Labour leader Chris Hipkins says the climate manifesto released at a campaign stop in Taranaki on Monday is the first such document ever published by a New Zealand political party.
Running to 27 pages, the document includes a list of accomplishments by Labour over the past six years as well as a handful of new policies. These range from the technical and important to the bold but non-committal.
Chief among them are the pledge to create a Minister for Just Transitions to ensure the benefits of the move to a low-carbon economy are equitably distributed and the costs shared fairly too.
“Just transitions is a vitally important part of [climate policy]. It includes looking at workforces where their jobs are going to disappear and making sure that we’re supporting them to retrain and up-skill. It means looking to the future and making sure that we’re supporting New Zealanders to get there,” Hipkins said.
The manifesto says the party would “explore” an initiative to reforest or restore 2.1 million hectares of native forest over the next decade, with an eye to expanding that to 5.5 million hectares in later years. For context, 2.1 million hectares is roughly Gisborne plus the Bay of Plenty.
Called Recloaking Papatūānuku, the native afforestation plan was released by environmental charity Pure Advantage earlier this year. It involves incentivisation through the Emissions Trading Scheme and a voluntary carbon market and making use of the conservation estate to supercharge the planting of native trees. Labour’s pledge to investigate it is not an ironclad commitment to implement it, but is the initiative’s highest-profile win since it debuted.
Labour also committed to looking into a Biodiversity Trading Market, in which the Government would run regular reverse auctions to pay landowners to boost biodiversity.
Two major shakeups to the Emissions Trading Scheme are proposed. One of them is to re-work it to prioritise gross reductions in greenhouse pollution rather than offsets through planting pine trees. Labour is committing to set different targets for reductions and for removals, in line with advice from the Climate Change Commission.
The second is to empower the Climate Change Commission to set unit limits and price controls in the ETS. Currently, the commission provides annual advice on the ETS but Cabinet has the final say.
Last year, Cabinet ignored the commission's advice and chose settings to keep the price arbitrarily low. The price collapsed, activists sued the Government and the High Court ruled that ministers needed to reconsider the decision. Cabinet then followed the commission's advice.
Under Labour's new policy, this saga would never be repeated. Instead the commission would directly set carbon price settings, like the Reserve Bank manages the Official Cash Rate.
Alongside its existing promise to remove all coal boilers from schools, universities and hospitals by 2025, Labour is pledging for the first time in this manifesto to remove diesel generators from schools as well. This policy would be paid for through the Climate Emergency Response Fund.
A further $300 million would go to Green Investment Finance, the Crown-owned climate investment bank set up in 2019 to help bring private capital to the transition. The new money would bring the total Government investment in the scheme to $1 billion.
Other policies included in the manifesto are a greater emphasis on climate research and development, the creation of a Centre of Excellence for Renewable Energy and the development of a regulatory framework for carbon capture and storage.
Also on the ETS, the manifesto promises to consider further changes to industrial subsidies that polluters receive through the scheme in the second Emissions Reduction Plan.
In addition to its own policy pledges, Labour has also used the manifesto to hit out at National. The manifesto on several occasions singles out the importance of existing policies that National has planned to scrap.
In response, campaign chair Chris Bishop accused Labour of "misinformation".
"Chris Hipkins and Megan Woods need to get the memo – National is committed to action on climate change and will deliver where Labour has failed," he said.
Greenpeace called the manifesto "commendable" but said it missed out on the most important issue – reducing agricultural emissions. The sections on farm emissions just restate the current Government's He Waka Eke Noa-style pricing scheme.