Real Solutions for the Environment and the Climate

We pride ourselves on being clean and green, but the reality lags behind the rhetoric. Governments have offered up bold environmental policies, but they’re more symbolic than effective. We can do much better. ACT says we can take positive, practical steps towards a better environment by allowing individuals, businesses and communities the freedom to innovate.

We have banned plastic bags, but the major sources of plastic in the ocean are left unaddressed. We recycle like mad, but waste to landfill keeps increasing. We ban oil and gas exploration, but then import Indonesian coal.

Our environmental monitoring system isn’t even giving us the full picture of the state of our environment.

Our political response to environmental issues is this: If in doubt, regulate. However, the solutions to many of our environmental problems are innovation.

Too often, regulations meant to preserve the environment actually stop innovation that could help solve our most pressing problems.


Politicians’ Pledge: Cut Flights By 25 Percent

  • ACT will ask politicians to pledge to cut flights to Wellington by 25 percent.

ACT believes that our politicians should lead by example when it comes to addressing climate change by committing to individual actions which have real, measurable benefits.

Parliament has talked about putting solar panels on the roof and attempting to make the building itself a green one, but these changes make little difference when MPs fly en masse to Wellington 30 times a year.

Almost no other group of New Zealanders have an unlimited air travel budget. Ironically, it’s often the politicians who talk about climate change the most who report the biggest air travel expenses each quarter.

Parliamentarians could take one simple and costless action to help the climate and save the taxpayer significant money. We propose to change the parliamentary calendar so that MPs sit for four days a week for 23 weeks a year, instead of three days a week for 30 weeks.

This would reduce the number of flights taken by MPs, and carbon emissions, by around 25 percent.

The policy would not only reduce emissions and save the taxpayer money, it would have an additional benefit. There has been much discussion in recent times about work-life balance and pressures on MPs’ families. Spending fewer weeks, but the same number of days, in Wellington, and less time travelling, would reduce the time pressure on MPs, leaving more time to be productive at work and home.

If our MPs can’t take a small, positive step towards a cleaner planet, what hope do we have of addressing long-term climate change?

Climate Change

  • ACT will introduce a no-nonsense climate change plan which ties our carbon price to that of our trading partners.

ACT was the only party to oppose the Zero Carbon Act. The law is overly bureaucratic and costly. It gives massive power over the economy to the Climate Change Minister. The New Zealand Initiative think tank has called it the most expensive legislation in our history.

ACT believes New Zealand must play its part on climate change. But any response must be simple to administer, politically durable, and effective. New Zealand will only prosper if we match our goals with actions which actually benefit the environment.

If we are forced to make significantly deeper emissions cuts than our trading partners, and if we set more aggressive targets than other countries, we will impoverish ourselves and push economic activity to other countries.

In place of the Zero Carbon Act, ACT will introduce a no-nonsense climate change plan which ties New Zealand’s carbon price to the prices paid by our top five trading partners. This will show the world New Zealand is doing its bit. It is a simple and effective response to climate change.

ACT also proposes to change our climate change regulations to provide carbon credits for New Zealand wood products that store carbon for at least fifty years.

The current climate rules assume that the carbon from every tree felled for processing is released as soon as it leaves the forest.

These and other environmental and planning rules mean that sustainable and resilient wood products get no recognition for their actual climate benefit.

The Government has signalled it will increase the price of carbon to reduce emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Yet our domestic emissions are expected to increase overall by 2030, and New Zealand is projected to spend $1.4 billion every year until 2030 to buy carbon credits to offset our emissions.

These policies ignore what New Zealand is already doing to tackle climate change. The wood processing industry has repeatedly asked for carbon credits for timber which is milled and turned into framing and building products.

ACT will give carbon credits where credits are due.


  • ACT will remove all subsidies for commercial forestry investment.

Our farmers are some of the most efficient food producers in the world, feeding New Zealanders, earning export dollars, and underpinning our rural communities.

However, the Government’s tree planting subsidy of up to $4,000 per hectare is unfairly tilting the playing field towards forestry and creating perverse incentives.

Subsidies have given large forestry investors an unfair advantage which is driving small farmers out. Farm sales have gone beyond marginal land, with productive farmland being sold off to overseas investors.

The policy of large-scale afforestation is a threat to jobs, families and rural communities. Trees will take up to thirty years to mature, which will result in decades of lower food production.

The forestry industry has a track record of making investment decisions without subsidies and regulations. We should be mitigating the impacts of climate change, but there must be a level playing field. Land use decisions should be made without distorting subsidies.

Reduce Waste to Landfill

  • ACT will remove regulations which favour landfills over modern waste reduction technology.

New Zealanders care about minimising waste. At one level, we have enormous space for our small population and landfill environmental standards have improved enormously, so why worry? The issue is that even modern landfills create environmental problems for decades, even centuries.

What’s more, we are going backwards. Since the last Labour government announced a goal of zero waste in 2000, annual waste dumped in landfills has increased by a million tonnes per year. We now bury 3.5 million tonnes of waste in landfills every year.

