The Government only had a full climate change impact analysis report completed on eight of its hundreds of decisions this year.
But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says many decisions that would have increased emissions never make it to Cabinet.
Late in 2019 the Government announced that all its decisions or new laws aimed at reducing emissions or likely to greatly increase emissions would have a Climate Implications of Policy (CIPA) assessment completed by the Ministry for the Environment.
“Ensuring ministers are aware of the implications a decision may have for New Zealand’s future greenhouse gas emissions will be vital to ensuring we all playing our part in meeting the commitments we’ve made,” Climate Change Minister James Shaw said at the time.
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The analysis requirement joins similar requirements to make sure Government decisions do not breach the Bill of Rights Act or Treaty of Waitangi, or explain why they are if they do.
Yet the process has only applied to a small amount of decisions, partially due to the pace of decision-making during the pandemic. A fast-track law to speed through 11 infrastructure projects was not subject to the process, with Environment saying it wasn’t possible as the full list of projects had not been finalised.
A spokesperson for the Ministry for the Environment said until December 1 just eight decisions had gone through a full CIPA process, with qualitative work done showing how much emissions would change as a result of the decision.
A further 29 proposals had “qualitative” CIPA assessment completed – a high-level assessment of the likely effect on emissions without exact figures being presented.
These were used when the exact criteria of emissions increase or reduction were not met but officials thought it was likely there would be some implication.
A further 141 Cabinet proposals that the Ministry assessed did not meet the requirement for a quantitative or qualitative analysis.
Shaw said it was “generally” a good thing that so many decisions did not have a CIPA analysis, as it meant many decisions were not deemed to have a large impact on emissions.
“Cabinet makes a large number of decisions every year, a lot of which are procedural and have no bearing on our greenhouse gas emissions. However, for those that do have an impact, there are thresholds in place so that if a decision is likely to result in a significant increase in emissions, a detailed assessment is required,” Shaw said.
“I would say that generally it’s a good thing that more decisions are not subject to one of these assessments.”
He said it was up to individual ministers to decide whether or not this analysis made them change a decision.
“That said, with the recent declaration of a climate emergency and the commitment we have made to transition the public sector to be carbon neutral by 2025, I would fully expect Cabinet Ministers to be making decisions based on the urgency with which we have to reduce emissions.”
Around halfway through the year, Shaw lobbied for the threshold needed for a CIPA analysis to be lowered. A new circular was issued in July that changed the requirement – it used to apply if more than 250,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions would be likely in the first year from a decision, it would now apply to decisions where more than 500,000 tonnes were likely over 10 years.
Ardern, who declared a climate change emergency in recent weeks, said many decisions would never make it to Cabinet if they were clearly going to increase emissions.
“My expectation is that as a Government, because climate change is a priority for us, we will be looking at it – regardless of whether there is an impact analysis – with that climate change lens.”
She was unable to point to a decision that had been changed or modified by a CIPA report, saying that Cabinet made decisions based on a range of factors.
“It’d be a bit difficult for me to say that a decision was singularly changed,” Ardern said.
“There will be decisions that never come to us because of our view and position on climate change.”