Green budget leans towards the environment

The Green parts of the budget lean heavily towards environmental causes, with less addressing the social issues that Metiria Turei would have championed, and who her successor Marama Davidson is passionate about.

Perhaps this is at least in part due to James Shaw being sole Green leader through the coalition/confidence & supply negotiations as well as for most of the their term in Government to date, and now being the only-co-leader with Ministerial clout.

In Greens defend share of wins after NZ First gets triple the cash NZH lists the Green ‘wins’, which I separate out.

Environmental $454.5m:

  • Conservation funding – $181m
  • Home insulation – $142.5 million
  • Green Investment Fund – $100m
  • Sustainable Farming Fund – $15m
  • Climate Commission – $11m
  • Overseer farm management tool – $5m

Social $155.1m:

  • Midwifery services – $103.6m
  • Expansion of Household Economic Survey – $20m
  • Te reo teaching – $12.5m
  • Youth mental health services – $10m
  • Sexual abuse services – $7.5m
  • Welfare system review – $1.5m

Total: $610m

Greens say that they also support policy wins for Labour and NZ First – but National broadly supports many of them as well.

Shaw’s main focus is on environmental issues, and ik think the same can be said of the other Green ministers, Julie Anne Genter and Eugenie Sage. I think that is reflected in the environmental balance here.

The social wins are important enough midwifery appears to be facing a crisis, and while relatively very modest the boost for youth mental health and for sexual abuse services are very worthwhile.

The welfare system review, something Turei championed, gets a kick the can down the road sort of pittance.

I think that Labour will have no problems with Greens getting credit for addressing the environment, but Jacinda Ardern has designs on things like being a ‘child poverty’ warrior herself.

The strong leaning towards environmental funding is a good thing for the Greens – I think many voters will support a lot of this.

How much Shaw can accentuate this versus Davidson’s strong preference for promoting social and socialist issues may play a big part in the Green’s next campaign and in their chances of surviving the threshold cut next election.

Good budget for the Greens

This was the first part that the Green Party has played a part in so it is understandably a big deal for them. They deserve credit for some achievements, like the biggest increase in DOC funding for many years.

James Shaw has been granted a $100 million Green Investment Fund.

This looks paltry beside the $1b per year Provincial Growth Fund that NZ First got out of Labour, but it is enough for Shaw to prove whether is right in thinking that a revolutionary Green economy can be seeded. If he starts well with what he has got then there could be scope for more.

I want to acknowledge the vision of my predecessor Dr who campaigned in 2011 and in 2014 for a state-owned, but fully commercial, Green Investment Fund.

It’s time for Shaw and the Greens to deliver on one of their most important policies.

Other Green gains have been relatively modest, but worthwhile nevertheless.

There is an additional $181.6 million in operational funding for conservation initiatives over the next four years. This funding will start to turn around the biodiversity crisis, where 82 per cent of native birds are threatened or at risk of extinction.

Shaw on farming initiatives:

Farmers & rural communities must be supported in the transition that New Zealand needs to make. So I am delighted that today’s Budget includes $15 million over the next four years for the Sustainable Farming Fund.

A lot of farmers are already taking great strides forward by reducing their environmental impact but at the same time improving their profitability. This is how we are investing in a Sustainable Economy. This is how we are investing in our future.

It’s good to see Shaw acknowledging that “a lot of farmers are already taking great strides forward by reducing their environmental impact”, but the sustainable farming funding is modest, like most of the green gains.

Not so modest have been the Green leaders. Shaw:

It makes me & my colleagues proud to be a part of this Government. To have had a hand in the development of this Budget – the Greens’ first Budget in Government. To be laying the foundations for a truly sustainable economy, a healthy environment & a fair society.

We support this Budget & stand ready to provide the ideas, & the vision, & the energy to build on it into the future. This Government is investing in a better, more resilient, more sustainable future for all New Zealanders, and for this beautiful land we call home.

Some good Green gains, but no real sign of “foundations for a truly sustainable economy, a healthy environment & a fair society”. Yet. There is a lot of work to be done. Green revolutions take time, especially when they are competing with NZ First for funds for their policies.

It looks like a good budget for the Greens, but nothing extraordinary.

