Jacinda Ardern encourages higher spending on cars to reduce emissions as ACT fears for less fortunate

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is encouraging Kiwis to spend more on cars to purchase environmentally-friendly options, but ACT's climate spokesperson says not everyone can afford to. 

The Government will introduce a new Clean Car Import Standard next year, meaning suppliers must report the amount of CO2 the vehicles they import to New Zealand emit and meet targets set by the Government. 

The standard aims to gradually lower the CO2 emissions of vehicles entering New Zealand, with progressive annual targets introduced each year to help suppliers slowly adjust to the 105 grams of CO2 per km (g/km) target in 2025.

It works by averaging, so vehicles exceeding the CO2 target can continue to be brought in so long as they are offset by enough zero and low emission vehicles, such as electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids. 

Speaking about the policy in Auckland on Thursday, Ardern said New Zealanders should already be thinking about spending a bit more to drive environmentally-friendly cars, such as electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids. 

The Prime Minister herself drives an all-electric Hyundai Ioniq. 

"The message I'd send to consumers now is, when you purchase something as significant as a vehicle, often - and it's human behaviour - you tend to look at the price on that day to buy that vehicle. I just encourage consumers to think about that lifetime cost - think about over the entire time you're going to own that car," Ardern said.

"We don't tend to do that as New Zealanders. Actually, some of those cars on the lot might look like they cost a little bit more will be cleaner for the environment but will cost you less over the course of your time with that vehicle, so just factor that in."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking to the media in Auckland.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking to the media in Auckland. Photo credit: Newshub

But Simon Court, ACT's climate change spokesperson, said the reality is many Kiwis cannot afford to branch out and spend more on cars. 

"For tradies and large families who don't have the option to buy an expensive new EV, vehicles cost more... The new Clean Car Import Standard is likely to result in a perverse lock-in effect, where people hold on to older, dirtier vehicles for longer," he said. 

"The Government also needs to answer the question of whether councils will be required to tear up contracts if they've already purchased non-compliant vehicles. Councils with long-term contracts for providing public transport may be liable if they can't complete the contracts and comply with the new standards."

The Government will consider options for an incentive scheme to help Kiwis make the switch to clean cars. Further announcements on its plan to reduce transport emissions are expected in the coming months.

The AA is supportive of the new standard but is concerned that the proposed CO2 targets may not be possible within the timeframe.

"The proposed emissions target for 2025 is an aspirational target that may not be achievable," said AA spokesperson Mark Stockdale. 

Ardern said she understands the targets are steep but it's the only way for New Zealand to catch up with the rest of the world. The 2025 target of 105 g/km was already achieved by Japan in 2014 and by Europe in 2020.

Stockdale echoed ACT's concern about people holding onto older vehicles. 

ACT's climate change spokesperson Simon Court.
ACT's climate change spokesperson Simon Court. Photo credit: Newshub

"We understand the intentions behind it and our members want to see more low-emission vehicles available here but the risk is that this target could simply result in higher prices for new cars that still don't meet the emissions standard. That could even result in people holding onto their older, higher emissions car for longer."

Stockdale said those who own a petrol or diesel vehicle are already collectively contributing 8 cents per litre for a collective $420 million a year to offset transport emissions through the Emissions Trading Scheme. 

Mark Gilbert, chair of the non-profit Drive Electric, said the new standard will be a useful tool for importers to look at the portfolio of vehicles they are importing, which should increase low emissions choice across a range of vehicle types and prices.

"That said, such a standard is really just a first step towards managing a transition away from fossil fuel vehicles and towards no emissions vehicles," he said.

"To meet New Zealand's legislated climate ambitions, to keep warming within 1.5C, our analysis shows we need to aim for at least 250,000 EVs on the roads by 2025, and for this trend to continue through to 2030."

The Clean Car Import Standard will be introduced along with an agreement in principle to mandate a lower-emitting biofuel blend across the transport sector, which has been welcomed by Air New Zealand. 

The Government is also committing $50 million to help councils fully decarbonise the public transport bus fleet by 2035, to help meet New Zealand's 2050 carbon neutral target. 

Since 1990, New Zealand's transport emissions have risen by 90 percent. The sector produces 42 percent of New Zealand's CO2 emissions.