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The Nation: Minister for Climate Change James Shaw

On Newshub Nation: Emma Jolliff interviews Minister for Climate Change and Green Party co-leader James Shaw

Minister of Climate Change and Green Party co-leader James Shaw hopes everyone is "equally unhappy" with the final version of the Zero Carbon Bill. "I think the thing that people are going to have to realise is that it's going to involve some compromise from everyone. No one is going to get everything that they want as a result of this process… As long as everyone's equally unhappy, we have a chance of getting this over the line."

The Minister says the Zero Carbon Bill will be a cross-party effort. "We are talking through the detail of the targets between the Government and the Opposition as we negotiate the final form of the Bill," said Mr Shaw.

He doesn't expect too much push back from the agricultural sector, which is responsible for half the country's emissions."There is buy-in from the agricultural sector. This is the thing I think a lot of people haven't realised - is how far farmers themselves and their industry organisations, and companies like Fonterra and Synlait and others, have come over the course of the last 10 years or so, and in particular in the last few years."

Emma Jolliff: The government’s considered more than 15,000 submissions as it develops its Zero Carbon Bill. There are three options for the bill, ranging from only targeting carbon-dioxide emissions to including all greenhouse gases, including methane. 91 percent of submitters want a target of net-zero emissions across all greenhouse gases – the option least favoured by many farmers. But three-quarters of the submitters just filled in templates created by groups like Greenpeace and Generation Zero. I asked Climate Change Minister James Shaw how representative the process really is.

James Shaw: Well, the submission in any consultation is generally the people who are most actively engaged in it, and so, you know, in this case, there are lot of environmental NGOs. There’s also very strong representation from businesses and business organisations as well. You do have to balance that against the general public opinion as well, and there have been a number of public-opinion polls during the course of the year. One was commissioned by IAG and the insurance industry and so on. And the results that we’re seeing through this consultation are broadly consistent with the messages we’re getting from the public-opinion polling as well.

So even though the majority are NGOs, you can sell that to New Zealand, because they’re consistent with other polling.

Yeah, I mean, again, there’s a consistency between, you know, what we’re seeing through that consultation, what we’re hearing through other channels. You’ve got to balance out all of this, of course, with other advice that we’re getting, whether it’s economic advice or scientific advice and so on. And it is part of that mix. One of the things that we’ve also got to be very mindful of is that, you know, while there’s a very clear steer that’s coming through from these submissions, there are some quite strong voices in there about concerns about the speed or the scale of the transition or how it’s going to affect particular industries. And you have to pay attention to those voices as well, otherwise you just don’t have a sustainable solution.

So of the quarter that were original submissions, what sectors did that feedback come from?

It came from every single industrial sector and quite a good spread and also –not surprised – across a lot of environmental NGOs and so on. But the vast majority of submissions were from private individuals.

So, the report says 91 percent of respondents want a target of net-zero emissions across all greenhouse gases in legislation now, but Federated Farmers has told us that that option would be the most harmful to them.

Well, this is what I mean about saying that you’ve got to take account of the voices of people who are concerned about the impacts on their industries. And so, you know, I’ve had this conversation with Federated Farmers and with other farming organisations. There are opportunities in this transition, but we do have to be mindful of the transition that we’re asking people to undertake with this.

What have you specifically been told by the agricultural sector in this process?

Well, very much what they’ve said in those reports – they feel that essentially, a net-zero all-gases target would put too much pressure on the agricultural sector. I mean, the difference between splitting out your gases versus having an all-gases target is actually simply about – to what extent do you offset the residual methane? That’s actually the only real difference, and so those are the kinds of issues that we’re working through as we try and form the bill.

So agriculture does make up half of our emissions, and we can’t meet our climate targets without those. If you can’t get buy-in from the agricultural sector, do you just have to force them to make the changes anyway?

Oh, look, actually, there is buy-in from the agricultural sector. I mean, this is the thing I think a lot of people haven’t realised, is how far farmers themselves and their industry organisations and companies like Fonterra and Synlait and others have come over the course of the last 10 years or so and, in particular, in the last few years. DairyNZ, during the course of this consultation exercise, ran a huge number of workshops up and down the country – full-day-long workshops – for their members, talking through the science and invited us along and MFE officials along to those. So directionally, actually, you know, pretty much everyone’s on board. What we’re really talking about is the scale and the speed of the transition and how you support particular industries, you know, like agriculture, like steel or aluminium production, which have got a pretty big hurdle to meet; and, actually, that there is a collective responsibility for us to work together to support those industries which do face the greatest change through that transition.

So which option would you be going with? Will you just be targeting carbon dioxide? Would you target the long-life gases? Or would you go for the greenhouse – all of them, you know, including the methane? What would be your preferable option?

So this is going to be a frustrating answer for you, but actually, we are talking through the detail of the targets between the government and the opposition as we negotiate the final form of the bill.

But you must have a view.

Well, I mean, I have a view, but, you know, there are options that are in front of us, and we’re talking through the detail of how we do that. And I think, you know, the thing that people are going to have to realise is that it’s going to involve some compromise from everyone, right? No one is going to get everything that they want as a result of this process. And I’ve been saying this recently – as long as everyone’s equally unhappy, we have a chance of getting this over the line.

That’s not an ideal proposition, though, is it?

Well, look, you know, it depends where you stand. I think the most important thing here is that we do have a clear target and that there is a pathway over the course of the next 30 years as we do this transition, that we do set up the politically independent Climate Change Commission and that that process is really robust. And I think if you get those things in place, then you will see a huge signal sent into the economy about the scale of change, and things will start to unlock and move very quickly. It’s actually a domestic version of the Paris Agreement itself. Paris Agreement isn’t perfect, right? It’s got a number of flaws to it, but the fact that we got a global agreement on that direction of travel sent a huge signal to countries and to businesses all over the world. And things have really changed massively as a result of that.