No cost benefit analysis of oil and gas policy

Matthew Hooton is suggesting that James Shaw has done no Cost benefit Analysis of the Government’s oil and gas policy.

The response from James Shaw to an Official Information Act request:

Dear Matthew

I write regarding your Official Information Act request of 15 April 2018 for

all advice to you or other ministers from Treasury, MBIE, MfE or other relevant departments on the effect on New Zealand and global CO2 and CO2 equivalent emissions of the new oil and gas policy announced by the Government last week. This includes short-term, medium-term and long-term effects.

I have been advised verbally by MfE that not exploring for more oil and gas would prevent emissions from oil and gas rising any further than they would anyway if all known reserves of oil and gas are burnt. I cannot speak for other ministers.

It took over three weeks to effectively say ‘none’. What Shaw has responded with is vague verbal waffle.

More important is what Shaw doesn’t say – this indicates he received no advice on the short term, medium term or long term effects of the oil and gas policy announced by the Government last month.

This is what Shaw said after the oil and gas policy announcement:

The Green Party is heralding today’s announcement ending new fossil fuel exploration in New Zealand’s oceans as a massive step towards a stable climate and to protecting our marine life and beaches.

“The Green Party and thousands of New Zealanders have been working for decades towards this day and this decision – that fossil fuels are not our future,” said Green Party Co-leader James Shaw.

“Ending deep sea oil and gas exploration has long been a key goal of the Green Party and today, in Government, we’ve delivered on it.

“This is truly the nuclear free moment of our generation, and the beginning of a new and exciting future for Aotearoa New Zealand,” said Mr Shaw.

The Green Party have been working for decades towards this, however Shaw effectively admits he has received no advice from any Government department on the effect on New Zealand of the policy.


Levy on traditional vehicles may fund ‘freebate’ for electric vehicles

The Productivity Commission has put out a draft discussion document calling for drastic measures to shift from fossil fuels to clean electricity. One proposal, being promoted by climate change minister James Shaw, is to put a surcharge on new vehicles that rely on fossil fuels and use that to provide a ‘freebate’ to lower the price of electric vehicles.

RNZ: Fuel-car levy could subsidise electric vehicles – govt

In a draft discussion document, the Productivity Commission estimated carbon prices may need to be 12 times higher, up to $250 a tonne, to reach the government’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

That is a huge change in what is supposed to be a market.

It called for a shift from fossil-fuels to clean electricity and greater use of farmland for forestry and horticulture.

Green Party co-leader and Climate Change Minister James Shaw told Morning Report one option being looked at was the prohibitive cost of electric vehicles.

“So what the report is talking about is a freebate system where essentially we charge a price on – we put a levy on – fossil fuel vehicles and you use that revenue to subsidise electric vehicles.”

“What we all know right is that electric vehicles are a lot cheaper to run because they’re roughly about a third of the price per kilometre versus petrol, they’re a lot cheaper to maintain because they’ve got fewer moving parts, but the up-front cost of the vehicle is prohibitive.”

“If we continue to allow greenhouse gas emissions to increase, and we don’t invest in new technologies, and we don’t switch our car fleet and we don’t change how we do electricity, then yes they’re suggesting that there will be a bit of a shock to the economy.”

He said he did not know when such a change might be brought in, and it was just one of many options they were considering.

National is critical:

National’s transport spokesperson Jami-Lee Ross said the government should follow their lead and continue prioritising electric vehicles for the crown fleet.

Mr Ross said a levy would hit people at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum hard.

He said people who can only afford cheap secondhand Japanese imports would effectively be subsidising the cost of electric cars for the wealthier New Zealanders who can afford them.

That same argument applies in part to subsidies for home insulation and for installations of solar panels.

For vehicles this could be resolved by putting a big enough levy on fossil fuel driven vehicles to enable a full ‘freebate’ – giving electric vehicles to poor people for free. That would be popular, especially in the winter for those who are given a free handout to help pay power bills.

OffShaw shrilling overstates ‘great Green change’

In his latest newsletter James Shaw seems very happy about his party’s successes to date in Government, but he is overstating achievements a bit.

You got the Greens into Government and now you’re seeing the results.

