Government can address both climate and cost of living issues, ministers say as Greens take aim over torched policies

The Prime Minister and Transport Minister are adamant reducing carbon emissions remains a priority for the Government after it's come under attack for torching several climate policies in its latest reprioritisation move.

The announcement on Monday that the Government is dumping the $568 million Clean Car Upgrade vehicle scrappage scheme among other environmental-friendly initiatives was framed as a way to allow ministers to focus more time on bread and butter issues.

The Green Party argues climate action is a bread and butter issue and more Green MPs are needed to prioritise cutting climate pollution.

Speaking to reporters at Parliament on Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins rejected claims he didn't care about the climate crisis and said the Government's emissions reduction targets haven't changed.

"The way we might achieve some of those targets is going to change as we make sure that we're doing that in the most efficient and effective way possible," he said. 

Hipkins said the scrapped Clean Car Upgrade and the social leasing scheme - where low-income families could lease clean cars - wouldn't have had huge emission reduction impacts. He said comparable levels of emission reductions could be made with smaller levels of spending.

The Clean Car Upgrade was one of the Government's main announcements last May when it unveiled its Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP), its plan for how to reduce emissions across different sectors of the economy. 

The Prime Minister on Tuesday didn't clarify whether the savings from stopping the Clean Car Upgrade scheme - the funds for which came from the Government's Climate Emergency Response Fund - would go towards other climate actions or cost of living policies. 

The Budget will lay out how the money will be allocated, he said. 

Hipkins said he doesn't believe climate issues and cost of living issues are "mutually exclusive". 

"It's possible to both reduce the cost of living and tackle climate change at the same time."

Asked if climate change is a bread-and-butter issue, Hipkins said: "Climate change is one of the most important issues the Government is facing and it continues to be a priority". 

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins Photo credit: Newshub.

Michael Wood, the Transport Minister, also rejected the Government was putting the cost of living crisis ahead of the climate crisis.

He pointed to other 'Green' initiatives the Government has underway, like the Clean Car Discount and rolling out more public transport options across the country. 

"We think that governments need to be able to handle multiple issues. So the Prime Minister said cost of living is our top issue this year. We do need to focus on that.

"We're doing that through transport and actually threading the needle with some of the things we're doing like half-price public transport, which does both of those things.

"We equally need to be focused on the rebuild from Cyclone Gabrielle, but we can't lose sight of the long-term need to reduce transport emissions."

Following the announcement on Monday, the Green Party took the opportunity to emphasise a Cabinet with Green ministers would "prioritise action to cut climate pollution and support people to make ends meet".

The Green Party has a cooperation agreement with Labour on issues like the climate. James Shaw is the Climate Change Minister, but he isn't a member of Cabinet. Hipkins on Monday said he briefed the Greens on the decisions earlier in the day.

"Had I been at Cabinet today, I would have argued against cutting back on climate actions that would help low-income households," Shaw, the Greens co-leader, said. 

"The Clean Car Upgrade would have provided households with more low-emissions choices about how to get around. This doesn’t sit well on top of the previous extension to the fossil fuel subsidies, which we know benefits the highest earners most. "

Other Green MPs have gone further on social media.

Golriz Ghahraman asked: "How is cutting essential climate action, alcohol harm reform and democracy rights going to help the cost of living crisis - a crisis created by the same profit over everything world order". 

Chlöe Swarbrick said this is nothing more bread and butter than "protecting the climate necessary to grow wheat".

The National Party has focussed on prosecuting the Government over the cost of living crisis and believes that is the top issue.

It's yet to release any detailed climate policy for the election, but transport spokesperson Simeon Brown on Tuesday said that would come. 

"The reality is there is a range of ways that we can drive down emissions and we're going to have more policies that we're gonna announce around how we're going to do that in regards to electrifying New Zealand.

"But the point is this Government talks a big game. Now they're wiping it away."