MBIE on how emissions reductions targets interact with immigration policy





No, that blank space wasn’t a mistake.  It was the sum total of everything MBIE has written or commissioned (analysis, advice, research, or whatever), in the period since the start of 2014 on how the appropriate or optimal immigration policy for New Zealand might be affected by commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.     At the start of the period the government was considering what commitments to make under the then-forthcoming Paris climate accord.    For the last couple of years, those commitments have been firm policy.     As a reminder. this is how the Ministry for the Environment describes New Zealand’s commitments

New Zealand has recently formalised its first Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement to reduce its emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The Paris Agreement envisages all countries taking progressively ambitious emissions reduction targets beyond 2030. Countries are invited to formulate and communicate long-term low emission development strategies before 2020. The Government has previously notified a target for a 50 per cent reduction in New Zealand greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050.

In their recent annual stocktake, the Ministry for the Environment listed “a growing population” as the first item on their list of three particular challenges New Zealand faces in meeting the emissions reduction target.    It might not have been an issue had New Zealand chosen to specify its reduction target in per unit of GDP terms, as for example Chile did.  But instead we specified the target in terms of total reductions of emissions, and set a target for reductions that was similar to (say) that of the EU, even though our population growth rate is rapid, and the population of the EU isn’t increasing much at all.    As the Ministry for the Environment belatedly recognised, rapid population growth matters.   A large chunk even of New Zealand’s total emissions result directly from human activity (vehicles and power generation), and most of the remainder result from farm animals, with pastoral farming remaining by far the largest chunk of our export industries.

I say that the Ministry for the Environment seemed to recognise the point belatedly because I asked whether they had any analysis, research or advice on the implications of, say, our immigration policy –  which directly boosts the population, all else equal –  either before or since the government set the emissions reduction target.   Their response was on time and in full.  There was nothing at all that fitted the terms of my request.  I also included in my request whether they had raised the issue with MBIE, the government’s prime advisers on immigration policy.  They hadn’t, at all.

In parallel, I lodged a request with MBIE.    Had they perhaps thought, whether when the government was setting the emissions reduction target, or more recently when they were reviewing the residence approvals target, about the connection between  more people, and the adjustment costs of meeting the emissions reduction target.  At least in principle, it looked like one more reason why one might be cautious as to whether immigration policy was in fact likely to make New Zealanders as a whole better off.

MBIE took their time to reply, but they also replied in full.  There was nothing –  no analysis, no research, no advice or briefing to any of their ministers, no sign of any effort to flag the issue with Mfe and perhaps seek their input.  Nothing.

I’m not really sure whether to be surprised or not.   For all the rhetoric about “joined-up government” (one of the arguments for creating mega MBIE in the first place), there has never been much sign of it working well.   And for both departments there were probably sacred cows they didn’t want to touch.   Perhaps many of the MfE people are “true believers” who think the world might be a better place if we quickly moved to a carbon-free economy, regardless of the costs of doing so.  And MBIE seems to have plenty of immigration “true believers” who seem implicitly to believe –  even if they never attempt to demonstrate –  that the benefits from immigtration to New Zealand are so great that any issues around the emissions reduction target must be trivial at best, and not allowed to distract from the great project of a bigger New Zealand.

But, even allowing for all that, I’m enough of a naive and idealistic enough former public servant that in fact I am a little staggered that neither department had anything at all on the issue –  not so much as a discussion note by someone in one department or another willing to think just slightly out of the mainstream.    Perhaps it was just a response to the preferences of respective ministers –  the government after all appears to have a strong commitment to “big New Zealand” regardless of any other costs –  but even if that is the answer, it still looks like a significant failure of officialdom, which has a responsibility to point out uncomfortable tensions and costs, offering free and frank advice even (perhaps especially) when it might be unwelcome.

In earlier posts, various commenters struggled to see why the issue mattered.  It is pretty straightforward.  For all the optimism about new technologies, if they were already economic they’d already be being adopted.   Adjusting to substantially lower emissions is therefore almost certain to come at a real economic cost, and that cost will be greater the more the population pressures drive up the baseline level of emissions.  People will drive and fly, people will need/want electricity, goods need transporting and so on.   And New Zealanders demand for imports needs exports, and there is little sign yet of any systematic strong growth in the non natural resource based sectors.  Impose a heavier burden on those farm sectors –  which might be well-warranted on environmental grounds –  and it will undermine the competitiveness of those industries.  If we can’t keep selling as much stuff abroad, we can’t import as much.  Our living standards will be lower than otherwise.

If our population by 2030 was say 10 per cent lower than current immigration policy will make it, all else equal, we’d be much closer to meeting the emissions reduction commitment, and would need to impose fewer (inevitably costly) restrictions or intensified price signals to achieve the balance of the reduction target.   It is simple as this: when we use policy to import more people that means more intense pressure on all of us, and all emitting industries and activities than is otherwise necessary, to achieve the emissions reduction target the government has set itself.   That cost needs to be properly evaluated, in a robust assessment of whether the possible gains to New Zealanders from the immigration itself are large enough to outweigh the additional costs and burdens imposed via the given emissions reduction target.  At present, neither MBIE or ministers are able to (or even really attempt to) demonstrate such benefits at all.

When, in the privacy of closed seminar rooms (or even in ministerial offices), senior officials and their associates sit down to hardheadedly review immigration policy –  assuming, as I do, that this does happen on occasion –  the implications of our emissions reduction target really needs to begin to be factored into the discussions.  It is quite staggering, in a country with such an unusual immigration policy, that it has not happened until now.   It might be a question for the State Services Commissioner to look into: quite how did such significant departments overlook completely such a significant potential connection between two major areas of policy.