This is what great green change looks like: No new drilling for fossil fuels in the oceans of Aotearoa!

I think that is inaccurate. There has been a ban on new offshore permits, but existing permits can still be used to drill new wells.

This is gigantic! Just the push back from oil companies alone proves how huge this is.

It may be big compared to green achievements in the past, but there is a lot of debate about what effect it will have in practice.

It will limit future exports of oil and gas, and local use of gas could be affected, but until practical large scale alternatives are found to fossil fuels for vehicles (including trains and planes) in particular New Zealand will have to keep importing oil.

And we could not have done it without you.

This campaign started decades ago and has taken the hard work of people, like you, who’ve participated in many different ways to support the stopping of fossil fuel extraction from our oceans.

For years we’ve shone a spotlight on the perils of the continued use of fossil fuels and its threat to our very existence. We know that the world cannot burn the 80% of the reserves we already know about if we are to have any hope of stopping catastrophic climate change. We know that our wellbeing and the wellbeing of our planet demand that we move to cleaner, lower emission ways of doing business and of living our lives.

The permit ban is a battle win, but the fossil fuel and climate change wars are far from over.

We’ve drawn a line in the sand. So now, not only are we taking climate action, but also our beaches, our whales and our Māui dolphins are much safer because of this decision.

I think that ‘much safer’ substantially also overstates the changes gained.

Shaw goes on the Ra Ra! the troops, with the inevitable pleas for donations, but if he oversells successes too often Green supporters may become jaded.

For the first time ever, we’re making the environment a major priority in transport. From now on, transport spending must focus on reducing climate pollution as well as other negative impacts on public health such as water quality.

And finally, no more taxpayer subsidies of large scale irrigation!

Cleaning up our rivers just got real! Thanks to our confidence and supply agreement, the Government is winding down taxpayer subsidies for large scale irrigation schemes that lead to over-intensive land-use.

Another massive win for the Greens and for you!

A lot of work was already being done on cleaning up waterways. A recent report showed that river quality has been improving over the last few years. More Green pressure will help, but a lot is happening regardless.

Perhaps loyal Green supporters will buy Shaw’s exaggerations, but most voters are more likely to be swayed to open their wallets by the Briscoe’s lady – who has toned down a lot lately.

In decades we may be able to look back on great Green change, but at this early stage it sounds like too much offShaw shrilling.

Ministers differ on banning coal

Megan Woods, the Minister of Energy and Resources, interviewed on Q&A this morning and was asked about the future use of oil and gas, and coal.

She gave an assurance they (the Government) “we have done no work on banning coal” and “there are no plans to do that”.

CORIN Where does coal sit in this? Will you ban future exploration of coal?

MEGAN Look, this isn’t a decision about coal; this is about block offers. And this is about offshore oil and gas.

CORIN This is important, though, because you need that coal, as we mentioned earlier, in terms of electricity supply in the event of a dry year. And the papers that were given in terms of the Greens’ questioning during the coalition was that if we didn’t have any more, if you stopped coal exploration, you’re talking 2028, there’d be no more coal.

MEGAN Look, one of the things that we are seeing, Huntly is transitioning to a gas peaking plant, away from using coal. Gas is about half the emissions of coal. But it still is half the emissions, so we’ve always said it’s part of the transition, gas. But I think one of the things that we need to be really clear on, that a transition is not status quo. The status quo is doing nothing, burying our heads in the sand and not having the long-term future-proofing plans for the economy. So we are absolutely accepting that gas will be used as part of that peaking.

CORIN I don’t mean to be rude – I just need an answer on coal. Is there a future for more exploration of coal?

MEGAN Oh, look, we have made no announcements about ending coal, and we certainly haven’t done any work.

CORIN Are you ruling out that you won’t ban coal exploration?

MEGAN Oh, we have done no work on banning coal.

MEGAN No, I’m not saying it’s a possibility at all. What I’m saying is there are no plans to do that. We haven’t done anything.

But this has been questioned: ‘Incredulous’ for Energy Minister to say no work on coal ban been done – National MP

Energy Minister Megan Woods says there’s been no work, plans or announcements around banning coal exploration yet Climate Change Minister James Shaw has signed New Zealand up to phasing out coal by 2030.

