We (still) need to talk about cars

By Robert McLachlan

To address climate change, we need to phase out the burning of fossil fuels. The largest share of fossil fuels is burnt in cars and trucks. So it seems clear that fossil-fuelled vehicles need to stop being designed, made, imported, and driven. But anyone who has visited a road or seen a car ad recently knows that that isn’t happening, or, if it is, it’s happening so imperceptibly slowly as to hardly make a difference.

In New Zealand the situation is particularly acute, as we are now very, very far down the path towards a system dominated by urban sprawl and private cars, with little regulation of either. Road transport emissions doubled between 1990 and 2018. In the US they rose 30% in the same period, and in the UK, just 6%, which campaigners still point out is woefully insufficient.

Soon we will start to take steps to turn this ship around. It may or may not be quick, it may or not be easy. But it’s probably not going to be both quick and easy. As plans start to crystallise, there is certain to be a lot of back-and-forth between different factions.

Let’s take a look at the protagonists.

In the green corner: the climate advocates.

There are hundreds of advocacy groups, but a good example is 1.5 Project, led by Paul Winton. He points out that to fulfil our obligations under the Paris Agreement, we need to cut emissions 60% by 2030. Many sectors (such as the dairy industry, which creates huge emissions burning coal and gas to dry milk into milk powder) already have transition plans in place, and, in any event, are valuable and productive industries. So he concludes that road transport has to be virtually emission-free by 2030.

His and similar voices are being heard. For example, Auckland and Wellington councils have set made climate goals that require road transport emissions to at least halve by 2030. But targets like this are very, very difficult to achieve. They would mean essentially no new fossil-fuels vehicles entering the fleet, starting immediately. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands are being imported every year, and people are buying them.

Passing to the red corner: the Labour government

The Government has a plan already prepared: the Clean Car Standard. It was developed and widely discussed in 2019 and taken into the 2020 election. It’s a fuel efficiency standard for new (or newly imported) vehicles, something that almost all developed countries have had for years, and that New Zealand would have had too in 2009, had not the incoming government of John Key blocked it. (You can read the official reasons in the cabinet papers; even in 2009 they must have seemed somewhat flimsy, and of course they have not stood the test of time.)

In the Standard as originally designed, the average fuel efficiency of all vehicles (of each importer) must meet a certain target that gets progressively more stringent. This was set at 161 gCO2/km in 2022, falling to 105 gCO2/km by 2025. The Standard was predicted to cut emissions  by 2 million tonnes of CO2 a year (about 13% of road transport emissions) by 2030, for a net savings of $2.4 billion.

Growth, 1990–2018Per person, 1990Per person, 2018Per vehicle4Targets
USA+30%4.8 tCO24.8 tCO2300 gCO2/km135 gCO2/km 20261
UK+6%1.94 tCO21.78 tCO2220 gCO2/km81 gCO2/km 20252
NZ+99%2.19 tCO23.06 tCO2330 gCO2/km105 gCO2/km 20253
Road transport emissions compared. 1For cars and light trucks (i.e. utes) combined; Obama target was 117g. 2EU target for cars only. Target 125g for light trucks. 3Proposed in the Clean Car Standard for cars and light trucks. Current new light vehicles average 180 gCO2/km. 4For the entire current fleet including heavy trucks.
From the Clean Car Plan proposal. I’ve tried to indicate the predicted 2 million tonnes savings by 2030 under the plan. Actually, I think the ‘BAU’ (Business As Usual, a terrible term) projection is pretty optimistic given our past and current behaviour.

OK, 13% savings, that’s a bit less than we need, but, wait a minute, there’s another player to consider….

In the blue corner: the car industry

This is a massive industry. Something like $6 billion of new cars are sold every year, in part thanks to $600 million of advertising. They are represented by the MIA (Motor Industry Association, for sellers of new vehicles), the VIA (Imported Motor Vehicle Industry Association, for sellers of used imports), and the MTA (all the above, plus resellers, petrol stations, and mechanics). Then there is the AA with 1.7 million members, half of all drivers in the country. I think it’s fair to say that they were all apoplectic about the government’s proposals.

