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Q+A: James Shaw interviewed by Corin Dann

Climate Minister: one less meat meal a week can help environment

Climate Minister James Shaw says people worried about their carbon footprint could reduce their meat intake by a meal a week, but says this is not the government’s official stance.

Speaking on TVNZ 1’s Q+A this morning, Mr Shaw told Corin Dann that the consultation process for the government’s Zero Carbon Bill would be launched this Thursday.

“The bill creates an overarching kind of architecture,” he said, adding the goal of the legislation would be for a carbon neutral economy by 2050.

“Ninety five percent of new Zealanders consume meat, and it is fairly obvious there is a lot of water, a lot of energy and a lot of land use that goes into protein production that way,” he said.

“If somebody wanted to have an immediate impact, they could eat one less meat meal per week.

“We’re not encouraging that as a government. What we’re trying to do is to ensure that there’s settings right across the economy that make sure people are supported.”

Q + A
Episode 12
Interviewed by Corin Dann

CORIN The government’s plans to transform the New Zealand economy are pretty big, and I guess one crucial part of that is trying to make it carbon neutral by 2050, and they are progressing at some reasonable pace on that, with consultation on the carbon-zero legislation not too far away. And joining me with some details on that is the Climate Change Minister, James Shaw. Good morning to you.

JAMES Good morning.

CORIN This week we will see some of the detail. Is that right?

JAMES Yeah, that’s right. So, on Thursday we’re doing a media launch for a six-week consultation on the Zero Carbon Bill that we’re introducing later on this year. And we’re kind of making more of a big deal of it than we normally would with a government consultation because it is a very significant piece of legislation with a very long-term reach. And so we are asking people to get involved.

CORIN Give people a flavour of that. We’ve talked about this before, but what you’re talking about here, well it’s is not quite entrenching, is it, but putting it into every piece of law in this country will be viewed through a climate change lens. Is that right?

JAMES Well, that is a component of is it. We’re looking at ways of basically trying to join government up and make sure we’re all rowing in the right direction so that as other legislation or other regulations kind of come before Parliament, that we are taking a look at it and saying, ‘Well, how does this impact on our ambition to be a carbon-neutral economy by 2050?’ But the bill itself, the main thing that it does is it puts in place this target of getting there—

CORIN So it’ll have a target on Thursday?

JAMES Well, it’s got a range of targets. So when we say a net-zero-emissions economy, that is actually interpretable. So we want to make sure people are clear about what the different versions of that might be.

CORIN And are you going to say how we’re going to get there?

JAMES Well, not really. So, the idea is the bill creates an overarching kind of architecture, if you like, and then every government between now and then will continue to have arguments about particular policy responses about how to get there. The purpose of the bill is to set the target to create an independent Climate Change Commission which is to help guide us there and create, sort of, stepping stone targets between here and there and also to work out who in government is responsible for adapting to the effects of climate change.

CORIN So given that, and it’s there for the long term, have you got National on board with this? Because it’s hard to see it kind of flying if not.

JAMES I think it’s a bit unreasonable to ask them to sign up to a piece of legislation that they haven’t seen yet or haven’t had a hand in helping to design, but I am open to that--

CORIN Talking to them?

JAMES Yeah, absolutely, and I do hope to work with them in helping to design this piece of legislation because it does have such, kind of, a long reach. There will be three or four or five changes of government between now and when we want to hit that target, and so it would be good if we can get bipartisan support for it. But I think in order to do that, we actually have to actively engage the Opposition in the design of the legislation itself.

CORIN All right. I want to deal with some of these issues of how we would meet such an ambitious target. It seems to me reading the Productivity Commission’s report on this – land use and farming – following up from Damien O’Connor, is crucial to this. We will have to change the way we farm in this country, is that correct?

JAMES Yes, but if you think about it, if you went back 30 years to 1988, then the way that we farmed then is different to the way that we farm now, but we’re actually making more money off the land now than we did in the late 1980s. And we had dairy farms then and sheep farms and horticulture and so on, and we will continue to have those things, but farming is changing all the time.

CORIN But we’ve had a very laissez faire, free market approach to that, and it’s been able to grow organically or however it grows. But in order to be carbon zero, you’re going to have to lay down some rules, aren’t you, about land use, about the Emissions Trading Scheme, that could be quite challenging.

JAMES Yeah, they’ll be challenging, but as the Productivity Commission Report said, it is challenging but it is also achievable. And I actually hope that what we can do is to reform the Emissions Trading Scheme so that it’s not about the stick; it’s more about the carrot, right, so that people are actually getting some payback for the way that they farm, for the way that they use their land.

CORIN OK, so on that, the Emissions Trading Scheme sends a price signal. It sends an incentive. So it’s pretty cheap at the moment in terms of carbon you can offset.

JAMES Yeah, it’s about $21 a ton at the moment.

CORIN That’s going to have to go to about $75. That would have pretty dramatic impacts on emitters and consumers, wouldn’t it?

JAMES Well, I imagine that the price will rise in the Emissions Trading Scheme, but that will do so gradually and over time. So the number that you’re talking about there certainly won’t happen immediately, and I would imagine it’ll take quite some time before it gets anywhere near that kind of near that kind of level.

CORIN So that’s interesting. So it’s a gradual process.


CORIN Will consumers, and I’m particularly worried about low-income consumers who will bear the cost of this, and the Productivity Commission notes that – it says those are the ones who will wear the cost of higher transport, higher electricity – how will they be compensated as you work your way through?

JAMES So, this is a really important piece of work which my colleague Megan Woods is leading under the banner of ‘just transitions’, which is to say what specifically does government need to do to support families and regions and industries and workers through that transition? And so there’s an active line of government work that we’re building on.