In November shortly after the Labour/NZ First/Greens government was formed, Shaw headed to Germany where he told the COP23 conference that New Zealand intends to become a leader in the global fight against climate change.

While there he signed New Zealand up to the international “Powering Past Coal” alliance, which is committed to phasing out the use of coal for electricity generation.

At COP23 Shaw said, “we know that the future of our electricity system is in renewables, not coal, so I was delighted we could recognise that formally at this important international meeting”.

NZH: Shaw to UN conference: NZ now a leader in climate change

At COP23, New Zealand has also signed up to the Powering Past Coal alliance, which is committed to phasing out the use of coal for electricity generation by 2030.

Shaw told the Herald New Zealand’s only coal-burning generators at Huntly are to be decommissioned by 2025.

“But symbolically it is really important, and the more countries that get in on it, the better.”

Newsroom: Our Inconvenient Truth: NZ will keep burning coal

Green party leader and Climate Change Minister James Shaw was unconcerned by the announcement when interviewed before question time on Wednesday.

“We want to get out of fossil fuels by 2035. I think the Genesis announcement is consistent with that,” he said.

He hoped that technological advances would help Genesis get out of fossil fuels before 2030.

Full interview:

Labour-Green oil and gas naivety questioned

The Government announcement last that no more off shore oil and gas exploration permits would be granted was celebrated by the Greens and their allies (like Greenpeace), but it hasn’t received wide support. Questions are being asked of the possible negative effects, and the lack of planning or substance on the transition from fossil fuels to alternative forms of energy.

Listener: Is the Govt’s ban on new oil and gas exploration brave or naive?

Just transition or heart over head?

The decision to stop issuing offshore oil and gas exploration permits was not pre-election policy. Although Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was musing privately months ago about the politics of such a move, it is barely a month since she broke from her formal programme to accept a petition from Greenpeace on the forecourt of Parliament.

Always with an eye to powerful imagery, Greenpeace backed the moment with pictures of history-changing Labour leaders of the past: Savage, Kirk, Lange and Clark. Ardern could enter that pantheon with a huge symbolic gesture designed to make real her claim that climate change is “this generation’s nuclear-free moment”.

She has done so, in a move that is at once measured and justifiable yet also naive and arguably cavalier with a major industry. No other country with a significant oil and gas industry has made such a decision.

…the naivety of the Government’s new policy is that it will not, of itself, reduce global carbon emissions, but could increase New Zealand’s if it leads to more coal use in the meantime.

It is disingenuous to claim that existing permits might sustain a healthy oil and gas sector until the 2040s. The fruitless hunt for major gas fields in the Great South Basin since the 1960s proves the point that exploration is expensive and usually unsuccessful.

But perhaps the biggest risk is the promise of a Government-led “transition” to new industries of the future. Airy ministerial talk of capital being redeployed to new activities is a carbon copy of Rogernomics-era rhetoric. Capital was redeployed, but not necessarily in New Zealand.

The Government is talking a big game on its ability to direct the emergence of such new industries, but its capacity to deliver this upside of transformative change is untested and the value of the industries it is disrupting is all too measurable.

While radical change was necessary then ‘Rogernomics’ was executed hurriedly with more hope or desperation than planning.

Tim Watkin takes the similarity with Rogernomics style reform-and-hope policies, as opposed to David Lange’s ‘anti-nuclear moment’ – Oil be alright. But has Labour learnt the wrong lesson from its past?

Jacinda Ardern has drawn on our national pride in New Zealand’s nuclear-free stance to rally support for her decision to end offshore oil drilling. But her announcement has echoes of Douglas and Prebble as much as Lange and Palmer

When Jacinda Ardern was asked to justify her government’s decision to stop issuing oil drilling permits forthwith she drew on a memory that sits deep in her party’s – and our country’s – soul. Our nuclear-free status. The decision for me, however, recalls another controversial move by that same fourth Labour government.

For Ardern and her team, so long out of government, it is a chance to do the sort of thing they expect Labour government’s to do. The moral thing. Policies that show vision and make the world a better place. What’s more, it shows leadership in the Pacific.

