SUSTAINABILITY : How a Cleaner Air Policy can Make it Dirtier

For most New Zealand businesses their carbon footprint is mainly about vehicle use and air travel.
During the past 20 years the distance travelled by vehicles in New Zealand each year has more than doubled to 39.2 billion kilometres. Cars account for 84 percent of the travelling, and in the past six years the average age of our light vehicles (mainly our cars) has gone up from 11.9 to 12.4 years. The average engine size has also increased: 2.0 litres in 2000, 2.2 litres in 2006.
Oh dear.
Vehicle pollution is thought to be causing 500 premature deaths and costing taxpayers $800 million year in hospital bills and asthma treatment.
So the Government has decided to phase in new emissions standards for newly imported new and used petrol and diesel cars, starting this year. For example, this year the emissions standards for light petrol vehicles, which Japan applied in 2000-2002, will come into force.
Higher standards imposed since in Japan will apply here in 2013.
But ironically this bid to clear the air may in fact keep it dirtier for longer.
While used vehicle importers campaigned against the new controls, most Kiwis and business people don’t believe their claims that prices could go up by about $4000 on some vehicles as result.
In weighted ShapeNZ nationwide poll covering 1308 respondents (410 of them business decision makers), Kiwis say they are worried about air quality, think it is getting worse, believe claims that vehicle emissions are causing premature deaths and asthma, and support the new controls.
While car dealers’ views on the size of likely price rises are not believed, the most selected price rise figure resulting from new emissions standards was $1000 (chosen by 26 percent of all respondents and 19 percent of business people).
However, there is huge agreement that new emissions standards will put up the prices of newly imported and used vehicles and as result people with older high-emission vehicles will keep them longer.
Some 41 percent of business people mainly drive car 10 years old or older (Seven percent mainly drive cars 15 years old or older). Overall, 56 percent of Kiwis responding to ShapeNZ drive vehicle 10 years old or older.
So do they suspect or know their 10-year-old or older vehicle might be high-emission one?
Some 14 percent of business people say yes (18 percent of Kiwis overall). large number don’t know: 38 percent of business people, 43 percent of all respondents.
So will price rise make them less likely to replace their vehicles?
Some 48 percent of Kiwis and 36 percent of business people agree they’ll delay the trade-up because of the prospective price rise.
So their wallets win out over their major air quality and health concerns. Ironically we could have dirtier air as result of the clean air policy drive: the 10- to 15-year-old cars have another five to 10 years left in the fleet.
How to fix this?
Pay cash incentive to owners of 10- to 15-year-old vehicles to scrap them.
Do people agree?
Some 59 percent of Kiwis and 47 percent of business people say yes. Their most popular choice of incentive values is either $1000 or $4000. There may be votes in it: 17 percent of Labour voters suspect they have high-emission 10- to 15-year-old car, 10 percent of National voters and 23 percent of Maori party voters, compared with 18 percent of the total New Zealand sample. Even one in 10 Green voters fesses up to mainly running 10-year-old or older high-emission vehicle.
Ironically the “caring” community service occupations are the worst air pollution “offenders”: By occupation group, police, nurses, teachers and other service workers lead the way in suspecting or confessing to mainly using middle-aged polluter (22 percent), followed by homemakers (17 percent) and clerical sales people (16 percent). Business proprietors and self-employed are at 11 percent and professionals and senior government officials at 12 percent.
What this shows is that if you care you still need to be able to afford the better alternative.
There is overwhelming agreement that incentives are needed to clean up the fleet. It’s better to scrap the middle-aged portion of it, than let them pollute for another decade or more, or pay fee to scrap the cars already near the end of their lives.
Treasury has rules for assessing the community costs and benefits of new policies.
A rule run over this one could show the health and energy savings will far outweigh the cost of paying incentives for three years or so.

Peter Neilson is chief executive of the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development.

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