the earliest possible date – I believe that doing so is the greatest economic opportunity for at least a generation. A carbon-neutral economy is – by definition – more productive, higher value, higher-tech, and higher-wage than the economy we have at the moment.

Targets alone are not enough. I imagine most readers of this would expect to see a detailed business plan before they signed up to something. The Green Party has one.

We would replace the Emissions Trading Scheme with a Kiwi Climate Fund. A simple, transparent and predictable price on all greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors would be recycled back to fund the planting of 1.2 billion trees. Surplus revenue would be returned to every adult New Zealander in the form of an annual dividend – $250 a year each in 2020, based on a $40/tonne carbon price.

Tackling climate change means investing in fast, electric rail lines to eliminate pollution and create healthier, congestion-free cities. The Greens have announced plans for transformative public transport projects in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. We’ve also committed $10 billion over ten years for cycling infrastructure, with a focus on making it safer for kids to bike to school.

We’ve looked at what works overseas and suggested New Zealand needs a Green Infrastructure Fund. Independent from Ministers but using public money to begin with, this would over time marshal a billion dollars of investment to kick-start things like renewable energy, building retrofits, biofuels, and other clean tech projects.

Because agriculture has to be part of the solution, we’ve proposed hefty investment in a Sustainable Farming Fund to help farmers with practical on-farm improvements, and a Transformational Farming Partnership Fund to invest in big-picture changes across the sector. Both these would be funded from a levy on nitrate pollution.

And we’ve worked with independent experts and the electricity industry to design a roadmap for 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030.

Perhaps the most transformative thing we can do is put climate change at the heart of government decision-making. The Green Party would require all legislation before Parliament to carry a climate impact disclosure statement outline its effect on greenhouse gas emissions, much as legislation today is assessed against the Bill of Rights.

Starting the transition today to create a low-carbon economy will give New Zealand businesses and farmers a competitive advantage so they can cash in on the new demand in global markets.

It’s going to be the greatest transformation our economy has ever seen. It will change our country and it will change our lives.

Normally when I talk about climate change, I talk about how we have to do something to stop it for the sake of future generations.

The problem is someone else’s future is quite abstract. That’s one of the reasons that traditional political parties always fail to deliver on climate change. Short term challenges always win out over doing something for future generations.

Most of the time politics is the art of compromise. It’s about negotiation. You come to an arrangement. You meet each other half-way.

But you can’t negotiate with the climate. Ask the people of Houston if they think Hurricane Harvey would meet them half-way.

But you can see climate change as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform our economy and society for the better. That’s how I see it. And I know that’s how the people who are part of Pure Advantage see it too.

That opportunity is ours for the taking in New Zealand, if we have a government that is willing to reach out and grab it.

About the author

James Shaw

James Shaw

James Shaw has been the Co-leader of the Green Party since May 2015. Prior to being an MP, James Shaw had a successful career in management consulting, primarily in London. James moved back to Wellington, the city where he was born and raised, with the aim of being elected to Parliament. When he’s not living and breathing sustainable economics, James enjoys spending time in his local community, Aro Valley, with his wife Annabel.

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