As with our nuclear-free policy, the decision to leave the oil where it is gives New Zealand the moral high ground, a sense of mission and it gets us noticed. It’s also similar in that it will also do next to nothing in the short term to change global behaviour or make the world safer.

Our nuclear-free stance has been largely symbolic, as will this stance be, unless or until the rest of the world follows suit.

Like Rogernomics, last week’s decision was announced with no real consultation and ruthless speed. There was no time for opponents to circle the tankers. Like Rogernomics, it moved Labour away from the safe centre and took it to the edge of mainstream politics. And like Rogernomics, they have shown no sign that they have planned for the consequences – forseeon or unforseen – of this policy.

Talk to members of the fourth Labour government today and few resile from the thrust of the economic reforms, but almost all wish they had done it differently. More slowly, with transition funding and re-training upfront. With more consultation. More commitment to not leaving some people on the scrapheap.

Sadly, there’s no sign this government has heeded that lesson. Not yet anyway. The announcement came with the zeal of the nuclear-free dream, but without the legwork. There was no transition fund announced. No plan to find new purposes for the people and their skills. No three year grace period, for example, in which the country’s fourth largest export-earning industry could start on what Greens co-leader James Shaw has promised will be a “gentle transition”.

One could forgive Shaw and the Greens for being naive, given their lack of experience in power. The same could be applied to Ardern – but as Prime Minister she should be better advised. She seems to have believed her lofty hype over leading a generational change on climate change.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the new Government was woefully unprepared for taking over. They have taken some quick and bold moves – like committing to major spending (handouts) for fee-free tertiary education – and leading the charge against climate change without any sign they know where this will take New Zealand economically.

But by embarking on this in a sudden, even sneaky, way and without a considered and consulted transition plan, it’s undermined the ‘what’ by buggering up the ‘how’. Labour has failed to learn from its own history. Or, at least, the part of its history Ardern says inspired this bold move. The question now is whether the government moves rapidly and with proper thought to live up to its promise of that “gentle transition”.

There is time for getting it right, or at least better and less risky, but there is no sign of this being recognised by the Government.

Another unlikely critic is Brian Fallow: Exploration ban a pointless, self-righteous policy

Resounding cheers greeted Jacinda Ardern and James Shaw when they went to Victoria University last Thursday to explain that morning’s announcement that no more offshore oil and gas exploration permits will be granted.

Gratifying to their ears, no doubt — but entirely undeserved.

This policy is self-righteous nimbyism, environmentally pointless, economically costly and politically counter-productive to the Government’s own agenda on climate change.

Tossing a trophy to the Green Party base, perhaps in the hope of reducing the risk that the Green vote gets wasted in 2020, smacks of ad hoc partisan politics as usual.

It is utterly at odds with the careful, consultative, consensus-seeking approach being pursued over the larger climate agenda.

James Shaw has set up a committee (according to National the 75th committee/group of this Government) to consult over climate change transition but as pointed out in Climate Change Committee announced, significant omissions this notably lacks direct representation from the key farmer and oil & gas industries.

Is there anyone in Labour capable of doing the hard work necessary to make such a transformative  policy work successfully without too many risks and adverse effects?

With Shaw in charge of the Climate Change ministry the only Labour MP (apart from Ardern) with related responsibilities is Megan Woods as Minister of Energy and Resources, and Minister of Science and Innovation, things that will be (or should be) a prominent part of the climate change/fossil fuel transition.

Climate Change Committee announced, significant omissions

James Shaw, Minister for Climate Change, has announced the members of the Interim Climate Change Committee. The members have a wide range of relevant experience, but notably there is no farmer or oil and gas industry or transport representation.

The Minister for Climate Change today announced the membership of the Interim Climate Change Committee, which will begin work on how New Zealand transitions to a net zero emissions economy by 2050.

“We need work to start now on how things like agriculture might enter into the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZETS), and we need planning now for the transition to 100 percent renewable electricity generation by 2035,” says James Shaw.

“The Interim Climate Change Committee will begin this important work until we have set up the independent Climate Change Commission under the Zero Carbon Act in May next year.

“The Interim Committee will consult with stakeholders and hand over its work and analysis to the Climate Change Commission,” Mr Shaw said.

