Our last blog had some information about carbon pricing, why it's important for the low-carbon transition and the current situation in New Zealand. Now we take a look at what parties are doing about it. We won’t tell you who to vote for - use this information to inform what you do. The sources of these policies are from the parties’ own websites, other public statements and actions they have taken over the last few years.
National’s track record on carbon pricing this terms isn’t good. They’ve made a number of changes to weaken the Emissions Trading Scheme and allowed New Zealand's carbon price to collapse to the lowest of any carbon pricing scheme in the world. They haven’t made any announcements ahead of this election to suggest they will change course. Their only commitment is to review the ETS in 2015 and "make any changes needed to meet international obligations and reduce emissions". Until the options they are considering are clearer, there is no reason to believe National will significantly change course. It's important to note that if they again form a coalition with Act, they may find it very hard to make the ETS stronger even if they decide they want to (see below). However United Future and the Maori Party may push for stronger action.
Labour’s policy is to make changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme to restore a proper price on carbon. They have a few suggested changes, including introducing agriculture to the scheme and restricting the imports of international units, and give an overriding guarantee of restoring a proper price on carbon. Some of their moves are quite gradual - farmers will begin by only paying for 10% of their emissions. They don’t make it clear what they think that price is but they would certainly provide a stronger price signal than exists currently. Maintaining the ETS is likely to be more palatable to businesses who have begun to use it than ditching it for a carbon tax.
The Greens’ plan is to abolish the Emissions Trading Scheme and introduce a simple carbon tax of $25 per tonne on non-agricultural emissions and $12.50 per tonne on emissions from dairy, while lowering the company tax rate and making the first $2000 of income tax-free to compensate for increased costs. They claim their 'climate tax cut' will mean the average household will actually be $319 better off overall. The carbon price they wish to introduce is consistent with prices in many other places: when Australia had a carbon tax it was at $23 Australian per tonne, and the tax in British Columbia sits at $30 Canadian. The Greens’ carbon price is clear and simple, although it does involve the complications of dismantling the ETS. Their differences with Labour on this would be a subject for discussion if they were to enter a coalition.
New Zealand First
New Zealand First oppose the Emissions Trading Scheme without advocating any alternative price on carbon. This is a significant gap in their climate change policy. However at the Great Climate Voter Debate deputy leader Tracy Martin suggested they are open to considering a carbon tax.
The Maori Party have no specific mention of carbon pricing in their 2014 policies. In the past they supported National's first set of changes to the ETS but opposed further weakening in 2012. Leader Te Ururoa Flavell has said that they want to fix the ETS and they want a carbon tax, so their position is rather unclear.
United Future opposes a carbon tax in favour of keeping the ETS. They have some policy suggestions for increasing the price of carbon: requiring agriculture to partially enter the scheme, and potentially introducing minimum pricing to ensure emissions are reduced. This places them somewhere in between Labour and National in terms of actions they are prepared to take to price carbon. However, they have been in Government this term and voted in favour of all changes that were made to weaken the Emissions Trading Scheme.
The Internet Party supports the Green Party's 'Climate Protection Plan' including backing a carbon tax over an ETS. However they say that rather than recycling all of the revenue raised through income tax cuts, they would only compensate "the lowest income households" and use the rest of the revenue to invest in efforts to transition from fossil fuels and also other non-climate change related environmental initiatives such as subsidising water quality remediation.
The Mana Party’s official policy is to “repeal the Emissions Trading Scheme and replace it with policies and regulations that will reduce carbon emissions in a fair and just way.” This is very vague: the most that can be inferred from it is that Mana do not have a specific carbon pricing policy they wish to implement, and it suggests that a price on carbon is not a priority for the party.
ACT is opposed to the ETS. They do state that ‘if New Zealand mitigates emissions, it should be through a carbon tax’ however they state they will not introduce this and question the evidence of serious climate change. Act has made putting a halt to the ETS a ‘bottom line’ for coalition negotiations, meaning a powerful ACT party could be a serious threat to future climate action in New Zealand.
The Conservative Party want to abolish the ETS and appear to deny that carbon emissions are a driver of climate change.