Govt warned those in poverty will bear brunt of Climate Commission's plan to slash gas emissions

Electric vehicles are still wildly out of reach for low and middle-income earners.
Electric vehicles are still wildly out of reach for low and middle-income earners. Photo credit: File

By Katie Scotcher of RNZ

The Government is being warned those living in poverty will bear the brunt of the Climate Commission's plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

The Commission has released its long-awaited roadmap for the country to become carbon neutral by 2050.

It called for progressively deeper emissions reductions. From 15 percent by 2025 for long-lived greenhouse gases - up to 63 percent by 2035.

It has also recommended sweeping changes to the way New Zealanders live, but has warned it won't come without costs.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the transition must happen - but it won't be easy.

"The commission's advice requires action right across the economy and including all New Zealanders, we are all going to have to play our part," she said.

"Having a road map doesn't change the fact the road will be steep and it will be tough at times."

The commission is warning that large businesses in the regions could be among those who find it toughest, citing the cement and steel industries, which are big employers.

Some companies may be forced to close if they can't transition to a low-emissions economy - causing significant job losses.

Southland Mayor Gary Tong said it was a "serious warning".

Businesses in the region are keen to make the transition but it's too soon to say how successful they'll be, he said.

If large employers were forced to shut their doors their employees may not have many other options, Tong added.

"We've seen it with COVID-19 with the hospitality industry in Te Anau, Fiordland, West Coast and Queenstown.

"Sometimes there are no other options and to use the Government word, some areas can't pivot so they either sit there on the dole or move."

The commission also admits those on lower incomes could be disproportionately affected, but says this could be mitigated through targeted policy.

Beneficiary and Unwaged Workers Trust advocate Kay Brereton said, while the climate targets were well-intentioned, they would hit those with the least, the hardest.

"It would be devastating. I already deal with people who can't afford their housing costs. If their transport, food and possibly energy costs increase I really don't know what happens to the sector of our society that's living week-to-week and not quite coping now."

Sweeping changes to transport are among the Climate Commission's recommendations.

By 2035 it wants all imported cars to be electric and expects petrol and diesel prices to increase by 30 cents a litre. It wants all road transport to be carbon neutral by 2050.

But the commission conceded it won't be easy for lower-income people to buy an electric vehicle.

Brereton said it was out of the question for those living week-to-week.

"If [those in lower income households] have got cars, they've probably got old cars and although I'm sure we're all pretty keen on the idea of transitioning to to an electric vehicle, cost is huge issue for people."

Car dealer Matthew Foot said electric vehicles were often out of reach for middle-income earners too.

"If you typify a family with three children who have got a reasonable budget to buy a normal SUV, say a 7 seater SUV, those vehicles aren't available to them.

They're just still too expensive. They're still up in the $70,000 to $80,000 bracket whereas you can buy a Mitsubishi Outlander for between $30,000 and $40,000."

Foot added the cost wasn't the only barrier to buying an electric vehicle as many people simply won't find an electric model that suits their needs.

"We still have the need for utes and that sort of thing as well and they're nowhere near getting into that situation where we have an an EV ute yet, so that's maybe three years away before we physically have those vehicles."

Foot thinks Government incentives would be a game changer and would drastically increase the uptake of electric vehicles.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Government is prepared to lend a helping hand and expects to announce further details for an incentives regime sometime in the future.

The Government's response to the rest of the advice won't come until the end of the year.