So if you do exclude everything except carbon dioxide from the bill, you’re going to have to work out how to get to those gases in the second half of the century anyway, aren’t you?

Well, ultimately, yes. I mean, we are signatories to the Paris Agreement, and, of course, it was a National Government that signed us up to the Paris Agreement, which does say that in the second half of the century the world has got to get to a situation where all of our gases are netted out against the removals or the sinks or the offsets.

So, James, New Zealanders have told you that they want certainty around this bill. When’s it likely to be introduced?

Soon ¬– I don’t have an exact date for it at the moment because we are in a dialogue with the opposition about it, and in my view it’s more important to get it right than to worry about a few weeks here or there.

Earlier this year, you said transport was going to be one of your first priorities and we’re going to make a decision in the second half of this year around things like EVs and increasing the number of electric vehicles on New Zealand roads. What sort of incentives are you proposing? What decisions have you made?

So there’s a whole suite of options that are in front of us at the moment that we are working our way through. Again, I recognise that’s a little frustrating, because we’re unable to say exactly what we’re landing on. But the kinds of things that the Productivity Commission recommended we’re taking a very good look at, as well as some of the policy options that other countries around the world– like Norway, who have made huge inroads on EVs.

So somewhere like Norway, they have cut the import tax, for example. You can get some free parking if you drive an EV. You can drive in the bus lanes. Would you look at those sorts of things here?

We are literally looking at every option that we’ve got available to us. We’re looking at things like fringe benefit tax. We’re looking at things like, you know, there’s the Productivity commission; we’re looking at that feebate scheme. There are many ways to skin that cat, and we’ve got to make sure that we develop something that works for the New Zealand context. You can’t just import the same policy proposals that Norway has introduced, because their economy is structured differently to ours.

Okay. You said on the show that going carbon-zero would be as big an impact as the introduction of the internet, and 92 percent of submitters on the bill said they need help adapting. What kind of help can you offer, and particularly for workers who are going to be affected by climate change?

Yeah, so there are a number of different aspects to the adaptation and the transition challenge. We know already that there are places in New Zealand that are affected by increased flood risk and sea-level rise and so on. Part of our job – and we need to move on this fairly urgently – is to work out –what is our national risk assessment? What is the government’s plan for how to support communities through those, how to adapt to the effects of climate change?

Can you explain what some of that support might look like?

So at the moment, for example, in places like Kapiti and Christchurch, local councils and ratepayers have run into difficulties with each other, because the councils have formed assessments that certain properties are at risk in the future of sea-level rise. And, of course, that impacts on peoples’ home values and their ability to resell it. One of the things we need to work through is – well, what are the economics of that kind of transition? How do you support people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in locations that have an increased risk that other communities around the country don’t necessarily face? And this is something that we’ve got to engage the insurance industry in and the banking industry in, central and local government as well.

Let’s just touch on Green Party principles. You have a proud history of your Green principles, but you had to ignore those last week in order to support the waka-jumping bill. Are these concessions splitting the party? You’ve also made concessions about Chinese water-bottle expansion. You wanted a refugee quota lift to more like 6000, and now you’ve swallowed this dead rat of the waka-jumping bill. How’s that affecting the unity of the party?

I would say it’s not affecting the unity of the party. We had an annual general meeting about a month ago, and I was pleasantly surprised at just how pragmatic people are being about the fact that being a part of a government and a minor party in a government means that you don’t get everything that you want all the time. But the things that we are winning, like the zero-carbon bill that we’ve been talking about, like the largest increase in the Department of Conservation funding in 16 years, like the transition to a more fuel-efficient less emitting fleet – all of those things, they’re actually worth it. We know that there are battles along the way that we’re not going to win, and I think that people are pretty reconciled to that.

On the matter of your co-leader, Marama Davidson, she appeared on The AM Show earlier this week proposing a 20 percent boost for the support for solo parents. But she didn’t know the details about how much it was going to cost, and that did look like she’d come unprepared. Do you know how much that’s going to cost?

Yeah, so in total, the package that we’re talking about has an estimated cost of about $1.5 billion, but we have to work through some of the details with the government on some of that, because some of those costs are estimated. There are also savings on the other side of the equation, which when we did the original costings, we weren’t able to fully get. So for example – and this is a smaller part of the package – enforcing sanctions. We spend over $40 million enforcing sanctions, but we only retrieve about $30 million in returns. So we’re actually spending more money enforcing a sanctions regime than we are from returning it. And that was just what we able to get at the time when we were in opposition. We do have some estimates, but part of the budget process we’ve got to go through is to make sure that we can nail those down.

Was that embarrassing having Marama Davidson on there not knowing the figures?

Look, everybody has a bad interview sometimes. I’ve had some shockers in my time as well. I thought that the response was a little over the top, but Marama went on and had a couple of other interviews during the course of the day which were a lot stronger than that. I think all of us in this business have had those kinds of moments.

Is she the right co-leader for the party?

Yes, she is.

She has the support of the party.

Yes, she does — strong support of the party.

You’ve got an all-day Green leadership meeting this weekend. What are you going to be discussing there?

So we’ve got a new leadership group. You know, Marama and I are the public face in Parliament of the party, but also we do have co-conveners for the party organisation and also for our policy network. And those positions were elected at our recent AGM. This is our first opportunity as a group to sit in a room together and go, ‘How do we want to shape things in the coming years, especially as we’re gearing up towards Election 2020?’

James Shaw, thank you very much.

Thank you.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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