You can read the MIA’s comments for yourself. They direct attention for emission reduction to agriculture, to the electricity sector, to the drivers of existing vehicles, and to the heavy vehicle sector – that is, to everywhere but the buyers of new cars, which is the area relevant to the MIA and to the plan itself. For the rise in land transport emissions, they blame previous governments, used vehicle importers, the lack of vehicle manufacturers in New Zealand, and buyers (for preferring utes and SUVs). They also blame external consultants and would prefer the industry to analyse itself.
Unlike the MIA, the AA does not blame car buyers (i.e., its members). However, they do blame car manufacturers for making larger vehicles, and Australia for having no fuel efficiency standard. They state, “The principal reason for the growth in transport carbon emissions is nothing to do with vehicle efficiency. It has been driven by population growth.” This does not seem to be the whole story. In the three years 2014–2017, emissions of light vehicles rose 13.7% while population rose 5.7%.

Neither the AA nor the MIA accepts any responsibility for the rise in land transport emissions, despite the fact that both organisations are heavily involved in it, the AA through its statutory role and through lobbying for more roads and favourable treatment for drivers, and the MIA through supplying vehicles and (especially) through advertising. Perhaps not surprisingly, the MIA does not favour any measure that impacts on the demand or supply of vehicles – the exact area in which its members operate. The AA says, “Lacking alternatives, much of New Zealand relies on motorised transport” – a situation due in part to the activities of the AA itself.

Both submissions say they recognise the need to reduce emissions from land transport, but neither organisation has shown much enthusiasm for the issue until now. As late as 2017 the AA were recommending ridiculously inadequate measures like educating people to drive more efficiently. The MIA’s industry-led proposal was found in 2008 to be overly complex and to have costs that exceeded its benefits. After it was dropped they don’t seem to have done anything on this issue until now. The MIA submission says they favour increased fuel taxes – how much, how often, will they tell their members and customers? More likely, they are saying this because they know it will go nowhere.

David Vinsen, chief executive of the Vehicle Importers Association, said the Government could instead “simply increase the excise tax on fuel to discourage emissions”. Simply? I don’t think so. 

Of course, these groups know now that fuel efficiency standards are actually coming. Should they cooperate in good faith, or should they try and distract and confuse the issue? Unfortunately, the MIA seems to have decided on the second strategy for the time being. A few days ago they launched their own proposal, to drop the standards entirely in favour of a feebate. The MIA’s feebate scheme exempts all vehicles between 100 and 230 gCO2/km (namely, the vast majority of all sales) entirely. They wouldn’t mind if the government chipped in to the subsidy part of the scheme as well, just to sweeten the deal.

You don’t need to run the numbers to see that the MIA’s proposal won’t have anything like the effect on emissions that is needed. In fact, it looks dangerously close to the strategy pursued by the oil and gas industry, described in Terrence Loomis’s recent book “The Predatory Delay Diaries: The petroleum industry’s survival campaign to slow New Zealand’stransition to a low carbon economy”.

But we’re not done, because, look over there… the public!

The public are perhaps the big unknown here. Any why shouldn’t we be? We hold diverse and often contradictory attitudes and behaviours. We can be fickle. 

We say that we’re getting more and more concerned about climate change, and three-quarters want the government to act more strongly on climate. 

But that’s easy to say. How would people really react if strong measures were introduced suddenly? Talk-back was running hot over Auckland’s 10c fuel surcharge, introduced in 2018, and that was enough to kill its roll-out elsewhere in the country.

I don’t think the Clean Car Standard as proposed will provoke too much unrest. It’s a gentle change, phased in gradually over a period of years. All economic and climate arguments support it. It fits the call for a “careful revolution”, in the words of David Hall. On the other hand, cars are emotional objects, and the National Party saw value in attacking the proposal last year in an ad that was later found to be misleading.

Climate change minister James Shaw said, “transport [emissions] have just gone up and up and up because we fell in love with the Ford Ranger” (a sound-bite I heard repeated on talk-back radio). The Ford Ranger, of which 10,000 are sold every year in New Zealand compared to 50,000 in the whole of Europe. “A pickup designed to last forever – just when its time is running out,” in the words of one review.

Perhaps the reason that the different parties are sounding so different here is that they have different views on the transport system as a whole. The car industry see the system as a free market, almost frozen in time, with themselves being minutely attuned to consumer preferences. The responsibility for emissions, if it lies anywhere, falls on each individual driver (or buyer).

Another view is that the entire transport system has built up over many decades as the collective result of many decisions by car manufacturers, oil companies, urban planners, central and local governments and many different factions within the public – including individuals, who can only make choices from those that are available to them. Responsibility for emissions is shared right across the spectrum. 

