Eloise Gibson - Originally Posted on Stuff

The Government missed chances to use the Covid-19 rebuild to speed progress towards being carbon-neutral, says a new analysis. Strings-free help for Air New Zealand and “reactive” decisions undermined other progress towards clean energy, according to analysts, who ran a ruler over the pandemic response. Energy Policy Tracker – a network of NGOs and universities tracking billions in spending on clean energy and fossil fuels – published its findings on New Zealand today.

The analysis found the Government committed the equivalent of at least $700 per New Zealander to energy-related projects since the start of the pandemic – funding projects as diverse as footbridges, highways, hydro projects, and tourist trails. The overall balance of spending was 44.6 per cent fossil fuel-related, 54.5 per cent on clean energy, and less than 1 per cent on other energy (the category which, in other countries, would include energy sources such as nuclear). AUT senior lecturer David Hall and doctoral student Nina Ives worked with Energy Policy Tracker to crunch the numbers.

Government's spending into money

The pair divided the Government’s spending into money that mainly supported burning fossil fuels, such as highway upgrades, and money that mainly supported clean energy or activities, such as cycle trails, walking and hydroelectricity.

They found New Zealand was in the middle of the pack globally for its mix of clean and polluting spending.

According to the tracker, the US skewed heavily to fossil fuels, while France, Germany, India and China spent more heavily on clean energy in their recoveries.

Globally, about half of energy spending has gone towards fossil fuel-related activities, the analysis shows.

David Hall
David Hall, a senior researcher in politics at AUT’s Policy Observatory, crunched the numbers on NZ’s spending with Nina Ives.

Ethical Leadership

Global leaders and New Zealand’s own Climate Change Commission have repeatedly stressed the need to “build back better” from Covid, ensuring the eye-watering sums being spent don’t lock the world into a high-emissions future.

Last year, although the Government announced major spending on projects such as rail and pumped hydro, Ministers also overrode official advice not to include a SH1 upgrade in a list of fast-tracked projects, with Minister David Parker later arguing faster traffic could cut emissions. Some major Cabinet decisions did not undergo climate impact assessments.

Hall and Ives concluded there was room to improve, if economic stimulus measures continued. They said some “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects should have been excluded on climate change grounds, including the Muggeridge Pump Station.

As well as dividing spending into ‘clean’ and ‘fossil’-based, the analysis also looked at whether “green strings” were attached to fossil fuel spending – an area in which New Zealand did not excel.

Air France’s rescue
Air France’s rescue package included many “green strings” that were lacking from the New Zealand government’s loan to Air NZ, the analysis said.

Air France Government's

For example, the French government’s rescue package for Air France requires Air France to reduce emissions by ceasing domestic routes that have cleaner transport alternatives like rail, and by renewing its fleet with more fuel-efficient planes. In the energy tracker, those kinds of measures can make a country with high headline fossil fuel spending look better in the final analysis, because the “strings” can move its economy towards cleaner energy.

Hall and Ives contrasted the French approach with New Zealand’s. They calculated only one-twelfth of fossil fuel-related spending here was conditional on green improvements, such as road upgrades that incorporate cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. Meanwhile, twelve times as much, more than $1.4 billion, supported fossil fuel infrastructure unconditionally, much of it committed to Air New Zealand’s $900 million standby loan facility, they said.

Railway terminals
Railway terminals were counted as “conditionally clean” because some still rely on fossil fuels, but they’ll make transport more efficient in the long-term.

Energy-efficient Transport

On the other side of the ledger, while nearly $2 billion was spent on clean energy, only one-quarter of that spending was unconditionally clean, they said. Infrastructure such as rail, bus and ferry terminals often relies on fossil fuels to operate and counts as only ‘conditionally clean’ in the tracker, despite its potential to increase the use of energy-efficient transport.

Big ticket items like wind farms were absent from New Zealand’s clean energy recovery spending, the researchers noted.

In the UK, they found, a greater share of spending was unconditionally clean – for example commitments to energy efficiency, and walking and cycling infrastructure.

Hall and Ives concluded New Zealand was “missing a trick” on policy innovation and should be “less reactive and more anticipatory.”

“Some other countries are doing much better, even in the midst of an emergency, to take an integrated approach that aligns crisis measures with long-term objectives,” they said.

Path to zero carbon

The Climate Change Commission’s major carbon-cutting recommendations
Source: Climate Change Commission