NZ risks becoming 'dumping ground' for dirty petrol cars if ban comes too late - Climate Change Minister James Shaw

Climate Change Minister James Shaw says if we don't ban importing petrol cars soon, we risk becoming a dumping ground for millions of "dirty second-hands" more forward-thinking countries don't want. 

Electrifying the country's 4.5 million road vehicles is "a critical element" of reaching New Zealand's net-zero emissions goal by 2050, according to the Climate Change Commission's Ināia tonu nei: A low emissions future for Aotearoa report, released on Wednesday. 

Fully-electric vehicles (EVs) presently cost about $16,000 more than those powered by fuel, but the report says by 2031 they should reach "price parity" - with EVs having the obvious advantage of lower running costs. As early as 2022, a brand-new electric vehicle will, over its 20-year lifetime, save its owners money compared to a brand new petrol-driven car, the report predicts. 

It recommends in 2032 imports of new petrol-driven vehicles should be banned, and in 2035, used cars should join them. 

"Rod Carr, the head of the Climate Change Commission, did say yesterday that at the latest we should say that you can't be bringing in more fossil-fuelled cars after 2035, but ideally by 2030," Shaw told The AM Show on Thursday.

"He said to the Government, 'You make up your mind about where it is on that spectrum, but ultimately that's the point you're going to have to get to'." 

Despite being Climate Change Minister, the decision on just when we should stop importing petrol-driven cars isn't up to Shaw - it's in the hands of Transport Minister Michael Wood. A decision has to be made by December 15, Parliament's last sitting day, according to the Zero Carbon Act. 

Shaw wouldn't be drawn on what date he'd set, saying he doesn't want to "get ahead" of Wood and Cabinet, but suggested it would be even sooner. 

"I'm not a patient person and this has been a very long time coming... the longer we leave it the more expensive it gets and the harder it gets." 

James Shaw.
James Shaw. Photo credit: The AM Show

He noted many car manufacturers have already announced they'll soon stop making petrol-driven vehicles, including GM, Volvo and Honda. The UK will ban sales of petrol cars altogether from 2030. Few countries - mostly former British colonies - drive on the left, potentially making New Zealand an attractive market for Brits wanting to get rid of their old vehicles when they upgrade to electric. 

"My worry is that given the UK drives on the same side of the road as we do, they'll have 70 million dirty second-hands they'll want to dump somewhere in the world... If we don't do it, we've got to work out how not to become a dumping ground for all of the old, second-hard, dirty internal combustion engine vehicles the rest of the world will be wanting to get rid of." 

At the moment, between 500 and 1000 new EVs are registered every month. The rate has picked up this year, after averaging about 500 a month through 2019 and 2020. THe total - 27,000 - is only about 0.6 percent of the total fleet of 4.5 million. 

The recent Budget included just over $300 million for an incentive plan to get people into EVs. 

"My understanding is Michael Wood will be making an announcement about the precise shape of that quite soon," said Shaw.