In climate circles there is a lot of talk of the need for a ‘just transition’. This originally meant taking into account the needs of workers in the coal, oil, and gas industries, which necessarily face major disruption; it can also mean making sure that inequality is not increased by changes such as carbon taxes. I suppose it could at a stretch refer to the makers and sellers of fossil-fuelled cars. But in New Zealand’s case we only have the sellers, not the makers, so there is less potential for an industrial hit. Second, some car companies have been dealing with emissions much more openly and positively than others. Shouldn’t they reap the rewards? Protecting the laggards just risks even more delay. Finally, I don’t think the industry as a whole really has anything to fear from the Clean Car Standard. 

Understanding climate change means knowing that road transport emissions have to come down. There’s a steady, sensible way to do start doing it. We should do it and then, once we’ve got the hang of it, work out the next step. And the car industry should embrace it as if its life depended on it.

Climate change emergency: Time to slam on the brakes

Cimate change is a complex issue and there are many views as to the best way forward. One point, however, risks getting lost in the details: to address climate change, we have to stop burning fossil fuels. Total warming is basically determined by the total amount of fossil fuels burnt. The graphic below shows the total CO2 emitted since the beginning of the industrial revolution:

Historic CO2 emissions from globalcarbonproject.org; budgets from IPCC 1.5C report.

The massive increase in burning fossil fuels starting around 1960, now called the Great Acceleration, is clearly visible, as is the rise of China from 2005. You can see how we have eased off on the accelerator in the last few years. Now we need to slam on the brakes.

We may miss the 1.5C target, we may even miss the 2C target; somewhere in this range risks triggering the melting of all of Greenland and Antarctica, with associated 70 metres of sea level rise over a few thousand years. (Already, late in the 20th century, the large grounded ice sheets began peeling off the sea floor, destabilised and melted from below.) But whatever point we reach, we will still need to continue to focus on stopping burning fossil fuels.

Yes, agricultural emissions are important too, both in New Zealand and globally. One large dairy cow emits the equivalent greenhouse gases as one large car. But the cow earns money and produces a useful product, while most cars do not earn money – they are a large money sink and, in many cases, more of a consumer item. New Zealand spends $5 billion a year importing fossil fuels, a terrifically bad investment. Whatever happens with agriculture does not avoid the primary need to stop burning fossil fuels.

Yes, planting trees can help, effectively taking carbon out of the air and storing it in solid form above ground for as long as the bush or plantation lasts. Planting trees can buy us a little time while we stop burning fossil fuels.

For individuals, the best course of action is straightforward. For transport, switch from burning petrol or diesel to walking, cycling, public transport, or an EV – already cheaper on total cost of ownership than petrol or diesel for most New Zealand drivers. If you burn gas, switch to electricity or (for space heating) wood. Avoid unnecessary air travel. A few individuals doing these things doesn’t help much on the emissions front, but it builds a community of experience, awareness, and support which will help our whole society stop burning fossil fuels.

For businesses, the best course of action is to adopt a carbon management plan, certified by (for example) Enviro-Mark Solutions, a New Zealand company with growing export earnings that has been extensively reviewed and validated by international studies. There are two options: carboNZero, which means that your entire operation is carbon neutral, and CEMARS (Certified Emissions Measurement and Reduction Scheme), which ensures a measured reduction in emissions over time.

The results can be startling. Auckland International Airport reduced emissions 35 per cent in 5 years with significant cost savings. Kāpiti Coast District Council is well over halfway towards reducing emissions by 80 per cent by 2021, with cost savings of $1.3m per year. The Warehouse is CEMARS certified. Even large, carbon-intensive companies like Mainfreight are strongly focused on reducing their emissions.

In the words of University of Auckland physicist Richard Easther, “If you’re in charge of something in 2019, you’re in charge of the climate. If your job has anything to do with transport, what’s your plan to ‘decarbonise’, starting right now?” For many sectors, including land freight, city buses, and rubbish trucks, imports of diesel road vehicles can stop right now.

After 30 years of climate change discussion, planning, and action, the burning of fossil fuels is still on the increase in New Zealand. It needs to stop.

Robert McLachlan and Steve Trewick.
 This article appeared first on stuff.co.nz on 29 January 2019. See original article.

There’s no easy way to cut aviation emissions, except by flying less

Paul Callister, Deirdre Kent and Robert McLachlan

We congratulate Stuff for its series on climate change. But one area has received relatively little attention – that of flying.

