26/05/2022·3 mins to read
Emissions Reduction Plan: Local government’s climate change toolbox gets bigger
Last week the Government issued its Emissions Reduction Plan (Reduction Plan), which sets out various strategies to meet the first national emissions budget in the period ending in 2025. The release of the Reduction Plan was required under the Climate Change Response Act 2002 (CCRA).
Following our article last week, here we focus on the potential implications of the Reduction Plan for local government decision-makers, particularly in the areas of land use, transport and waste. Although the Reduction Plan outlines major changes to the agricultural sector (which will have significant implications for regional councils in particular), this article focuses on urban environments.
As we observed previously, the Reduction Plan contains nothing new in terms of its emphasis on the key target areas of transport, energy, industry, building and construction, agriculture and waste. However, its clear direction will have significant implications for decision-makers. In particular, implementation of the Reduction Plan will require further policy, funding and legislative changes that will directly impact on decision-makers.
The Reduction Plan’s three overarching themes relevant to local government
Empowering Maori: Local government decision makers are already required, under the Local Government Act 2002, to provide opportunities for Māori to contribute to decision-making processes. Given councillors’ strong support for partnership with iwi (see our recent survey here), local government decision makers are, in our view, well placed to reflect this aspect of the Reduction Plan in their decision-making.
Working with nature: The Reduction Plan places an emphasis on promoting and nurturing biodiversity. Given the role of local authorities in land-use and infrastructure planning, local government decision-makers will have an important role to play in achieving this objective.
Ensuring an equitable transition: This theme is focused on making sure every New Zealander has the means to transition to and benefit from a low carbon economy. The transition will, in our view, need to be led to a large degree by central Government given its ability to fund and implement policies that mitigate the impacts of reducing emissions to effectively support New Zealanders through this transition. We anticipate that this theme will also be a consideration for local government decision-making, which will - through the adoption of strategies and plans - also be in a position to support this transition.
Urban land use and transport
Transport is a key contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The Reduction Plan’s emphasis on a significant shift away from motor vehicles to other modes of transport, involves not just changes to the transport system and fleet, but requires meaningful changes to the urban form.
The Reduction Plan acknowledges that decisions about land-use will determine our emissions pathway well into the future. As such, local authorities clearly have a role to play in implementing the Reduction Plan by determining planning frameworks that will reduce reliance on private motor vehicles.
Amendments to sections 66 and 74 of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) (which come into effect on 30 November 2022) will require local authorities to “have regard to” the Reduction Plan when preparing or changing district and regional plans, but fall short of creating an obligation on local authorities to “give effect to” the Reduction Plan. In the context of decisions on resource consent applications, the Reduction Plan is a matter that a consent authority can have regard to under section 104(1)(c).
Given delays to the introduction of the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBEA), the imminent removal of the current RMA prohibitions on considering the effects on climate change will help to implement the Reduction Plan. In addition, the Government may consider strengthening existing national direction (such as the National Policy Statement for Urban Development) or developing a new emissions reduction national policy statement to elevate consideration of emissions reductions in the resource management decision-making hierarchy.
Emissions reductions likely to receive greater emphasis in the future resource management regime
The Reduction Plan clearly signals that climate outcomes will be embedded in the legislation replacing the RMA: the NBEA and the Strategic Planning Act (SPA), which the Minister is now referring to as the Spatial Planning Act.
The exposure draft of the NBEA that was released last year included reductions to greenhouse gas emissions (and the removal of greenhouse gas emissions) as environmental outcomes that must be addressed in the national planning framework that will be developed under the NBEA. However, the precise interaction between the NBEA and the CCRA were left as matters to be determined in the exposure draft.
Under the SPA, the spatial plans for each region will identify areas for development or protection. It is proposed that these spatial plans will inform the planning and consenting decisions made under the NBEA framework. Crucially, we still do not know the legal effect of those spatial plans and how detailed they will be, or how climate change considerations will be addressed.
The interplay between the new legislation should become clearer when the NBEA and SPA bills are introduced to Parliament later this year. The Minister’s latest signal is that these will be introduced in the third quarter of this year with a continued aim of passing them before the end of the current Parliamentary term.
Land transport planning and funding
The Reduction Plan is clear that greater integration of land-use and transport planning will be necessary to achieve reductions in transport emissions. It signals that there will be legislative amendments to the Land Transport Management Act 2003 (LTMA) to ensure that Regional Land Transport Plans (RLTPs) have regard to NBEA combined plans and the spatial plans produced under the SPA.
In our view, this emphasis on the integration of land-use and transport planning presents significant opportunities. The Reduction Plan envisages transformative changes in urban form - with greater intensification and the provision of new and improved infrastructure that enables and promotes mode shift to public transport and other active modes. This creates significant opportunities for local government decision-makers to make bold decisions that will have a long-lasting positive impact for future generations.
However, in the short term (by the end of 2022) the Reduction Plan envisages that there will be sub-national vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) targets for major urban areas. Again, the immediate legal effect of those targets is unclear. In the medium term (by 2024) the Reduction Plan states that eligibility for transport funding will be contingent on RLTPs, and what the Reduction Plan describes as “amended RMA plans”, containing assessments of VKTs, mode share, and transport emissions. We anticipate that amendments to the Government Policy Statement for Land Transport, and potentially the LTMA, will be required to implement those objectives.
The funding pool has grown for the transport sector. Notable funding streams include big wins for public transport and infrastructure, and more widely accessible subsidies for EVs. In the short-term, the Reduction Plan signals implementation of the Government’s “Accessible Streets” proposal of rule changes in 2022/2023 and increased funding for physical changes that allocate space for active modes, including through the Innovating Streets for People programme.
Congestion charging is being considered as an economic tool to modify travel behaviours, with Auckland likely to be the first city in which congestion charging is implemented, given its need for additional transport funding and greater congestion relative to other main centres. However, implementation of any congestion charging is contingent on decisions the Government expects to make in the second-half of 2022 about whether to progress the necessary legislative changes.
Big changes are coming to the waste management space. In 2020, emissions from the waste sector made up 4.1% of NZ’s gross greenhouse gas emissions. The Reduction Plan expands on existing Government proposals to address our waste problem, such as reducing organic waste (which makes up 4% of NZ’s emissions).
The Reduction Plan signals a focus on developing a “circular economy” and reducing organic and construction/demolition waste. A review of the Waste Minimisation Act 2008 in 2022/2023 will precede reform in this area. That review is likely to consider:
- the development of a “national waste licensing scheme”, which will support greater data collection and more efficient regulation of the waste sector; and
- policies flowing from the recent ‘Transforming Recycling’ consultation, including the possible introduction of a container deposit scheme.
Local government has a significant role to play
The implications of the Reduction Plan are society-wide and significant. Implementing all the steps needed to bring about effective reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is, to state the obvious, complex and difficult. However, it is clear that local government decision-makers will have a significant role in the Reduction Plan’s implementation - in terms of regulatory roles (now and post-RMA), and future strategic policy, funding and infrastructure decision-making.
As the Reduction Plan does not itself implement any policy or legislative changes, it will be important to participate in the central government decision-making processes that are still to come. We anticipate that the pressure to implement the Reduction Plan will only increase in light of the growing global awareness that time is running out to prevent climate change from being a “threat to the health of our entire planet”. Resource management, land transport and waste reform are all clearly signalled and, in our view, indicate the significant role that local government decision-makers will have.
Get in touch
To discuss the Reduction Plan please contact one of our experts listed above.
Special thanks to Chris Ryan and Lydia Chai for their assistance in writing this article.