Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Climate Change: The Zero Carbon Bill

Just a month ago we saw the biggest protest in a generation as people marched to demand stronger action on climate change. A core demand of the protesters was to strengthen the Zero Carbon Bill's target to net-zero by 2040. So what is the government's response? Judging by the Environment Committee's report on the bill released yesterday, its crystal clear: "fuck you". The target has not been strengthened, and the government is still aiming for net zero (except for methane) by 2050. Which, given the way the news is going, simply means we'll be back in five years to strengthen it. Meanwhile, if you marched in the climate strike, if you want stronger targets, the message is clear: to get them, we need to march to the ballot box. Fortunately we'll have a chance to do that next year.

As for the rest of the bill, its pretty much the same as when it went into committee, with only technical changes. The methane target is still the same (so farmers still get a free ride), there's a slightly stronger emphasis on domestic emissions reduction and against "offshore mitigation" (AKA fraudulent "credits"), and a requirement for the Climate Change Commission to review whether to include international aviation and shipping emissions in the target. One win is on whether agencies must consider climate change targets in public decisions. While the committee retained the present permissive language as opposed to making it mandatory, they have struck out the clause saying that a failure to consider climate change does not invalidate decisions, in order to "enable common law to develop". Which is their way of saying "please take us to court". We'll just have to do it for irrationality / unreasonableness rather than having a slam-dunk of illegality available.

Its mixed news on transparency. The good news is that the government has admitted its overbroad drafting, and reversed its application of the existing secrecy clause to all the Climate Change Commission's functions, instead limiting it to information passed on by the EPA. The bad news is that they've introduced a new mini-Official Secrets Act in s5ZV to cover information obtained by the Commission under its information-gathering powers. Like the similar clause in the New Zealand Infrastructure Commission/Te Waihanga Act, these powers apply almost entirely to public bodies already covered by OIA / LGOIMA, insofar as they don't, the information would be protected by existing withholding grounds. The basic effect will be to make presumptively public information secret. Given the way these clauses keep being inserted, it is clear that the government does not trust the OIA, and is chipping away at it at every turn. Which is another reason for us to march to the ballot box.