National is now threatening to break up the two-party consensus on climate change because it is dissatisfied with the Climate Change Commission’s Draft Consultation document.

The party’s Climate Change spokesperson, Stuart Smith, has taken the unusual step for the Opposition of making a formal submission to the Commission highly critical of  its proposals.

He says they are impossible to support.

And yesterday, he wrote to Climate Change Minister James Shaw asking for a three-month extension to the consultation period on the report.

“My concern is the draft Plan would be impossible for us to support and put us in the unfortunate position where we are opposing the Commission’s first Emissions Reduction Plan,” he told POLITIK.

“In order to avoid this, I am requesting the Minister extend the time the Commission has to develop this plan.

“National first and foremost wants a robust emissions reduction plan that we can support.

“This, I believe, is a constructive step to create a situation where we may be able to support the final Plan.”

POLITIK: “Is it fair to say the Government cannot now take National’s support for the Climate Change Commission’s recommendations as a given?”

SMITH: “Correct.”

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National under Simon Bridges had supported the Zero Carbon Bill and was a strong advocate of the Climate Change Commission.

However Judith Collins led a group within caucus who were reluctant to back the Bill. Stuart Smith has been close to Collins and his appointment as Climate Change spokesperson was seen by some as a move to take a step back from the bipartisan policies of previous spokespeople; Todd Muller and Scott Simpson.

But just how much support Smith has within National’s Caucus for his stance was last night unclear.

He told POLITIK that the submission was sent to the Commission after consultation with the party leader, Judith Collins, but before the Caucus as a whole had had time to consider it.

It was emailed to at least some caucus members.

And Smith told POLITIK that it then “went through” Caucus last Tuesday “100 per cent”.

But MPs and sources close to the Caucus seem unsure whether whatever Caucus did go as far as Smith said it did.

MPs are aware that one of the party’s leading climate change sceptics was a fortnight ago applauding what he said would be a “change in tack” from Smith on climate change.

The concern is that Smith’s submission marks a pivot away from National’s former painfully developed climate change policies.

His submission to the Commission draws heavily on the work of New Zealand Initiative economist (and former National staffer) Matt Burgess.

It says: “In order to support the final Emissions Reduction Plan, National requires all policy recommendations to be supported by:

  • Analysis on the cost of the policy and expected emissions reductions including, where possible, a cost of abatement to be calculated
  • Analysis of why the emissions reductions achieved by the policy cannot efficiently be delivered by the existing Emissions Trading Scheme (which now includes a cap on emissions)
  • Where applicable, analysis of how effective the policy has been when implemented overseas.
  • Details of how the policy would be implemented.”

National’s preference for the Emissions Trading Scheme raises questions about its earlier advocacy of the Climate Change Commission, whose role was always to set sector by sector carbon budgets.

Smith argues that there is no contradiction.

What we’re saying is that the Climate Commission have a role, and their role is to give advice to the minister,” he said.

“And we saw with the interim committee that wrote two excellent reports, one on achieving 100 per cent renewables and one on methane reductions.

“And they were very well put together.

“They probably could be seen as being politically brave, but t that’s what we expect from the Commission, and that’s their job.

“So we are not at all against the Commission.

“What I’m saying is that the ETS we know will get us to zero. The Commission says it will get to zero.

“That doesn’t mean we can’t have other policies or might need other policies.

“But if we do have policies, we need to know why we need those and why that. What can they achieve that the ETS won’t and at what cost?”

Smith is particularly critical of the Commission Electric Vehicle policies and its policies for the dairy sector.

“The “Our Path to 2035” scenario appears to assume light passenger electric vehicles are $56,033 in 2018, reducing to $47,471 in 2021, $40,588 in 2025, and achieving price parity with petrol vehicles in 2030,” the submission says.

“ Light passenger petrol vehicles are assumed to be $36,096 in all years.

“It is challenging for the National Party to understand if these assumptions are reasonable.

“On face-value, the cost assumed for a new EV in 2021 appears to be substantially below what we would have expected.

“We have asked the Commission for information on how these values were derived and were informed the numbers are based on a consultant’s report.

“We have requested a copy of this consultant’s report but have not received this in time to write this submission.”

National is not the only submitter asking for more data on how the Commission reached its conclusions.

Business New Zealand, in its submission, also endorsed the ETS and said that the submission process was a good time to test the Commission’s assumption.

On the dairy industry, the National submission draws on Dairy NZ’s submission.

It says DairyNZ estimates that the costs of achieving the Commission’s pathway to the dairy sector alone equate to between 0.98 and 1.4 per cent of GDP – estimating a higher cost from the dairy sector alone than the Commission has estimated for reductions from all sectors of the economy.

“DairyNZ estimate losses in GDP from the dairy sector alone are between 0.98 % and 1.4% per annum. These correspond to annual losses of $1,665 and $2,393 per household in 2035.”

It is likely that the bulk of National’s Caucus will agree with these criticisms; what is not so clear is how much support there would be for the party to totally oppose the final outcome of the Climate Change Commission’s recommendations.