The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) has released a discussion document setting out the approach to greenhouse gases under the Resource Management Act. As at 31 December of this year, the bar to considering greenhouse gas emissions in the Resource Management Act 1991 will be lifted. This means that consent applicants will be required to address the greenhouse gases produced by their activities (and councils will be required to assess those greenhouse gas emissions).
The discussion document comprises:
- a proposed national environmental standard supported by a targeted national policy statement for the management of greenhouse gases from process heat; and
- a proposal for non-binding guidance on how greenhouse gases will be considered under the RMA more generally.
We outline the proposals in more detail below.
National direction on greenhouse gases from process heat
Process heat generates approximately 8% of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions. The plan to reduce those emissions will comprise:
banning new low and medium temperature coal boilers;
phasing out low and medium temperature coal boilers in existing sites by 2037 when consent renewals are applied for;
phasing out use of other fossil fuels (such as diesel and natural gas) by requiring a switch to less emission-intensive fuels (such as electricity) unless no economically or technically viable alternatives exist;
setting maximum consent durations to avoid locking in long term greenhouse gas emissions; and
requiring industrial sites above a threshold to have an emissions plan to encourage energy efficiency, best practice, and the transition to low-emission fuels.
At present, MfE is seeking feedback on whether these restrictions should apply to commercial sector space and water heating.
Despite MfE recognising the importance of a just transition, these changes will impact a range of process heat users and will require a shift from reliance on fossil fuels to electricity or biomass. This will have significant cost implications and could result in a disruption to operations.
National guidance on greenhouse gases from other activities
MfE is also seeking feedback on whether stakeholders support non-binding guidance on how greenhouse gas emissions from other types of activities will be considered under the amended RMA. This guidance will apply to both direct and indirect sources of greenhouse gases. The purpose of this guidance is to assist applicants and decision-makers on how greenhouse gas emissions will be considered under the RMA more generally. Specifically, the consultation document will guide decision-making across key sectors such as waste, forestry, agriculture, transport, and urban form.
This guidance will have significant implications for businesses that directly and indirectly emit greenhouse gases. The non-binding guidance is intended to 'fill the gap' by demonstrating how applicants and decision-makers should consider greenhouse gas effects until binding national direction is promulgated under the reformed resource management system. Given the uncertainty as to how the changes later this year will be applied, any additional guidance (taking into account feedback from stakeholders) will assist in clarifying how greenhouse gasses will be treated under the RMA more broadly.
Feedback being sought
Please let us know if you would like to discuss this with us further or would like any assistance in making a submission. Consultation closes on 20 May 2021.
This article is intended only to provide a summary of the subject covered. It does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. No person should act in reliance on any statement contained in this publication without first obtaining specific professional advice. If you require any advice or further information on the subject matter of this newsletter, please contact the partner/solicitor in the firm who normally advises you, or alternatively contact one of the partners listed below.