After the Zero Carbon Bill was passed into law last year, the climate change minister acclaimed Generation Zero for its critical role in the historic legislation. Today, two representatives of the young people’s organisation say the infrastructure spend announced yesterday gravely compromises those values.
Following the passage of the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act last year, we and others at Generation Zero were anticipating a significant shift away from spending on private motor vehicle infrastructure. New Zealand is starved of low emissions transport options, like walking, cycling, buses and trains. In our current climate emergency, nothing short of urgent, transformational change is necessary for Aotearoa to become a zero carbon nation by 2050.
So we were paying close attention to yesterday’s announcement by the government of how it is allocating $8 billion in infrastructure spending across Aotearoa.
To our shock, a whopping $5.3 billion of that is set to be spent on building or widening roads. The spend includes State Highway 1 from Whangārei to Port Marsden, Mill Road, Penlink, and widening State Highway 1 from Papakura to Drury in Auckland, the Tauranga Northern Link and State Highway 1 from Otaki to north of Levin. This makes up 78% of the funding announced for transport today.
Investing in roads instead of public and active transport like walking and cycling will only increase our dependency on cars instead of giving us choice. This means more people stuck in motorway traffic instead of taking the bus, train or bike, which will rapidly increase our carbon emissions.
This is a major failure by the government to follow through on the Zero Carbon Act. The passing of this act should have signalled the need to transform our approach to building infrastructure. In fact, the Zero Carbon Act requires all emission budgets to be met by our own emissions here in Aotearoa. Instead, the government is backpedalling on that commitment.
At present, transport accounts for 40% of CO2 emissions in Aotearoa. With more than half of the transport infrastructure spend allocated to roads, nothing about the announcement demonstrates that the government is taking climate change or the Zero Carbon Act seriously.
The provision of huge roading projects will make our emission reduction targets even more difficult to achieve in the future, which does a disservice to us all. We urge the government to direct more funding toward accelerating public and active transport infrastructure across New Zealand. This will give New Zealanders other transport options that reduce emissions and congestion.
But it’s not all bad.
The government is set to spend $1.1 billion on four rail projects. Plus, a $300 million investment in SkyPath and SeaPath in Auckland will mean that construction can start next year. This will provide a crucial link for walking and cycling across Auckland’s harbour. Another 200 million will go towards decarbonising the state sector, helping schools and hospitals to move away from fossil fuels.
Plus, now that the government is picking up the tab for these costly road projects, local councils will now have some extra room in the budget. In particular, Auckland Council will be saving millions on the roading projects of Penlink and Mill Road. It is crucial that councils dedicate all new transport funding to public and active transport infrastructure. This is vital given the numerous councils that have declared a climate emergency.
Nevertheless, these measly investments in climate-friendly projects do not compare to the $5.3 billion spent on roads. Our climate emergency demands government action now, and we will continue to fight for our future. As young people in New Zealand, we deserve better.
Ana Renker-Darby and David Robertson are spokespeople for Generation Zero in Auckland.