Could New Zealand’s next election be a climate election too?

26 May 2022

There was a trilogy of big climate change stories over the last few days, all of which have an impact on our mission to deliver healthy, less polluting, low carbon homes and buildings for all New Zealanders.

The first two were big New Zealand government set pieces widely trailed and eventually unveiled last week: the long awaited Emissions Reduction Plan, and the government’s annual Budget.

The ERP lays out how the government intends to slash New Zealand’s climate change pollution and is backed by a multi-billion dollar package. And for the last few months, the government had been saying climate change and health would be the central themes in the Budget.

As the built environment makes up 20 per cent of New Zealand’s carbon pollution, homes and buildings should have featured heavily in both.

The ERP contained a commitment to increase the energy efficiency of buildings and to regulate and reduce embodied carbon pollution through the building code. But there are far too many words like ‘explore’, ‘identify’, and ‘showcase’ and little concrete action.

The ERP says it will be ‘improving insulation standards so new buildings will be warmer and drier while requiring 40 per cent less energy to heat.’ However, not only has this already been announced, but government is delaying the implementation by six months.

Two years ago Government announced a 10-year plan to decarbonise our buildings & homes – the Building for Climate Change programme. We have stumbled at the first very low hurdle. To ensure the sector delivers on the coming larger, more important changes, in 2024/25, training and incentives are needed. How about a clean home discount (discounts of development contributions) and faster consenting for proven lower carbon homes and buildings? How about LIMs include the green certificates of buildings? We are in a climate crisis. Let’s act like it and reform our systems to drive a lower carbon future.

The big missing piece in the ERP is a plan for low carbon, pollution-busting renos for hundreds of thousands of homes. The cleanest, cheapest form of energy is the energy you don’t use. Low carbon renos for our homes would cut the amount of energy needed to keep them warm, dry places for families to thrive in.

The Budget could have delivered where the ERP did not, with an ambitious investment for hundreds of thousands of low carbon home renos. Doing so would help tackle New Zealand’s climate crisis, a housing crisis and soaring costs of living, and deliver warm, healthy homes.

But instead, the government did literally the least it could do, and extended the existing programme to insulate and heat homes – Warmer Kiwi Homes – by just one year, with no annual increase in the number of homes. This is nowhere near the investment needed. Instead, it should have been extended to hundreds of thousands of homes for several years.

We’ve pulled together a detailed analysis of the Budget you can read here.

Overall, the first two climate stories of the last few days showed that the government haven’t gone far enough, and hasn’t delivered the deep and ambitious plans and investment needed to tackle the greatest issue of our time.

Which brings us to the third of the three recent climate stories: the Australian election, which has been called ‘the climate change election’. In a significant shift, Australians moved away from the two major parties, and towards independent and Green politicians who massively prioritised strong climate change policies.

Australia and New Zealand are different countries, with different political systems. However, there is much to learn from what has just happened over the ditch. Australians rewarded candidates who stood firmly for ambitious climate action and moved away from the traditional larger parties who didn’t.

The next New Zealand election will probably be around September or October next year, and that will be with us before you know it. Many New Zealanders will be voting with climate change in front of their mind at the ballot box – probably more than ever before.

Will the large political parties here heed the lessons from Australia, and prioritise action to tackle climate change? There have always been clear economic, environmental, health and wellbeing reasons to do so – and now there may be a stark political reason too: if you want to be voted into government, you need to stand on a climate platform.

Ngā mihi nui