Though aviation is emission-profligate and the fastest growing source of emissions, it presents particular challenges. You can replace your petrol-driven car with a modern electric car. But flying is more complex, as there is no easy way of reducing its heavy dependence on fossil fuels in the foreseeable future.

For New Zealand, it is especially challenging. It has been estimated that, at any point in time, more than one million New Zealand residents are living or travelling overseas.

More than a quarter of New Zealanders were born overseas, many retaining close links to friends and family in their country of origin. Keeping in touch with whānau is a strong driver of the wish to fly. In addition, within New Zealand we don’t have fast rail linking our major centres, and low-cost long-distance bus travel is currently of poor quality. Our rapidly expanding tourism industry also depends on people often travelling long distances to get here.

The problem is that flying is an important contributor to our greenhouse gas emissions. This impact is forecast to increase in absolute terms and as a proportion of New Zealand’s total emissions.

The increase comes about through the rapidly growing popularity of long-distance travel, as well as a massive growth in airfreight driven in part by online retailing. (The Auckland airport company is currently planning for 40m passengers a year to pass through its facility by 2040.) The increase in flight emissions counteracts the reduction in greenhouse emissions that other sectors of the economy are working towards, including farming.

So what is the size of the challenge? New Zealand’s international aviation emissions, unregulated by the Paris Agreement, were 3.4m tonnes of CO₂ equivalent in 2016, up 152 per cent from 1990. There is insufficient land to produce enough biofuel and it’s a major challenge to go electric, even for short flights.

What can we do to change the trajectory?

Individuals can choose to fly less. Inspired by Sweden’s #flygfritt 2019challenge to be flight-free, Britain has launched its #flightfree2019 campaign. There is now a Fly-less Kiwis Facebook group.

Businesses, government agencies and universities can reduce their dependence on flying through video conferencing, virtual workshops and by examining the necessity of each trip. They can stop the practice of giving employees airpoints for personal use, a tax-free incentive to fly.

We can remove wider incentives including airpoints, flybuys, finance company loans for international travel, and subsidies for regional airlines.

We can improve low-carbon forms of travel within New Zealand, for example with high-speed trains between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga, and improved long-distance bus services.

As Wellington lawyer Tom Bennion states in Chris Watson’s book Beyond Flying, “Air travel is the ultimate low-hanging fruit in terms of a significant step that individuals can take immediately to prevent catastrophic climate change.”

This article appeared first on Stuff.co.nz on 12 December 2018. See original article.

Let’s talk about cars

2018 should be a big year for climate mitigation in New Zealand as three factors converge: the potential for a Zero Carbon Act, continuously rising emissions and a growing sentiment for action from the public.

To cut emissions we need to stop investing in fossil fuel infrastructure and invest instead in renewable energy infrastructure. While all countries struggle with this, Australia and the US, for example, are closing coal plants and investing in solar and wind. This builds clean energy industries and creates expertise which can be a base for further progress in the future. In New Zealand there are no large commercial solar farms, no large wind farms are planned (the last moderately-sized wind farm to be constructed was Meridian’s 60MW Mill Creek, in Wellington in 2014), while Contact and Nova are renovating and building gas power stations. Indeed, in the present policy environment, unless demand grows, why would an existing generator build a wind farm? Adding a wind farm would lower the wholesale price of electricity and potentially leave all generators worse off.

But let’s talk about cars. The car importing business represents a huge, ongoing malinvestment in fossil fuel infrastructure which we must face head on. The 325,000 petrol and diesel cars imported to New Zealand last year will be emitting greenhouse gases for many years to come. Worse, the total number of cars is increasing rapidly – a development that took many people by surprise, after an apparent plateau during the GFC (there were even articles at that time about how young people preferred to buy a smartphone than a car). The climate only cares about cumulative emissions, but at the moment it is not clear how we can compensate for our cumulative transport emissions, since 2000, say. In the past three years we’ve been adding 183,000 vehicles (almost all of them cars and small commercials) to the fleet per year. Aucklanders can guess where most of them have ended up.

Number of vehicles in New Zealand, 2000-2017. Source: NZTA. Credit: Environmental Health Indicators New Zealand. This represents one of the highest ownership rates in the world (compare our 4.22m vehicles to our 3.7m adults).

CO2 is invisible; the damage in extracting, processing, and burning oil is often far away and invisible. But cars are not invisible. They are very much in your face, every day for most of us, especially in our cities that are now completely choked with cars. You can’t turn on the TV for five minutes without seeing an ad for an SUV or sports car. For most of us the car is our single greatest source of personal greenhouse gas emissions.

