Insight: The Commission's role
Our Chair Dr Rod Carr explains our role – to provide independent, evidence-based advice to the Government of the day.
Since consultation on our draft advice closed on 28 March 2021, the team at the Commission have been busy processing submissions and preparing our final advice to government.
Thank you to everyone who participated in our consultation process – your input was invaluable, and we couldn’t have done this without you.
We will present our advice to the Minister for Climate Change and the Government ahead of 31 May. But what happens then?
When we look at ‘what’s next?’, it’s important for New Zealanders to understand what the Commission is and isn’t responsible for. Let’s recall our role – to provide independent, evidence-based advice to the Government of the day.
So what does this mean?
While the Commission has a number of tasks, our current focus is to provide our final advice on the emissions budgets for Aotearoa out to 2035, and provide guidance on the direction of the emissions reduction plan – which includes recommendations on the types of policies the Government could develop to achieve the emissions budgets they will set.
And our independence means we are responsible for exercising judgement in making trade-offs when developing our advice, on the basis of the sound information we have.
The Government’s role is to make decisions on the recommendations we make and set the direction of policy to give effect to those recommendations – so much more work remains to be done by our elected leaders and by government agencies.
Let’s consider transport for a moment.
The Commission might give advice that the Government should improve emissions standards for the internal combustion engine motor vehicle fleet, and that they could do so by setting regulations to limit high emitting motor vehicles being able to enter Aotearoa.
We could advise that these standards come into effect at a certain point in time, so Aotearoa doesn’t end up continuing to support old, poorly performing fossil fuel technology that needs to be made obsolete before the end of its useable life.
In this instance, we would have provided advice on the direction of policy the Government could take to achieve its targets – by recommending that import standards on ‘new to Aotearoa’ vehicles be implemented at a given level by a designated time.
The Commission might give advice on emissions levels and timing, having regard for matters we have to consider – such as cost, impact on future generations and different communities, and feasibility. This is one area where judgement comes into play. While people with the same evidence and objectives will have various views on which trade-offs to make, that difference of opinion is to be expected and respected.
But when it comes to asking: ‘what exactly should those emissions standards be? How should they be applied across a fleet of vehicles imported by a particular importer? And what timeline should the Government take to implement this?’ the Government would need to go through that regulatory process – drafting regulations, publicly consulting on those regulations, and ultimately adopting those regulations. All decision-making rights remain with the elected representatives in government.
Why is it important for you to know this?
Well, we will be around for a long time – providing advice to governments that come and go over the years. At the Commission, we will see different commissioners, and different staff – but the Government of the day, whoever that may be, will benefit from having the Commission as an independent body.
One of our challenges will be to listen to and consider all views, while being careful to ensure those who speak loudest or have vested interests do not distract from our targets or undermine the process.
That’s why consultation is so important in forming our advice – we want all New Zealanders to be given the opportunity to have their say. And, subject to the approval of those who have made each submission, we are committed to publishing the submissions we receive during consultation – so other government agencies have the benefit of those submissions when they come to work on the regulations needed to implement policy.
We acknowledge that sometimes the wide range of views we receive are in conflict. Our independent advice, while supported by evidence, must always involve judgement by our Commissioners trading off the different things the Act requires us to have regard to.
The relationship between the Crown and iwi/Māori, the impact on future generations, land use change, and the cost of transition are just some of the many things that must all be taken into account.
At present, our single overarching focus at the Commission is to provide advice on emissions budgets and an emissions reduction plan that is consistent with our statutory targets. We need to reduce biogenic methane emissions by 10 % below 2017 levels by 2030 and by 24-47% by 2050, and to reach net zero for all other long-life gases by 2050 – and we need to achieve those targets in a way that has regard to all of these other things.
Once the Government adopts emissions budgets and an emissions reduction plan, which it is required to do by the end of this year, the Commission has responsibility for monitoring the Government’s progress and reporting on that progress to all New Zealanders.
We’re in this for the long haul. It’s important for New Zealanders to know we’re here, understand our role, and participate in our processes as much as possible – so we can all work together to achieve a thriving, climate-resilient and low emissions future for Aotearoa.