European countries such as the United Kingdom have managed to reduce waste to landfill even with growing populations. Those countries have solved their landfill crises with modern clean burning technology, and waste to energy, in fifteen years.

New Zealand has not kept up with technological advances. While the Europeans have adopted innovative waste to energy and incineration options over the past three decades, our Ministry and Minister for the Environment continue to defend burying rubbish in the ground as the only option. It doesn’t help that landfills are a profit centre for many councils. We must do better.

ACT does not believe that landfills can or should be eliminated. They will always have a role. Similarly, recycling has a valuable role to play, but we should acknowledge that it is not a panacea. It is an industrial process that makes sense in some circumstances and not in others. However, we could reduce our waste by 30 percent if we were prepared to adopt better technology.

The Resource Management Act bans modern waste incinerators and makes getting a permit for waste to energy almost impossible. These are the very technologies that other countries have used successfully to reduce their waste to landfill.

ACT will repeal those parts of the RMA that prevent waste to energy, and other modern technology solutions to the landfill crisis.

Clean Water in Rural and Urban Areas

  • ACT will stop councils from obtaining consents to spill raw sewage into streams and rivers, and apply to councils the same set of rules that businesses and farmers must follow.

The Government recently announced a new set of water quality rules including what it calls “environmental bottom lines”. These rules will impose additional costs on farmers but do little to improve water quality in rural or urban areas.

The major issue in urban areas such as Auckland and Wellington is that councils have let existing networks run down to the point that sewage regularly spills into harbours and streams. Yet councils have resource consents which means they don’t even have to report these spills to the public.

ACT will require councils to commit to short and long-term water quality objectives, and to plan and budget to renew and upgrade aging and failing water and wastewater infrastructure.

Improving water quality in rural communities is a vital step to restoring the biodiversity that makes New Zealand unique. Biodiversity in fresh water, plants and insects is the life support that underpins our rural economy, and our health and wellbeing as a nation.

The RMA and new freshwater rules are being used as a blunt tool to force farmers and landowners to abandon their farm environmental plans. These plans are agreed with regional councils and are based on local rivers and soil science. Farmers are instead being forced to submit to a government plan which sidelines the wishes of local communities and the businesses which produce our food and our wealth.

Rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all approach from Wellington, ACT will put farm environmental plans back into the hands of farmers and regional councils.

ACT believes that a partnership approach between farmers, regional councils with their science capability, and the large primary sector businesses which rely on a clean, green reputation, are best placed to solve water quality issues.

ACT will reform the RMA to establish a framework for primary sector partnerships between farmers, regional councils, and primary sector businesses, to deliver the environmental outcomes which meet the expectations of communities and consumers.

Protecting Our Special Places

  • ACT will replace the Resource Management Act with new law to promote best practice in protecting and enhancing the environment as part of major projects and when land use changes.

The RMA was designed in the 1980s in response to concerns about major public projects which flooded sensitive forest environments, landscapes and communities, and allowed sewage and pollution to flow into harbours and onto beaches in urban areas.

The RMA’s objectives in 1991 were noble and influenced sustainable design and construction on major projects for almost thirty years.

However, in the past decade designers have been forced to treat every risk equally, including minor issues at the margins, so that vital supply chain projects like East West Link become too expensive to justify, or impossible to deliver in the case of the Basin Reserve Flyover.

The major risks to the environment should be treated separately to minor risks, and the solutions will be led by communities, individuals and business in partnership with government.

Environmental Reporting

  • ACT will strengthen New Zealand’s environmental reporting system at local, regional and national levels so we can track our progress over time.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) has found huge data and knowledge gaps where we are essentially “flying blind”. These gaps prevent us from having a clear picture of our environment, and undermine our stewardship of the environment.

We also have few coordinated measures, at a national or local level, due to multiple pieces of legislation. As a result, it’s not clear which organisation is responsible for monitoring and reporting on the environment.

There are fundamental knowledge gaps around soil health - the factors that affect soil structure and function under different land uses - yet soil is one of our greatest natural assets, and it is essentially a non-renewable resource.

Our long-term environmental goals, such as improving ecosystems in marine reserves, are dependent on having good data and reporting. The alternative is that we risk imposing real costs on our environment and our economy.

ACT supports the development of a comprehensive, nationally-coordinated environmental monitoring system, and a strategy to prioritise and fill data gaps.

We will implement the PCE’s draft recommendations to amend the Environmental Reporting Act, establish a standing science advisory panel to respond to long-term and emerging issues, and develop core environmental indicators to form the backbone of future reporting.

Where We’ll Get To

New Zealand’s rhetoric of clean and green can be matched by reality if we choose to take practical steps towards improving the state of our environment.

We can solve our environmental problems with a bottom-up, people-driven approach. That can only be achieved with greater use of technology and community initiative.

ACT’s vision is of a New Zealand in which government supports innovation rather than preventing it with outdated and heavy-handed regulation.