Thursday, June 13, 2019

Climate Change: Time to fix the RMA

OMV's application for resource consent for drilling offshore exploration wells has highlighted a major flaw in our environmental legislation. Climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions, is our most pressing environmental threat. But the EPA, which is deciding the application, is specifically forbidden from considering "the effects on climate change of discharging greenhouse gases into the air". And their legislation echoes a wider problem with the RMA, where local authorities are told they must have regard to the effects of climate change when carrying out their functions - except when it comes to deciding on greenhouse gas emissions. It is, as gareth Hughes points out, a ludicrous situation. The good news is that the government may be planning to fix it.

Last year, the government announced a two-step process for RMA reform Buried in the Cabinet paper on the issue (in paragraphs 83 - 87) was a note that this was a priority for change:

Addressing climate change is a high priority for this Government. There could be significant benefits in elevating the importance of climate change within the RMA framework, so that decision-makers are able to fully consider both the effects of climate change on development (adaptation), and the effects of development on climate change (mitigation).

I am therefore proposing to reconsider the role of the RMA in relation to climate change in Stage 2 of the review of the RMA. This will provide the best opportunity for any changes to be carefully worked through.

We have these absurd provisions due to past governments saying "we will deal with climate change nationally" (and then refusing to deal with it in any meaningful way). There's now a greater awareness that price-based measures like the ETS are not the only way, and that they need to be backed up with other policies to reduce or limit emissions. The RMA is a useful tool to do that, and it is long past time we started using it. The Greens have promised that they'll be working to get their coalition partners to support restoring climate change management to the RMA; if we want emissions to reduce, we need to back them up on this.