Climate change emergency: What should Kiwi motorists expect?

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Words: Matthew Hansen
26 Nov 2020

It’s been confirmed that the New Zealand Government will host a debate next Tuesday about whether the country should declare a climate emergency in the face of climate change.

Earlier today Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters that climate change “is a huge threat to our region” and “something we must take immediate action on”. It’s not the first time a climate emergency has been tabled in New Zealand, but according to reports this time around it’s much more likely to be passed by parliament this time around.

Should it be passed, a climate emergency is likely to pack plenty of implications for the local automotive industry and car enthusiasts alike. So, what should be expected?

Well, it’s worth explaining first that a climate emergency has no immediate definition or set of goals attached. At its core, it’s an understanding among parliament that man-made climate change is real, and that current processes are not enough to mitigate its impacts in a meaningful way.

As of February 2020, various governments located across 28 countries have declared a climate emergency. These include the UK, Canada, and France. And, according to an NZ Herald report, over 50 New Zealand scientists have called for such a declaration, too.

The UK is perhaps the clearest example of a country that’s moved to take action around vehicle emissions since declaring a climate emergency. It successfully declared in May 2019, following a push from the UK Labour party and its former leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“This can set off a wave of action from parliaments and governments around the globe,” said Corbyn. “We pledge to work as closely as possible with countries that are serious about ending the climate catastrophe and make clear to US President Donald Trump that he cannot ignore international agreements and action on the climate crisis.”

Labour’s motion detailed numerous goals, including the aim of net-zero emissions prior to year 2050, the prioritisation of proposals designed to look after and restore the local environment, and the short-term goal of a “zero waste economy”. Although Corbyn would lose his subsequent fight against current UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the proposed net-zero emissions by 2050 was signed into action.

While robust plans on how to achieve the feat have been thin, the Johnson and the UK parliament have announced a few big plans. Most notable of these from a motoring perspective has been the decision to bring forward the ban of selling new internal combustion petrol and diesel vehicles from 2035 to 2030. This ban will be actioned alongside grants for electric cars and funding for charging points.

NZ Autocar reported last September that Labour is rumoured to be weighing up a similar ban. More recently, the New Zealand Greens co-leader James Shaw told Stuff that the party would like to see a local ban on petrol and diesel imports — spoken in reference to imported vehicles from the UK in the wake of its 2030 ICE ban, but likely also having massive shockwaves on the Japanese import industry.

It should be expected that bans of this nature could well be on the table if New Zealand successfully declares a climate emergency. As previously reported, one of the issues behind such a ban will be whether New Zealand will have accomplished price parity between EV and hydrogen options and traditional ICE options.

A focus on getting improved incentives passed for EV buyers on a short-term basis is perhaps more likely, especially given that both Labour and National spoke about the topic prior to this year’s election. EV owners are currently exempt from paying road user charges until at least December 2021. They also pay lower ACC levies and get a handful of other incentives. However, none of these currently tackle the high cost of entry attached to a new EV — the cheapest of which (the MG ZS EV) is priced at $48,990.

The UK’s ban on combustion-engine vehicles by 2030 was the first point on its 10-point plan to attack its net-zero 2050 target, announced last Tuesday. Goals of quadrupling off-shore wind power by 2030, boosting hydrogen production, a £525m investment in nuclear power, and a repurposing of its local green homes grant to improve insulation in vulnerable homes also made it onto the list.

Many of these points are impressive to the ear, but plenty in the UK have issues with the plan. The UK Labour party has publicly questioned how the changes will achieve climate goals, labelling them “disappointing”. Greenpeace applauded the ban on ICE vehicles, but questioned the support of hydrogen and nuclear — referring to them as “speculative solutions [...] from fossil fuels”.

Others meanwhile have questioned how the various pushes will be funded. On a wider level, many question just how many of today’s environmental pledges are set to run the distance given that many of the leaders who declare them will likely be out of power by the time they come into effect.

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