New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has just unveiled her country’s strategy for meeting its first emissions budget, with emissions cuts from the built environment sitting at the core of the plan.

With the climate crisis shaping up to be a key election issue in Australia next week, New Zealand’s policies provide a glimpse of what’s possible when a government is committed to taking serious action to reduce emissions.

How the carbon budgets work

Under its Zero Carbon Act, which was passed in 2019, New Zealand’s government is required to set multi-year “carbon budget” targets for the total amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted.

The first three carbon budget targets were unveiled last week by New Zealand’s Climate Change Minister James Shaw. 

Rather than setting single-year targets, each “carbon budget” spans a period of around five years. By moving from single-year to multi-year targets, the government is looking to move climate change funding from short-term piecemeal responses towards longer-term investments.

The targets are designed to reduce net emissions of all greenhouse gases (except biogenic methane) to 10 per cent below 2017 levels by 2030 and zero by 2050. They also aim to cut methane emissions from plants and animals to 24–47 per cent below 2017 levels by 2050.

The first budget, which spans from 2022 to 2025, aims for a total of 290 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases, an average of 72.4 megatonnes per year. That’s roughly 2 megatonnes per year less than the country’s average from 2017-2021.

Alongside this first climate budget, Minister Shaw also released the in-principle targets for the next two carbon budgets:

  • emissions budget two (2026–2030) will aim for 305 megatones, an average of 61 megatonnes a year. This is 20 per cent below average annual emissions from 2017 to 2021.
  • emissions budget three (2031–2035) will aim for 240 megatonnes, an average of 48 megatonnes a year. This is 35 per cent below the average annual from 2017 to 2021.

How New Zealand will meet its emissions targets

Following the release of these targets, the Ardern government has on Monday released its first emissions reduction plan, which contains the strategy for meeting the emissions targets in budget one. 

Emissions cuts from the built environment are at the heart of the plan, with transport, clean energy and waste at the centre.

Here are five of the main ways Prime Minister Ardern is looking to bring down emissions:

1. More electric vehicles

The Kiwi government is aiming for zero emissions vehicles to make up at least 30 per cent of its national car fleet by 2035.

To do this, it will trial a new program, called the Clean Car Upgrade, which will basically give low- and middle-income families a rebate on an EV or hybrid car in exchange for scrapping their old one. The scrap-and-replace program will have an initial trial of up to 2500 vehicles.

The Ardern government will also run a separate program where the government will lease lower-emissions cars and EVs to people on low incomes, making it more affordable to use a cleaner car.

2. Better public and active transport infrastructure

With transport accounting for just under one-fifth (around 17 per cent) of New Zealand’s emissions, the government is looking to promote walking, cycling and public transport.

The Ardern government has pledged to introduce a nationally integrated public transport ticketing system, along with infrastructure projects in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

Zero-emissions buses will be introduced from 2025, with the aim of decarbonising the nation’s entire public transport fleet by 2035.

It will also build at least 100 kilometres of safe urban cycleways to build more connected networks and improve the safety of at least 25 public footpaths.

3. Building electrification and industry

To help businesses to cut emissions and reduce their reliance on coal and gas, New Zealand will introduce subsidies for high efficiency electrical equipment, including electric motors and heat pumps.

It will also ban the sale of new low- to medium-temperature coal boilers, with older models to be phased out by 2037.

4. Energy and reducing coal use

To help the country switch to higher levels of renewable energy and reduce its 10 per cent reliance on coal mainly for the steelmaking and milk industries the Ardern government will develop a national energy strategy, which will include regulations on the use of renewable energy imported from overseas. It will also include a roadmap for the local development and use of hydrogen.

Meanwhile, the public service will be used to drive the adoption of renewables through new long-term power purchase agreements.

5. Waste, recycling and food 

To reduce the amount of waste going to landfills, New Zealand is investing in its recycling infrastructure, aiming to give most houses access to kerbside food waste collection by 2030.

It aims to cut freight emissions by 35 per cent by 2035 by promoting the use of lower emissions trucks to transport food and other products.

It will also fund a new Centre for Climate Action on Agricultural Emissions and introduce an emissions pricing mechanism for agriculture by the start of 2025.

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