Climate groups say Government needs 'profoundly different approach' after Budget 2021 disappointment

By Hamish Cardwell for RNZ

Climate action groups say their low expectations for spending to tackle climate change in yesterday's Budget were well and truly borne out.

A fizzer, a failure, profoundly disappointing, nothing but loose change - that is the reaction from groups wanting action on climate change to yesterday's budget.

While they told RNZ earlier this week they were not holding their breath, they are still gutted.

Forest and Bird chief executive Kevin Hague's hopes for a boost to pest control to protect the forests that store carbon were dashed.

"Nature is at breaking point, nature needs us to pull it back from the brink.

"We've got 14 out of 15 habitats in decline, more than 4000 species in deep trouble - on the verge of extinction.

"This needs a profoundly different approach by government."

He said the $8 million-a-year set aside to battle kauri dieback was about a third of what was needed, and once again there was no money for cameras on fishing boats.

Generation Zero spokesperson Adam Currie said the government's promises of transformation and climate change as this generation's nuclear-free moment were in tatters.

He said $67m from the Budget towards decarbonising the public sector would only transition 35 schools away from coal boilers, when more than 1000 were still burning fossil fuels and needed to stop in four years to meet the government's own deadline.

He said the government was toying with young people's future.

"We are a bit pissed off. We know where we need to go, and everyone's been saying it, we've been calling on the government again and again and again.

"It's just incredibly frustrating when they keep delivering these Budgets that don't get us where we need to go."

Billions of dollars of additional funding will be poured into construction and infrastructure.

However, India Logan-Riley, from indigenous youth climate group Te Ara Whatu, said she was alarmed there was no commitment to projects that reduced emissions.

She said Māori were also being cut out of decisions about where money was spent.

"We don't have autonomy over these infrastructure projects. This money isn't going directly to Māori communities for us to be able to put the funding into things that we urgently need."

Greenpeace climate change campaigner Amanda Larsson wanted a billion dollars put towards helping farmers move to cleaner practices.

Instead, it got about $60m.

"The government's commitments on climate change in this budget are just small baby steps, they're not visionary, they're not ambitious," Larsson said.

"It's a bit like pouring a bucket of water on a burning building, it's not going to be enough to have an impact."

The main winner in the climate related spending yesterday was rail - nabbing $1.3b of the $2.3b the government considers to be Budget spending targeted at reducing emissions.

That is going on new locomotives, facilities, and infrastructure maintenance.

The amount of money in a green investment fund has been quadrupled - there is now $400m to go towards things like low-carbon tech, electric vehicles, and greening public transport.

$300m has been set aside for a revived feebate scheme to subsidise electric vehicles, which was blocked by New Zealand First in the government's last term.

But there are scant details on how it will work, though an announcement is expected in the coming weeks.

Larsson said the the only way to make big inroads on transport emissions was through mass commuter public transport infrastructure - which was absent from this budget.

"We know that the way that we're going to reduce emissions from the fastest growing source of emissions in New Zealand, which is transport, is to help people get out of their cars.

"So that means more investment in buses and trains and cycleways."

For Climate Change Minister James Shaw, the most significant thing in today's Budget happened off to the side - and slipped under the radar.

He has managed to ringfence the emissions trading scheme revenue so it can only be spent to meet New Zealand's climate obligations.

"From next year, every dollar of revenue that gets raised under the emissions trading scheme will be recycled into the transition to a low carbon economy.

"So that really sets up a whole future revenue stream that is solely dedicated towards the challenge of decarbonising.

"And that's something that we haven't had to date."

Shaw said this was a stable income stream expected to provide about $3b over five years.