Many believe that electric vehicle technology (EV, including both full electrics and plug-in hybrids) is superior to the internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV). It cuts local emissions significantly — by 90 percent today, and by more tomorrow as we move to 100 percent renewable electricity. Techno-optimists can point to Tesla, to the trickle of EV models becoming a flood, to massive investments by old and new car manufacturers. They see EVs becoming cheaper, with longer range and complete charging networks. At this point EVs will be winning on all points and the revolution assured. There may be a rapid ‘S-curve’ adoption like that of the smartphone.

I am not so sure.

First, progress around the world has been extremely variable to date.

Here are the market shares of EV sales, as a percentage of total sales, in three leading markets, Norway, Iceland, and Sweden, all three doubling every two years or less:

                    2013           2014           2015           2016           2017

Norway      6%              14%            23%           27%            34%

Iceland       0.9%           2.7%           2.9%          5.7%           13%

Sweden      0.7%           1.7%           2.6%          3.2%           4.7%

Market share of electric vehicle sales, as a percentage of total sales.

Now for three very large markets that have been trying hard, the UK and Germany (doubling every two years) and the  US (doubling every 5 years).

                   2013           2014           2015           2016           2017

UK              0.2%           0.6%           1.1%          1.5%           1.9%

Germany   0.2%           0.4%           0.8%          0.8%           1.6%

US              0.6%           0.7%           0.7%          0.9%           1.2%

Optimists foresee a worldwide doubling of market share every two years, reaching 60 percent by 2030; after that, bans on the sale of ICEVs are more prevalent, and the transition could largely be complete by 2040. Heavy transport follows close behind and 60 percent of oil consumption could be  gone by 2050.

But consider one very sad story, Denmark, a country of 6m people and a renewable energy leader in Europe, which has experienced mixed results with their EV policies:

                   2013           2014           2015           2016           2017

Denmark    0.3%           0.9%           2.3%          0.6%           0.4%


Tax on new vehicles, previously 180 percent, had been waived for EVs. From 2016 the tax was reduced to 150 percent for ICEVs, while the EV tax was raised to 20 percent in 2016 and is being phased in to 150 percent by 2022. Despite the high tax, Denmark still has some the highest per-capita car sales in Europe.

Another perplexing example is the Netherlands, which also has sizeable (but fluctuating) incentives, as well as the most extensive charging network in the world, but no clear signal of accelerating adoption:

                   2013           2014           2015           2016           2017

Netherlands    5.6%          3.9%           9.6%          6.0%           2.2%

Second, the EV transition may need more help to become a reality.

The first six countries above all have complex and widespread incentive systems in place. Norway provides an effective discount of about 1/3 of the up-front cost, with other extensive ongoing incentives. The US provides a discount of up to US$10,000 and a gas guzzler tax (in place since 1978) of up to US$7700. The UK has a petrol excise tax of 58p/l (compare New Zealand’s 60c/l, the same in real terms as 50 years ago), an EV rebate of up to £8000, and no road tax for EVs—but up to £1120 + £515/year for gas guzzlers. Controversially, the UK road tax system was changed in April 2017, so far without ill effect on EV sales.

Third, getting the transition underway may require a change in attitudes.

Robert Llewellyn, host of the popular web series ‘Fully Charged’, remarked in his testimony to a parliamentary committee on EVs that he does not see the famous ‘S-curve’ transition as being in the bag by any means. People have a complex emotional relationship to their cars. They may stick to their favourite kind of car (or an emerging new one, like the huge SUV) beyond any obvious reason. I find it striking that in the EV world, most people want to talk up the amazing advantages of EVs; yet few want to dwell on the evil of ICEVs. I like to imagine public health information posted at petrol stations such as these:[1] 

This vehicle emits poisonous gases and you may be killing your neighbours by its  operation.

This vehicle emits gases known to be damaging to the long term stability of the climate and estimated to cause trillions of dollars in damages.

The exhaust gases of this fuel remain in the air and oceans for thousands of years, raising sea levels and acidifying the oceans.

The product you are dispensing is directly responsi[2] ble for major wars and terrorist attacks.

It may seem far fetched, but the public seems to  accept  analogous warnings on cigarettes. Why not on fossil fuel burning cars?

