By Robert McLachlan
The Emissions Reduction Plan, released last month, is a major milestone in the journey which began five years ago when environmental groups called for a Zero Carbon Act.
One of its provisions is to establish a renewable energy target. This refers to all energy, not just electricity. Addressing climate change means stopping burning fossil fuels so that eventually, all of society’s energy needs are met with renewables.
In 2020, 28% of New Zealand’s energy was renewable. That’s better than the world average of 11%, but well behind the renewable energy superpowers of Norway, Sweden, and Iceland, which are all over 70%.
Alarmingly, we have not made any progress on this measure since 1990.
Adopting a renewable energy target was a key recommendation of the Climate Change Commission. They called for a target of 50% renewable energy by 2035, and this has now been adopted.
A renewable energy target has long been a central part of Europe’s climate change response. Their first target (12%) was adopted as long ago as 1997. Their next target (20% by 2020) was adopted in 2009, and was achieved.
Their 2030 target was initially set at 32% in 2018, but was raised to 40% in the Green New Deal, and then, in May – in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – increased further to 45%.
In raw numbers, the European target is more ambitious than New Zealand’s, but Europe also has form in this area, while we are (almost) starting from scratch.
Why do we need an energy strategy, when we already have carbon budgets and measures to meet them, like the Emissions Trading Scheme? The Commission wrote that developing a national energy strategy would help to ensure different aspects of the energy system in Aotearoa are considered in a coherent way: not just emissions reductions but reliability, affordability, infrastructure, supply chains, workforce needs, and fairness.
To these we could add that an energy target provides a backstop to cutting emissions. The carbon budgets measure net emissions from all gases. Overperforming in one area, say by planting trees or cutting biomethane, would risk underperforming on others, especially fossil fuels. But a steady phase-out of fossil fuels for energy is an absolute requirement for a safe future.
(You’d think that message would have sunk in by now. But alarming numbers of people are still buying brand new cars powered entirely by fossil fuels.)
When you’re driving a one-tonne car, most of the energy from the combusted fossil fuels goes towards propelling the heavy vehicle itself forward, rather than its passengers. The steel, plastics and glass of the car body also produce lots of greenhouse pollution in manufacturing. For that reason, the smaller the vehicle, the lower the lifetime carbon footprint. Using an ebike for short journeys is much greener than a traditional car, and even beats an EV.
A target also draws attention to our total energy consumption. We get through a lot, about 40% more per capita than the EU.
Strategies such as low-energy housing located where people can walk where they need (the “15-minute city”) will reduce energy consumption as we move off fossil fuels. The target in the Emissions Reduction Plan to reduce driving 20% by 2035 – a massive energy saver – is a landmark decision in an area which has previously been open slather.
Conversely, airport and road expansions that increase energy use and fossil fuel use are questionable.
Globally, it is very difficult to meet the 1.5C or even the 2C target without substantial reductions in energy use – an approach that has been called “green growth for the poor, degrowth for the rich.”
An energy strategy will also focus attention on what energy does for us, both for the economy and for our wellbeing. A wellbeing approach would emphasise those things that are essential for a decent quality of life, including healthcare, work, education, environment, and civic and family life.
It would prompt an examination of the distribution of energy consumption, and of what level is excessive in the context of a global crisis.
Notably, there were initiatives in the budget for low- and medium-income people such as cheaper public transport and grants to dispose of old cars.
But most household emissions come from high-income households. They have high emissions and the means to reduce them. But with no one being compelled to do anything, we must rely instead on a combination of incentives and regulations from the government, whose long-term impact is hard to foresee.
Two-thirds of New Zealand’s fossil energy comes from oil. (One quarter is gas, one twelfth coal.)
The oil alone was costing us $7 billion a year even before the war in Europe – funded by oil and gas sales – pushed up prices. That starts to make the Climate Emergency Response Fund’s $1b a year look like a small change. The outsized share of oil once again points to the need for a revolution in transport.
This article appeared first in Stuff. Read the original article.