National MPs are looking likely to join a bi-partisan approach to climate change under the leadership of the Greens co-leader, James Shaw.
Last night National’s climate change spokesperson, Todd Muller, said the party was considering supporting a Government move to establish a Climate Change Commission.
The Commission would be the the authoritative voice on potential climate change damage and possible mitigation issues.
It would write tough new emissions targets into law and thus (theoretically) put them beyond partisan political bickering.
But as recently as a week before the election National’s leader, Bill English, was opposing the idea.
So Muller’s move is the first we have seen since the election which reverses a long-standing party policy.
It also speaks to what is likely to be an increasingly influential role that will be played in the party next year by some of its newer backbench MPs.
For Shaw, Muller’s move will be a huge boost and will play into the Green leader’s predisposition to look for bipartisan solutions to political challenges.
Muller’s announcement was prompted by Shaw’s own announcement yesterday afternoon that Cabinet had agreed to a process of consultation in 2018 before a Zero Carbon Bill was introduced.
“The legislation will see New Zealand put a bold new climate change target into law and establish an independent Climate Change Commission,” said Shaw.
“From May next year, we’ll have a conversation with all New Zealanders about the potential target to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
“We’ll talk about how we get there and the role of the independent Climate Change Commission.
“We’ll gather robust evidence and modelling on the economic implications of the target, and work closely with communities; including Māori, business and other sectors of the economy as we draft a Zero Carbon Bill.
“I intend to introduce the Zero Carbon Bill into Parliament by the end of October next year.”
Meanwhile, the Government will establish an Interim Climate Change Committee from early next year to do the ground work in some priority areas while it sets up the Commission.
“The interim committee could start by looking at agriculture, which contributes almost half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, and how we can transition to 100 per cent renewable electricity,” said Shaw.
“I expect that the Climate Change Commission will pick up the interim committee’s work in those areas as it puts together a wide range of recommendations.”
A board of public sector chief executives, focused on climate change, will also be established early next year.
The Climate Change Commission has previously been backed by Labour and the Greens after it was proposed by the former Parliamentary Environment Commissioner, Jan Wright, in June this year.
The Commission would write emissions targets into law.
But as recently as a week out from the election, National was not willing to support the idea.
“We don’t see a case for it,” National Leader Bill English told POLITIK in a pre-election interview.
“The Paris agreement target is clear and there is regular reporting against that so in our view the accountability is in place.”
But New Zealand’s existing Paris targets are only to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Shaw is proposing that net emissions reduce to zero by 2050.
By endorsing the Climate Change Commission Muller is signing National up to that target; a radical shift from English’s position.
However, Muller was careful to qualify his statement of support by saying that National’s primary focus “for the conversations ahead of us is that any transition to a low carbon economy must ensure local communities can adjust and thrive, rather than seeking accolades from the UN.”
Muller knows that he will face push back from some in the caucus and the party.
“But the Government has signalled it wants an independent climate commission and that it will be informed by the UK model,” he told POLITIK.
“The UK model does at first glance appear to have broad political support.”
Muller said that the Government had signalled it wanted to be bi[partisan and he was open to that.
Shaw said that he intended to include the National Party as much as he could in the development of the net zero emissions policy.
“And I will try to make sure that I can take on board their concerns and allay them,” he told POLITIK.
Net zero emissions by 2050 has always been the Greens policy; even Labour only adopted it shortly before the election but that National is now prepared to engage in debate about it indicates just how far the politics of climate change have moved in New Zealand in a relatively short time.