Stopping climate change will make us richer than doing nothing - Shaw

Climate Change Minister James Shaw says meeting our climate targets will change New Zealand as much as the arrival of the internet did - and for the better.

Mr Shaw is currently wading through the 15,000 submissions made on the Zero Carbon Bill, which puts a hard date on New Zealand's Paris Agreement obligations.

"New Zealanders do want us to lead on climate change. They think our response so far has been inadequate. They think that New Zealand should act even if other countries don't," he told Newshub Nation on Saturday, citing a recent survey by IAG.

"They really want us to be ambitious and to do the best we can."

That survey showed while three-quarters of Kiwis think New Zealand should take action even if other countries don't, only one in 10 percent think the rest of the world will.

"There's a lot of scepticism the world will actually do what it needs to do," said Mr Shaw, "but… the more we do, the more it encourages other countries to do the same and to follow."

The world has changed a lot in the past three decades, and Mr Shaw says it will again over the next three.

"I think the New Zealand of 2050 will look as similar and as different as the New Zealand of today does to the New Zealand that we had 30 years ago. You've got to remember 30 years ago, the same period of time that we're talking about, the internet did not exist. Didn't exist, right? But you try and run your school or your home or your community group or your business without the internet today, it's unimaginable.

"The internet has had a profound impact on our economy, on our lives. Whole new industries have been built off the back of it… but the New Zealand of today still feels in many ways a bit like the New Zealand of 1988."

The internet has actually been around since the 1970s, but it's likely Mr Shaw was referring to the World Wide Web, the first widely popular use for the internet, which went online in 1991.

He says investing in meeting our climate change goals will be a massive economic boost, rather than a burden.

"What we're talking about here is a more productive economy, with higher-tech, higher-valued, higher-paid jobs. It's clearly a cleaner economy where you've got lower health care costs, people living in warmer homes, congestion-free streets in Auckland.

"It's an upgrade to our economy. It's an investment, you've got to put something in, in order to generate that return. If we don't, the clean-up costs from the impacts of climate change will well exceed the costs of the investment we've got to make to avoid the problem in the first place."

Upgrading New Zealand's fleet

The average car spends about 14 years on the road in New Zealand, and at present only 0.2 percent of them are electric. Mr Shaw says this gives us plenty of time - two generations - to switch over.

"New cars, about 80 to 90 percent of new cars, are actually company fleet vehicles. In many ways, that's the best point of intervention - we can use Government purchasing power to swap out our own car fleet, we can work with large corporates on their car fleets, and three to five years down the track, those cars end up on the second-hand market."

James Shaw on Newshub Nation.
James Shaw on Newshub Nation. Photo credit: Newshub Nation.

The National-led Government had a target of one-in-three new Government vehicles being electric by 2021. Mr Shaw wants every new vehicle to be emissions-free by 2023.

But while the Government can afford it, many everyday Kiwis cannot. Mr Shaw says it's inevitable some kind of incentive scheme will be needed, but still thinks the second-hand market is key.

"Most people get their cars on the second-hand market, so we are trying to work out how to incentivise that. I think it'll take a while… We are considering all the options.

"It's really clear that we need to make sure that we do target support to people who are more affected by this than others. Things like the investment we're making in public transport disproportionately support low-income families. But also we need to make sure we've got things on the income side of the equation sorted out as well."

He's hoping that whatever form the as-yet-unwritten Zero Carbon Bill takes, it will have bipartisan support - essential if it's going to remain in law for more than 30 years.