Committee members have been chosen because of their expertise across key areas related to climate change: agriculture, agribusiness, climate change science and policy, resource economics and impacts, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, te reo me ona tikanga Māori and Māori interests, international competitiveness, and energy production and supply.

Dr David Prentice, the Interim Committee Chair, was most recently the CEO and Managing Director of infrastructure firm Opus International Consultants.

He led his company through the Global Financial Crisis and has a sound understanding of economics and international markets.

He is joined by Deputy Chair, Lisa Tumahai, who has significant governance experience and is Kaiwhakahaere of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. She is a person of significant mana and standing in the Māori community.

The committee members are:

  • Dr David Prentice, Interim Committee Chair
  • Lisa Tumahai, Deputy Chair
  • Dr Harry Clark, a New Zealand expert on agricultural greenhouse gas research
  • Dr Keith Turner, former CEO of Meridian and professional director
  • Dr Jan Wright, former Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment
  • Dr Suzi Kerr, an internationally renowned expert in the economics of climate change policy and emissions trading.

“If we want to help lead the world towards meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, we must create a moral mandate underpinned by decisive action at home to reduce our own emissions.

“Setting up the Interim Climate Change Committee is a great step in that direction,” says James Shaw.

Typical Green style gender balance with a significant Māori position. generally it seems a reasonable mix of experience – but notably, no farmer representative, and neither is there any representative from the oil and gas industry or from transport interests. I think these are major omissions.

What is the real oil and gas agenda?

There were many mixed messages around the announcement last week that no more offshore oil and gas exploration permits would be issued (while the current Governbment remains in power at least).

Gavin Shaw (editor of Energy News) writes of a possible agenda in A symbolic beheading of the oil and gas industry:

“We’ve stopped the rigs,” Green Party energy spokesperson Gareth Hughes said to his supporters.

I’m left to conclude that last week’s performance was less about climate change and more a choreographed demonstration of the anti-oil and gas agenda within parts of the Government.

Why remains a mystery, but at least we now know where Green Party Co-leader James Shaw really stands on the issue. Symbolic heads on pikes are more important than actual policy, apparently.

When Shaw spoke last week of moving to a “fossil fuel-free future” by 2050 I suspect he really believed just that.

No one in the world is predicting the end of hydrocarbon use – not the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change nor the International Energy Agency. We will use less for transport, but we will continue to need coal for making steel and oil and gas for all those handy products we use in our computers, aircraft, buses, trains, solar panels and wind turbines.

The IEA continues to call for increased exploration and production investment to meet rising transport demand and to displace coal currently used for power generation and making chemicals and fabrics.

With the global population forecast to increase by a third by 2050, the agency is concerned that supplies of all lower-emitting options are not increasing fast enough.

But Shaw and the Labour Cabinet don’t seem to care. Nor do they understand the role New Zealand – already an oil and methanol exporter – could play supplying those lower emitting products.

Worse than that, the Government appears actively determined that there should be no expansion of the industry here.

Why else would you ban onshore exploration except in Taranaki? Surely we should be looking for gas and geothermal resources on the South Island so that coal-dependent industry there has lower-emission options alongside wood and electrification?

Achieving real emission reductions is going to be complex. It will likely require industry- and regionally-specific interventions, some of which may be counter-intuitive.

Incoherent policy rambling, grandstanding and cherry-picked anecdotes won’t cut it.

So is the Government going to work with the oil and gas industry to utilise its skills to help reduce emissions?

Not yet apparently.

Were it actually focused on emissions reduction it might have allocated a bit more than the $150,000 it allocated for new energy initiatives among the $19.7 million it doled out in Taranaki earlier this month.

That’s a minor handout, and when compared to others:

  • $13.34m – Taranaki Crossing Experience.
  • $5m – Taranaki Cathedral restoration and upgrades.
  • $400,000  – SH43 business case.
  • $250,000 – hill country tree planting business guide.
  • $210,000 – Tapuae Roa support
  • $175,000  – regional ‘future food’ opportunities.
  • $100,000  – new energy development centre business case
  • $100,000 –  Māori enterprise and education (focus on science, technology, engineering, arts/design, mathematics, innovation, and digital).
  • $100,000  – ‘innovation precincts’ feasibility study.
  • $50,000  – H2 Taranaki.
  • $50,000 – Taranaki Future Foods Accelerator business case

That was announced the week before the oil and gas permit announcement. Not a lot of alternate energy funding there.