CORIN Will they get money?

JAMES Yes, absolutely.

CORIN So they will be financially compensated to offset the higher cost of electricity, the higher cost of transport from your climate change policies?

JAMES Well, first of all, it’s not actually guaranteed that there will be higher prices--

CORIN But if there was.

JAMES …in terms of electricity or transport. Well, what it suggests is that as things change, right, we know that this change is going to affect all of us over the course of the next 30 years, but it won’t necessarily be evenly distributed. And therefore the burden does fall on government. There’s a responsibility that government has to take, and we’re taking it to make sure that you’ve got targeted policies to support families and workers and regions and industries through that transition, right? And so we’re very actively playing that role.

CORIN Can you give me an example of how a low-income earner might be assisted with the cost, say, of their electricity bill going up?

JAMES Well, for example, the Home Insulation Scheme are making sure that houses are warm and dry in the first place, means that your electricity bill won’t necessarily have to go up because you won’t be consuming as much. If we can incentivise roof-top solar and battery, which companies like Vector here in Auckland are investing very heavily in at the moment, it means that when you get those winter peaks, that you’ve got enough juice that you’ve generated yourself that you won’t necessarily be drawing on the grid to the same extent. If you’re looking at fuel costs, what can we do to incentivise the uptake of electric vehicles, which are far cheaper to run per kilometre than a petrol-powered car?

CORIN What about consumers? What can they do? Because we’ve seen a report from The Guardian talking about it – the science article The Journal – you would’ve seen it suggesting what the best thing consumers can do to curb climate change would be to stop eating meat and dairy. Do you agree?

JAMES Well, look, 95% of New Zealanders consume meat, and it is fairly obvious there is a lot of water, a lot of energy and a lot of land use that goes into protein production that way. If somebody wanted to have an immediate impact, they could eat one less meat meal per week, but I actually think it’s- Consumer demand and consumer behaviour is important, but it’s actually about the agro-

CORIN Would you encourage that as a government or was that just your personal view that people should eat less meat?

JAMES No, we’re not encouraging that as a government. What we’re trying to do is to ensure that there’s settings right across the economy that make sure that people are supported, that they’re really clear about the direction of travel, that there are sufficient incentives to support that transition, right? And then essentially what consumers do is really up to them.

CORIN But that’s a huge threat to our economy, given how much we do in meat and dairy, how important it is we heard from Damien O’Connor, if this message is starting to go around the world to stop eating meat and dairy, are you worried about that?

JAMES No, I’m not. I’m not. We know that it’s a very big planet. New Zealand has enough land to feed about 40 million people with current production methodologies. We know that the middle classes in China and India and in parts of Europe and so on, there is a huge demand for our food products. And you heard Damien O’Connor talking about some of the highest quality protein for some of the most discerning customers in the world. That generates huge value.

CORIN But it’s a little bit of a contradiction, isn’t it, if you’re sort of- On an economic level, we want people to keep eating meat and dairy, but on the logic is, for climate change, you need them to eat less.

JAMES No, look-

CORIN We’re not getting it right.

JAMES It’s about the mix, right? And I think that the whole point is that what we’re doing is we’re engaging in a 30-year transition, and we know that we’re going to have to match consumer demand. Consumer demand has changed over the course of the last 30 years. It will continue to change again in the future. The thing about New Zealand farmers is that they are some of the most productive, most adaptable in the world.

CORIN I was going to come to that, because in order to make that shift that you’re talking about, you’ve got to put farming into the ETS, don’t you? I mean, Damien O’Connor was talking pretty positively about it. That’s the only way to send a signal to not choose the high emitting industries, right?

JAMES Yeah, so, I mean, you know that we’ve created an Interim Climate Change Committee and we’ve asked them to take a look at that question. There’s been a presumption since 2002, when the original Climate Change Response Act was passed, that agriculture would eventually come into the ETS, if the circumstances were right. And so what we’ve done is we’ve basically asked the commission to say, ‘Well, what exactly are those conditions? What needs to be met in order to make that work?’ And as Damien O’Connor said, if they do come in, then it will be at an essentially 95%-

CORIN So you’re still at the ‘if’ point. Couple of quick questions – genetic modification and the advances in technology; Peter Gluckman’s talked about a bit of a strait jacket on New Zealand research. It’s crucial for helping with cutting methane emissions and Ryegrass and these sorts of things. Are you open to that technology being liberalised more, that the rules around it? And would your $100 million Green Fund invest in it?

JAMES I think, just like your argument before about people eating less meat, the consumer demand at the moment is that people are willing to pay for and really want high-end organic food with a really strong story behind it, and there is still a lot of consumer concern out there about GE food, well, GE in the food chain.

CORIN So you don’t want to see any relaxation of the laws?

JAMES Well, not at the moment, no. I think that-

CORIN Even if there’s a technology like Ryegrass which could help cut nitrogen and those sorts of things, leakage…

JAMES You have to balance that out against the risk to our brand, which is where we get the most of the value from, right? So if New Zealand’s proposition is to move up the value chain to get to the really high-end discerning customers to look at value over volume, then you have to look at what those consumers want. And so the idea that you’re going to have GE in your food chain-

CORIN So it’s consumer-driven not science-driven?

JAMES Consumer demand is pretty important. That brand for New Zealand- I mean, the whole point of this strategy is to make sure that New Zealand occupies that niche that says, ‘We are the world’s premiere producer of high-quality, high-value, good providence, environmentally friendly food, right, and that is where we get the value from in the future.

CORIN James Shaw, thank you very much for your time, appreciate it.


Please find attached the full transcript and the link to the interview

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