The above statistics are from findings in a survey Buddle Findlay conducted asking clients and contacts to share their thoughts on New Zealand’s decarbonisation status and asked input on what the priorities should be to move towards a low carbon economy.

Infrastructure is the backbone of a healthy economy; reliable infrastructure enables trade and delivers the utilities essential to business. It also provides the social assets essential for community wellbeing, such as schools, hospitals, and civic amenities.

As of September 2021, New Zealand's resident population is over five million, with half a million people added to the population since 2013. Unfortunately, our infrastructure and service provision has not kept pace with growth, so that New Zealand’s infrastructure deficit is now estimated to be $75 billion.

Increased infrastructure investment is seen as a lever to deliver economic stimulus, post-covid-19 and into the future. As of Budget 2021, the government has set aside $57.3 billion of Crown spending to address New Zealand’s deficit over the next five years, with a further $2.6 billion allocated for 150 shovel-ready projects.

There is now sense of urgency around climate change, particularly the bold decisions needed to decarbonise the economy and meet our international obligations.

Declaration of a climate emergency may have been largely symbolic, but the Zero Carbon Act sets clear emission reduction targets, to be detailed in the final Emissions Reduction Plan in May 2022. The goal is zero net carbon emissions by 2050.

By meeting these targets, we will be playing our part to limit global warming to 1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels.

The New Zealand Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990-2019 paints a stark picture of the challenge we face: between 1990 and 2019, New Zealand’s gross emissions have increased by 26 percent (17,189 kt CO2-e) with a noticeable increase in devastating weather events including floods and wildfires.

Abundance of analysis

There is no shortage of analysis and policy direction, both for the infrastructure gap and the decarbonisation challenge. Earlier this year, in May 2021, the Climate Change Commission delivered its Final Advice.

The subsequent Government response in the form of the Emissions Reduction Plan consultation document is out for consideration.

The Infrastructure Commission, Te Waihanga, has presented the Minister for Infrastructure a draft strategy for how infrastructure can support a thriving New Zealand. The Government Policy Statement on Land Transport 2021 confirms climate change as one of four strategic priorities; funding decisions on transport infrastructure are already being shaped by emissions-reduction commitments.

At the same time the Government has embarked on an ambitious programme of resource management law reform, following on from the Resource Management Review Panel Report in July 2020. Three new statutes are promised by the end of 2022.

These include a Climate Change Adaptation Act and a Strategic Planning Act, which seeks to place infrastructure planning at the heart of the resource management process. Submissions were recently heard by the Environment Select Committee on the Natural and Built Environments Bill exposure draft of the purpose and key principles sections.

How to navigate these blustery winds of change with resilience and agility? 

Build back better

At the APEC meeting in July 2021, leaders from across the Asia-Pacific region recognised that if individual economies make smart decisions in dealing with the impact of the pandemic, there is potential for the region to emerge from this crisis with more inclusive and digitally enabled economies, better infrastructure, and improved prospects available to all its citizens, regardless of age, race, gender, or economic and social standing.

We have a rare opportunity to align significant public investment with urgent public need.

To that end, I asked our teams at Buddle Findlay to take a step back, put ourselves in your shoes and ask the following question: what do you need to know today to make decisions that commit capital and resources for the future?

In the finished report, which you can read here, we discuss the challenges of the existing regulatory framework, Three Waters reform, taxation and decarbonisation, the need for innovation in green and sustainable funding options, trends in construction contracts to address carbon requirements; the changing climate disclosure regime, and how to adapt if your assets are located on the coast as sea levels rise.

In summary, the pathway to delivering the infrastructure we need and achieving our climate goals is in a state of change, lacks definition, is sometimes contradictory, often slow, and frequently harder to navigate than it should be.

While we can all have further input to clarify the policies and legislation (and we all should), the challenge is clear, time is short, and regardless of the odds we need to act.

View Buddle Findlay’s Delivering Low Carbon Infrastructure report here.

Buddle Findlay is one of New Zealand’s leading commercial and public law firms, with offices in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, and a global reach of contacts and experience. Buddle Findlay are known for strong focus on collaboration and building strategic and enduring relationships with a practical approach, allowing them to provide balanced advice within a broader commercial context and bring strategic thinking to legal problems.