Budget 2022: Government urged to ‘throw money’ at energy research and development

The government is being told to shift to a war footing on climate spending in this year’s Budget. Read RNZ’s preview of what to expect.

Erosion at a carpark at the eastern end of Wellington's Lyall Bay on 15 June 2015.

Climate change is expected to be a key focus of this year’s Budget as data shows the sea will start swallowing homes and infrastructure far sooner than previously thought. Photo: RNZ / Michael Cropp

Climate change, along with health, will be a centrepoint of Budget 2022 on 19 May.

Successive governments have failed to take effective action to tackle the climate emergency, but there are hopes this budget – and other policy coming imminently – signals a shift in emphasis.

It comes as data shows the sea will start swallowing some homes and infrastructure far sooner than previously thought.

New Zealand is one of the worst emitters of damaging gases per capita in the world.

Transport likely focus of Budget climate spending

Transport is one of the largest sources of emissions.

It is an area the government has fairly direct control over and will likely be a focus of the Budget’s climate spending.

Dr Paul Winton from the 1.5 Project wants the most made of existing infrastructure, and does not necessarily want the government to spend a lot more money in the area.

Particularly, he does not want big money splashed on headline-grabbing projects like light rail – he said one project on this scale would need to be built each year to generate the reductions needed just to keep up with the increase in emissions from population growth.

“What we would really love to see out of this Budget is a re-allocation of existing funding from building more roads and motorways to – at scale – deployment of cycle lanes and bus lanes.

“That will allow people to get where they need to go much more easily, much, much more cheaply, [with] lower carbon and health impacts.”

Winton said $3 billion re-purposed from road building by 2030 would make a big difference.

Congestion charging in Auckland and extending half-priced fares on public transport are tipped to be on the cards.

But Matt Lowrie from transport advocacy group Greater Auckland said a big investment in improving public transport was the key.

“In cities all around New Zealand we need more services to be run, and we need to make them more reliable so that people have a viable option for getting out of their car.”

Energy R&D – ‘Throw money at it like World War II’

The government is expected to continue converting fossil-fuel boilers to cleaner options in the state sector, and incentivising industry to make the switch.

Massey University emeritus professor and climate energy expert Ralph Sims said New Zealand did not invest anywhere near enough into research and development in energy.

“Throw money at it like World War II and you come up with all sorts of solutions,” he said.

“Maybe climate change should be our World War II moment.”

Equity must be a priority

Māori climate activist Kaeden Watts (Ngāti Tūwharetoa / Ngāti Maniapoto) said the government had to support those who could least afford the transition to a low-carbon economy.

“Not everybody can afford an EV, not everybody can afford an e-bike, so how are we making those ways of navigating cities more accessible for low income households? That would be the thing that concerns me most.”

He said mana whenua, hapū and iwi already had climate change plans, Māori already knew many of the solutions, and the government needed to devolve more power to them.

Environment and sustainability leader Michael Worth, from accounting firm Grant Thornton, said the government should bin the Public Finance Act – which sets a framework for how the government can borrow and spend money – as it was hamstringing its climate response.

“Public debt shouldn’t be as frightening as what we’re facing environmentally if we fail to act.

“The real debt is what we owe to the next generation. What good is running a cash surplus if our children can’t rely on quality air, clean water and a healthy place to live?” he said.

Meanwhile, despite being responsible for about half of emissions, the agriculture sector is not expected to feature much in this Budget.

Separate work on pricing farm emissions is due later this year.

Construction sector needs investment

IPCC climate report author and University of Canterbury professor Bronwyn Hayward said she wanted to see a big push on incentives to get greener and more efficient homes built.

“We know, for example, that concrete is a really difficult product in terms of releasing emissions when it’s being manufactured, and when we use it.

“So the way in which we build buildings that actually store carbon, use fewer emissions, are warm and use less energy is really helpful – it protects people.

“Providing financial incentives for massive energy heating, and low carbon emission materials would be really useful.”

Hayward said in this Budget she also wanted to see evidence of money going to initiatives which both reduced emissions and built resilience to deal with the effects of the warming globe.

Climate a tough but important sell

Hayward said climate spending might not capture the imagination of the average New Zealander, but it was of the utmost importance for Aotearoa’s future.

“These are not going to be great vote winners but they are essential, fundamental actions that need to happen.

“It’s not going to be great whizz-bang politics here, it’s going to be hard graft that we’re looking at, of shifting an economy that for the last 30 years has been living outside of our means and not protecting our communities.”

Big ol’ few weeks

On Thursday, there will be a special Parliamentary debate on climate change – giving parties the opportunity to voice opposition about particular policy prescriptions now Cabinet has agreed on the targets for emissions reductions (for the next three years, at least).

And with National Party leader Christopher Luxon voicing his support for the pathway (though we are yet to see National’s position on the measures that should be taken to make cuts) it appears, for now, there is bi-partisan support giving the policy platform a stronger footing.

On Monday, the government will finally release its comprehensive programme to slash emissions over the coming decades.

The government has also now started the discussion about who should pay for properties in the inundation danger zone – with experts [https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/466103/dealing-with-climate-change-tough-choices-come-next

https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/466391/insurers-may-be-reluctant-to-offer-cover-after-even-small-sea-level-rise-expert warning insurers could pull cover far sooner than property owners think].

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