If the Government has an agenda to transition the country off fossil fuels then they need to treat alternatives seriously.

Not quite a ‘nuclear free’ moment on climate change

Jacinda Ardern ramped up climate change and fossil fuel debates this week when announcing a freeze on any more off-shore oil and gas exploration licenses. While she may have put the cart before the horseless carriage this is really just the beginning of ‘a conversation’ – aka consultation – on New Zealand’s future energy use.

Nadine Higgins: Jacinda’s ‘nuclear-free moment’ puts Government one step ahead of the public

On the campaign trail, Jacinda Ardern declared climate change was this generation’s “nuclear free” moment.

When her Government this week announced new offshore oil and gas exploration permits would no longer be granted, the pundits went further, asking, was this her nuclear-free moment?

But I think the answer is no, not quite.

I can’t be sure whether Jacinda smelt fossil fuels on anyone’s breath, but the clear difference is New Zealand’s opposition to nuclear weapons was driven by public opinion. Even as US relations were dealt a major blow, the majority still supported the Government drawing our nuclear-free line in the sand.

This line in the sand, however, appears to have been drawn before the public has caught up, if the outcry from oil-reliant regions, mayors, companies and motorists is anything to go by.

That feels like it’s all round the wrong way.

It is round the wrong way – it’s notable that the Greens have applauded the move while seeming to conveniently forget their commitment to sound democratic processes. It seems that if the cause is important enough (for the Greens) then due democratic process doesn’t matter.

I think this highlights an arrogance from the Greens – they think that their cause is so just that if they push it through the public will automatically support it and vote for them in hordes. That is not based on any history or facts.

So, the move away from reflectorship back to leadership is a little jarring, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

There have been many reforms that went against the tide of public opinion at the time but were later lauded as a seminal moment in history that happened not a minute too soon.

I think about the reform that legalised homosexuality in the 1980s and can’t believe it was ever illegal in my lifetime.

The Civil Union Bill in the 2000s drew thousands of protesters out into the street. Yet a little over a decade on, civil unions barely even rate a mention because of the passage of the Marriage Equality Act.

While important as social reforms they were on a far different scale to a massive move away from the fuels that the last century and more of progress has been built on.

It might not feel like it now, but we’ve got a bit of time to figure this out, and time to get the public on the right side of this history-making line in the sand.

I think Higgins is right here.

After making her announcement (with mixed messages, especially from Shane Jones) and getting an immediate and strtong reaction Ardern launched into damage control by sending Andrew Little to New Plymouth to try and win over people who had twice refused to vote him in as their MP.

There is time to get this right. Ardern has to step up and show leadership here, and that means more than regular photo ops.

This is a flagship change policy for the Green Party, so it’s important that they put aside their self righteousness and arrogance and engage in explanation and debate with the public rather than dictation, and indignation at any criticism.

James Shaw has championed climate change as his big thing. He beamed at the announcement on curbing exploration a few days ago.

Shaw needs to convinced his Green supporters that promoting their cause will be enhanced somewhat if they engage with the general population, and persuade their case rather than impose it. And they need to learn to not throw hissy fits if questioned or criticised – that’s not how good democracy functions.

And Shaw needs to make his case to the wider New Zealand audience, beyond his Green bubble.

With such a wide ranging change being promoted Greens need to widen their scope somewhat. I remember being disappointed before the 2014 election when Greens announced a solar energy subsidy policy. I asked them why they didn’t include energy conservation through subsidising double glazing retrofits, and they said it wasn’t their current focus. That was disappointing tunnel PR vision.

If Shaw and Ardern fail to get the public on their side their grand ambitions may fall over as soon as the 2020 election.

Good should come out of their push for more energy alternatives, but if they want to succeed with a major transformation in Kiwi attitudes and energy use they need to practice what they preach, transparency and sound democratic processes.

They have time to get it right, but the need to get it right, or their big aims will be put on hold or overturned by a grumpy bunch of voters.