It was coming up to 2 pm and I was nervous. Another year, another budget, and another chance for our government to make some bold decisions to ensure we all have a safe climate future. Will this budget be any different? The morning of the announcement I read an article stating that, according to UN scientists, the world will likely breach the crucial 1.5 degree climate threshold in the next five years.
As I tuned into the live stream and I thought about how incredibly frustrating it is to watch politicians toy with our collective future, choose not to invest in the just transition to a better world that we know is 100% possible, and ignore indigenous knowledge and solutions to the climate crisis. It’s an election year, so we knew that our Minister of Finance and the government would try to play a fine balancing act of spending just enough while still getting re-elected. My expectations were that we’d have another prudent and conservative budget that only scratches the surface of the problems we need to tackle.
When I listened to Grant Robertson’s speech to the House of Representatives I quickly realised that despite its promising title, the Budget 2023 was not delivering on the scale of investment needed to improve the wellbeing of all people in Aotearoa.
The “Wellbeing Budget 2023” represented a missed opportunity to make an unprecedented investment in creating thousands of good, clean, living-wage jobs building the visionary, low-carbon infrastructure we so urgently need.
One of the heartening things is that there are a number of initiatives that tackle both the cost of living and the climate crisis together. Here comes my personal list of highlights, lowlights and lowlights disguised as highlights.
Public transport. Public transport will be free for tamariki, and half-price for rangatahi under 25 and total mobility card holders. Our friends from Free Fares NZ remind us that there is more to be done such as permanent half-price fares for everyone or 100% free fares for the groups most impacted by the cost of living. Nonetheless, it’s a start and a significant people-powered win.
Community energy. The biggest highlight is the funding for a wind turbine & battery project on Rēkohu Chatham Islands. It’s showing that investing in vulnerable communities is possible and there are better outcomes for communities when we prioritise local and distributed approaches to building renewable energy. These homegrown, community energy projects should be funded all across the motu through a serious expansion of the community energy project scheme.
Climate Emergency Response underfunded. While there is $1.9 billion allocated to the Climate Emergency Response Fund (CERF), it is significantly less than the $2.9b last year and $2.3b in 2021. This pot is used for climate mitigation (so emission reduction!) and climate adaptation projects. There will be an expected $800 million deficit for the CERF in the coming years due to the carbon price collapse which came about when the Govt ignored the independent climate change commissions and expert advice. It shows us that the ETS can’t be the only tool to reduce emissions and tackle climate change. We urge the government to explore further mechanisms to ensure that we can make the investments required for public good such as a windfall profit tax on the gentailers. We can design a better budget and tax system that will be able to truly address the pressures people are facing now and in the future.
Lowlights disguised as Highlights
Warmer Kiwi Homes. The extension to the Warmer Kiwi Homes programme will allow 100,000 more homes to receive support by reducing power bills. This is a perfect example of an investment in climate and people. While $402.6 million sounds like a great investment, it’s important to note that when this and previous funding for the Warmer Kiwi Homes programme is spent there are still 400,000 houses uninsulated. The programme also only covers homeowners and therefore is not improving household power bills for those who are renting. In my view, this is not a programme that delivers great outcomes for the wellbeing of all New Zealanders.
EV Charging Infrastructure. Roughly $120m will go to expand EV charging infrastructure. We know that decarbonising transport is crucial for reducing the whopping 17 percent of Aotearoa’s gross emissions. So increased EV charging infrastructure (especially in rural communities) for personal vehicles is awesome but we should not forget that despite the clean car discount, EVs are still not affordable enough for everyone. Moreover we know that even EVs have an impact on the environment. We need greater investment in public transport, which would benefit the wellbeing of all New Zealanders rather than merely benefiting those who are already well off.
Climate Change Minister James Shaw said the climate crisis was fundamentally linked to the cost-of-living crisis. “We are addressing these dual challenges by investing in affordable public transport, insulating thousands more homes nationwide, and improving energy resilience in local communities”. I agree with him. We can see that there is a shift in this budget to address the multiple challenges facing our society and we’ve had some steps in the right direction – dare I say some little wins. But winning slowly on climate is losing, and these actions are a drop in the bucket of the climate action we need to keep warming within 1.5 degrees celsius.
This budget is far from being transformational and it does not adequately deliver on the wellbeing of all people in Aotearoa. With this year’s election we need to ensure that we – the people – make our voices heard and talk about the solutions that can ensure true wellbeing measures for people and planet.
– by Alva Feldmeier, Executive Director of 350 Aotearoa