Some activists, such as Naomi Klein, would say that driving a petrol car is wrong. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is suing oil companies for first-degree murder, would say that the manufacturers, importers, and sellers of cars, the producers and refiners and sellers and burners of oil, are in fact a public nuisance. And clearly, the Volkswagen emissions scandal ‘Dieselgate’, the ExxonMobil climate change denial controversy ‘ExxonKnew’,[3]  and some mining operations are wrong. But most of us are both actors and victims, caught in a difficult situation. Some car companies are clearly stalling, others are deliberating restricting the supply of ‘compliance vehicles’, but all of them need the income from selling ICEVs to fund the development of EVs, and they’re the ones with money and expertise. Just to pick one local example from many, Toyota NZ—a leader in the Sustainable Business Council and in greening their own operations—feels compelled to fill their ‘Sustainability’ page with subtle digs at all-electric vehicles, because Toyota doesn’t have one.

It’s a tautology that ceasing investment in ICEVs means not actually buying them anymore. Incentives, charges, advertising campaigns, are just mechanisms. Are people really ready for that to happen? In general terms, New Zealanders say they want the government to act on climate change but have we made the connection to our  own behaviour and the current freedom to pollute? We’re talking about changes coming that will make the extra 10c/l in the pipeline for Auckland look like spare change.

Fourth, time is running out, both for the planet and for our goals.

A Zero Carbon 2050 Act is coming this year. That’s 32 years. Planting trees will buy us some time, but let’s regard them as offsetting agricultural emissions. CO2 should see steeper reductions than methane, and many industries will need ongoing protection while acceptable  reduction plans are set in place globally. (There’s no point closing one of the world’s cleanest smelters, Tiwai Point, when China is building coal-fired smelters flat out.) Some sectors, such as aviation, have no low-emission options yet. What’s left? Private cars! The alternative exists already; the emissions savings are large; there is no local car industry to protect or cajole; while cars have some productive value, they are by and large consumer items; the NZ$8.4b a year we spend importing vehicles is a valuable existing source of finance that can fund the low-emission transition; the NZ$5b a year we spend importing fuel is a pointless ongoing drain on the current account. As the transition gets underway, the fuel savings will grow rapidly.

The actions required for the scale and speed of the transition could be  large. One proposal currently gaining attention is a feebate, developed in depth by Barry Barton and Peter Schūtte in a November 2015 report. A feebate is charged on every newly imported vehicle that is directly related to its emissions. In the simplest model, the feebate varies in direct proportion to emissions and adjusted so that the entire scheme is revenue neutral. Let’s consider an example. (The actual dollar amounts can be scaled up or down depending on what is needed.) Buyers of a gas guzzler like the biggest 240g/km Toyota Hilux or Mercedes might pay an extra NZ$4000 up front. Buyers of smaller cars like the 140g/km Honda Civic  or the 110g/km Toyota Yaris might get rebates of NZ$2000-3500, while 17g/km EVs get a rebate of NZ$9,000. The amounts would change over time as the fleet gets cleaner. The difficult question, not answered here, is the overall scale of the scheme. With these numbers — broadly similar to what other countries are already doing — NZ$300m is changing hands per year. Not a small sum, but not as big as the NZ$13b spent last year on vehicles and fuel. At some point, the scale of the scheme has to be pegged to the market response.

The Barton-Schūtte proposal achieves emissions reductions in one area — cars. That goes against decades of official thinking in New Zealand, which is that a single price for carbon may decarbonize the economy at least cost. This kind of thinking has to go. Not only is it not necessarily true, it flies in the face of the reality that (a) our emissions are rising, not falling, and (b) we don’t have a fixed price for carbon anyway; there are all sorts of exemptions and allowances in place. Andy Reisinger, of the NZ Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, wrote in submission to the Productivity Commission that:

“I disagree … that direct regulation doesn’t achieve emission reductions at overall least cost to the economy. That statement would only be true if there were no market failures, no information limitations or asymmetries, and no preferences in specific interest groups that go beyond economics… It is also important to consider whether least-cost is the dominant criterion for policy choices, or whether risk, equity, social inclusion etc. are not equally or more important”.

Even the Australian government, so far no EV hero, is now considering direct regulations that would cut emissions of new cars 45 percent by 2025.

So 2018 really is shaping up to be a big year. As the groundwork takes place for the Zero Carbon Act and the Climate Commission, there will be plenty of opportunities to talk about cars.

This article first appeared on 9 April 2018 at pureadvantage.org. 
Postscript: We now know that New Zealand did not get a Zero Carbon Act in 2018. Maybe in 2019?