As we face increasing climate impacts and a rapid rise in the cost of living, what are our options for a just transition away from fossil fuels, and towards a more just world? Who pays? In this discussion, speakers will share ways they are working for a more transformational future. What are some ways we can build a more just health, transport and economic system that will make life better for people and the planet – and ensure people have enough money to live with dignity?
By Frances Mountier
Kia ora koutou
He Pākehā ahau. Nō Ūropi ōku tipuna. I tipu ake au ki Ōtautahi, ā, e noho anō ana mātou ki kōnei, engari e noho ana tōku ngākau ki Te Whanganui-a-Tara.
Ko Francie Mountier tōku ingoa.
Āku mihi mahana ki ngā kaiwhakarite o te pō nei.
Ka nui te aroha ki te whānau o Moana Jackson, ā, ki a tātou katoa.
When I thought about writing a piece on Climate Justice, I planned to call it, “I wish we had a car, Mum.” We have lived for almost 5 years without a car, while raising two young kids, and – if this is something the climate movement, but also councils, are going to call for – then I have a lot of thoughts about the structural changes needed to make it possible for many. EVs need to be available for those with mobility issues but they also need to be available for families who need them. We need frequent, affordable buses with convertible spaces for buggies and wheelchairs, shelters at every bus stop; we need buslines without transfers and we need excellent provision of public toilets around our cities and towns. But we are hearing from multiple experts on public transport tonight, and we have heard from Tuhi-Ao (Emily) Bailey about Climate Justice Taranaki, their report Toitū Taranaki 2030 (Taranaki community transition plan wants fossil fuel phase out by 2030 – Climate Justice Taranaki (wordpress.com)) and the original demands around fossil fuels and a just transition.
So that means I’ll turn to the rest of the question, who pays for a just transition? Inside that context of the need for constitutional transformation and restoration through resourcing, and in the context of strong current campaigns for free public transport and good conditions for their drivers.
When I joined the Save Happy Valley Coalition back in 2004, with Em and others, fighting against a coal mine by state owned enterprise Solid Energy on the West Coast, the question of who would pay for a just climate transition seemed a big one and it seemed far away. The answer was that the revolution will change everything, and that those who benefited from the use of fossil fuels should pay the costs of the transition. Not those who have suffered for them and who are suffering under climate change. Back then, “catastrophic climate change” was something we wrote on leaflets rather than something we are experiencing and seeing in news stories every week. I assumed that the wealthy nations should pay poor nations, the Solid Energies of the world should have their profits and capital turned to a just transition and the large fossil fuel companies should be nationalised or heavily taxed, to fund the transitions in mahi and for the mitigations and transitions that are required to survive and thrive under a changing climate. We really believed in using climate change as a portal to a better world – the kinds of changes needed to have climate justice will benefit justice across the world. Indigenous rights, workers rights, women’s rights etc. And this is still true.
But this pātai tonight, who pays for a just transition? It also feels much more imminent. The answers I just mentioned still stand, but today we are grappling with whether to support or oppose climate levies imposed by councils, what to push for in regards to the skyrocketing cost of fossil fuels, etc – and we do it in the context of the supermarket duopoly, in, as Danyl Mclauchlan has argued, the context of monopolies and duopolies or markets that operate like monopolies, that extract wealth from us all (Sunday Essay: The chain across the river | The Spinoff). There’s no sign of heavy Government intervention to make them pay. No sign of nationalising some of the largest fossil fuel companies and those that benefit from fossil fuels and putting that money into Māori-led, community-led, or Crown-led initiatives towards a just transition. So, those bigger questions about the longer term we are fighting for are still real, are still crucial but for now I’m going to turn to some of the immediate things we could see that would help pay for a just transition, and that help ensure the costs aren’t borne by those already suffering.
Peace Movement Aotearoa and others have long called for military spending to be repurposed to social good, including a just transition. This seems an obvious one. It would be immediately possible to repurpose new military spending to a just transition. To quote Peace Movement Aotearoa:
“Here in Aotearoa New Zealand – which has shocking numbers of children living in families with an income below the poverty line and deplorable levels of homelessness, and where there was a desperate need for more social funding even before the COVID-19 pandemic – military spending in the 2021 Budget totalled $(NZ)5,188,350,000 … that’s an average of more than $99.7 million every week. This is in addition to the $(NZ)20 billion announced in June 2019 to be spent over the next decade on increased combat capability, including new military aircraft and warships.” Aotearoa New Zealand Campaign on Military Spending (converge.org.nz)
Another good place to look is Te Paati Māori – their climate change policy. They call not only for the phase out of all oil and gas, and the banning of seabed mining, but also:
“Establish dedicated $1bn Pūngao Auaha fund for Māori-owned community energy projects and solar panel and insulation instillations on marae, kura, homes and papakāinga housing developments
Work alongside interested whānau, hapū and iwi to develop a national Māori strategy for renewable energy and clean technology and ensure the Crown supports Māori-led clean technology projects with R&D, start-up funding, and partnership finance
Phase out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser on farms by 2025 and bring methane emissions from agriculture into the ETS to disincentivise intensive methane-emitting agriculture
Establish $300m Mātai Ahuwhenua innovation and support fund to incentivise Māori farmers to transition to regenerative and value-add farming practises
Ensure the Crown works with whānau, hapū and iwi to establish climate change adaptation plans and establish a fund to support whānau, hapū and iwi with adaptation
Ensure Aotearoa plays a greater role in supporting Pasifika leaders on the world stage through aggressive diplomatic efforts.”
There is really good content on climate change on the website of Te Paati Māori.
Here in Ōtautahi, ECAN are currently consulting on a trial of free buses for students and community services card holders. They also propose a levy to speed up action in response to climate change. But what they mean by that is improving food and water security, ecosystems adaption, community preparedness systems, and public transport funding, amongst other things. Future funding for responding to climate change | Have Your Say (ecan.govt.nz) I expect there are a range of views on this inside this webinar, but I think currently I would rather that it was funded from central government, not least to ensure every town and community has access to this kind of funding.
Now I’ll turn to the Climate Budget Demands developed by this network, Riseup for Climate Justice. The text in italics is from Riseup.
No Free carbon credits for polluters
Under the government’s industrial allocation program for the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) well over $100 million in carbon credits have been handed out every year to polluters who threaten to move their business overseas like Tiwai aluminum (as they do regularly), NZ Steel, Oji Fibre (pulp and paper), Norske Skog and Fletchers. Current law requires a 1%/yr reduction of their free credits for 10 yrs, increasing 1% a decade. If agriculture joins the ETS they will have 95% of their emissions paid for by free carbon credits. Most of these credits are just stockpiling and are not being used to replace carbon via methods such as tree planting. In most cases the ETS is a money go round while the planet burns. The ETS doesn’t work. No more free carbon credits. Polluters should be taxed to stop the pollution.
Free Public Transport
When petrol prices hit $3 recently due to rising costs and Russia’s war in the Ukraine, the government halved public transport fares and reduced petrol taxes almost overnight. There are several successful cities and countries that offer free public transport and more are being created. If we want to be serious about transitioning off fossil fuels and private vehicles then we need to get serious about public transport. Making it free helps those who are most vulnerable to climate change and can’t afford a new EV (which should be preserved for people with limited mobility, emergency services and heavy transport). Free public transport now!
[We heard plenty more about this from the other speakers, who called for free public transport for all, and also pointed out that it requires a dramatic increase in infrastructure – so that it becomes the obvious choice to commuters to take public transport not a private car – and that it needs to be publicly owned.]
No GST on food
With rising food prices from supermarket duopoly control, increasing fuel prices, agricultural damage from climate change and disrupted economies from the recent pandemic,… a goods and services tax on food is unfair and unnecessary. Food is a necessity. It must be affordable. Removing GST on food would cut costs by 13%.
NIL income tax for the poor
The main argument for not removing GST from food is that the poor would be treated the same as the rich. Not asking for income taxes from our poorest sector of society (earning under $14,000/yr), would therefore even up that scale. The poor are some of the most vulnerable people to climate change as they often can barely afford a house (or not afford one at all), a phone or bus fares, let alone land to grow food on or a plane ticket to escape disasters. A wealth tax on those earning over $1 million a year would easily cover the small loss of tax on poor people. Nil income tax for the poor.
A Liveable Income for All
We all want to live in a country where families have enough for their children to thrive and people can live with dignity in their communities, But we all know how many struggle with the cost of housing, rising cost of living and successive government’s pitiful increase in benefits that have not kept up with inflation. This poverty comes at a terrible cost to wellbeing, and there is much evidence to show how governments can make a difference. Increase benefits as recommended by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group, – like hundreds and hundreds of dollars more per week per household, so that whānau can actually meet their living costs. And make sure all working people earn at least the living wage and ensure these rates are indexed to inflation and the average wage.
Capital gains tax now
A decent home is what we hope for all people in Aotearoa but for too many the cost of a roof over our heads means poverty and homelessness. With underinvestment in social housing and policies that benefit the rich, Aotearoa is one of the most expensive places in the world to buy a house and rent. With no tax on capital gains, landlords can choose to leave houses empty to profit unfairly from the capital gain. Multiple property owners can earn from the increase in values of their properties without paying tax. A capital gains tax would create more fairness in the tax system – where those who earn from all sources of income including their housing wealth, contribute to our collective wellbeing. Alongside rapidly increasing the number of publicly owned housing, this could help cool the heated property market too, bringing the cost of housing down and freeing up income to really help those who need it most.
I’d also like to shout out to the mahi of Public Housing Futures (Public Housing Futures (@publichousingnz) / Twitter), State Housing Action Network (State Housing Action Network – Home | Facebook and Alternative Aotearoa) and others who call for a massive increase in public housing. These houses could be guaranteed rentals, with affordable rents, accessible design, stable homes, and low-emissions by design. When Michelle and I spoke about this topic, she talked of the right to a home, the right to be settled, to build relationships at your local school, to enrol your kids there and know they’ll be able to stay there. This is something close to home for me.
More pay, less hours for healthcare workers
Our healthcare workers have worked tirelessly on the frontlines of the pandemic, putting themselves and their families at risk to keep our communities safe. Years of government under-investment in the health sector mean that often these workers operate understaffed and in conditions and in facilities which aren’t ideal. The arrival of Covid has only exacerbated these issues, pushing many staff to the point of burnout. Right now in the peak of Omicron, where many are being called upon to cover shifts for their colleagues, we’re calling on the government to pay our healthcare workers what they’re worth and to increase staffing levels to help alleviate the burden of understaffing and overtime.
Allied PSA are calling for a settlement on pay, recruitment and retention. MERAS and NZNO have been running similar campaigns, as have Ambulance Professionals First.
I would argue we also need to see a significant increase in funding to primary health and public health for the upcoming stages of the pandemic – and adequate funding so that both entities can continue to do their main jobs too. Most public health mahi has been put on hold over the past two years because those kaimahi were the contact tracers and case investigators for the Covid response. But if the pandemic has taught us anything it is how important public health is for all, how stark the social determinants of health are. To ensure a just transition we must be working on those social determinants of health. We need the transformation spoken of earlier this evening, out of the logic of uneven relationships.
Āku mihi nui ki a koutou
Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēna koutou katoa.