25 thoughts on “MBIE on how emissions reductions targets interact with immigration policy

  1. Talk about being suckered!

    Methinks the State Services Commissioner should have a quiet read of these articles, and then tell the government to stop wasting millions and millions of taxpayers hard-earned dollars on so-called climate science — especially a bunch of so-called scientists at NIWA.

    To understand what a gigantic hoax the claims of man-made global warming are, read the following articles, for which the following are the URLs:





    Liked by 1 person

  2. A United Nations report has identified the world’s rapidly growing herds of cattle as the greatest threat to the climate, forests and wildlife. And they are blamed for a host of other environmental crimes, from acid rain to the introduction of alien species, from producing deserts to creating dead zones in the oceans, from poisoning rivers and drinking water to destroying coral reefs.

    The 400-page report by the Food and Agricultural Organisation, entitled Livestock’s Long Shadow. Livestock are responsible for 18 per cent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together.



    • The exclusion of agriculture, the country’s biggest emitter, from emissions obligations will pass the financial burden of emissions onto other businesses and households.By favouring agriculture, which accounts for roughly half of New Zealand’s carbon emissions, the rest of New Zealand’s productive sector will shoulder agriculture’s share of the cost. At the same time, the farming sector is being further subsidised by centrally funding research to help reduce the sector’s carbon emissions. One sector of the economy is benefitting in two ways, while other productive sectors in the New Zealand economy have to pay for emissions without the research support.

      Click to access The-Paris-Agreement-February-2016.pdf


  3. Looking at the MBIE “Cimate Change Final Snapshot 2005-15”, it looks like there was no progress in reducing emissions from 2005-2015. That leaves only 13 years to generate a 30% fall in emissions by 2030. Taking it out of cattle farming would be perverse given than NH farming practices are far worse than ours – better to keep improving our farming practices with better microbes, precision fertiliser application etc.

    I reckon the low hanging fruit is in cars, starting this year with the Tesla 3. But that trend will take 20 years to ramp up and the old petrol cars will still be on the road 20 years.


    • I am still waiting for someone to actually demonstrate that Electric cars do actually have lower life cycle carbon emissions than a petrol powered car. If you look at total life cycle carbon cost, an old car (high mileage car) actually has a lower total carbon cost per KM. The batteries and typically materials are energy hogs compared to a plain steel chassis. A marine grown algae based fuel that was a drop in-replacement maybe a better bet given NZ’s position.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I think your argument is more based on the day to day electric battery recharge in that most countries are still heavily reliant on fossil fuels to generate electricity. However this is not true of NZ which is mostly hydro and thermal which makes the conversion to electrical having a much more significant impact in emmissions reduction. i do not think a tiny electric battery is any more a energy hog in its manufacture than normal batteries. Anyway building a battery is only a small component of an entire car so I think your concern is misdirected.


  4. I suggest this statement, “For all the optimism about new technologies, if they were already economic they’d already be being adopted” does not reflect the true situation.

    We know the fossil fuels industry continues to benefit by massive direct and indirect subsidies from governments and populations in general. Furthermore, that industry has devoted massive energy and sums of money to diverting the world away from the alternatives that are within our grasp, but prevented from flourishing by a level of self-interest that is best described as criminal. The strategies and tactics employed by those industries to protect their self-interest is extensively documented by Naomi Oreskes in her book, “Merchants of Doubt.”

    And governments the world over get in on the act by suppressing our civil liberties to permit their potentially catastrophic activities continue unabated, proving that democracy is only as good as the intellect of the median voter – depressingly, the mediocrity of governance over the last nine years is set to continue, according to the polls, proving my point.

    For all that, I, too, am dismayed by the lack of analysis on the issue of population and emissions growth by our public institutions.

    I find the 2016 report by the PCE, “Climate Change and the Environment”, very useful for charting the path forward, and both the 2016 and 2017 editions of Massy University Press “The New Zealand Land and Food Annual” are encouraging.

    I continue to feel that the potential for emissions reduction in New Zealand is so large that (variable) immigration flows pale in significance – but I could be wrong.


    • Luc: thanks for some useful sources; looks like more interesting reading. When this subject was raised a few weeks ago I tried to build a spreadsheet with the figure for 2005, the latest figures I could find (for 2015) and extrapolating to 2030.
      The simplest way of looking at the issue was to assume CO2e- emission was precisely proportional to population and that we would do nothing to change our lifestyles then in 2030 we would be hit by a large bill (it seemed to be about $10,000 per person).
      So we could send all our pensioners to live abroad and save the $14billion or we could increase our population by 30% and pay twice as much. I started to look in more detail and agriculture and specifically cows were half of the emissions so if the rest was people then a 30% increase in population would be only a 15% increase in emissions and therefore the $14billion would be $21billion.
      The problem was finding more information – is it a single lump sum in 203? with a regular annual charge thereafter? was the anticipated cost related to a fixed price for Mt CO2E- (Metric tonnes of Carbon Dioxide or equivalents) or will that vary? If we achieve a greater than 30% saving will we be earning Carbon Credits? Who will get our Carbon payments?
      I could not find answers so I’ve abandoned my lovely spreadsheet that attempts to calculate CO2 emissions from consumption of petroleum (using specific weights of Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen).
      When I asked this question elsewhere I was encouraged to look at a report “Net-Zero-in-New-Zealand-Summary-Report” by Vivid Economics. It was both rather intimidating and didn’t explain what we have actually signed up to. I’ve left it to another day but I did come to a similar conclusion to Luc “”the potential for emissions reduction in New Zealand is so large that (variable) immigration flows pale in significance – but I could be wrong””.

      Surely it should be possible to put a figure on the carbon footprint cost of a person and include it in the immigration fees and of course refund it to any Kiwis who live abroad for more than a year. I suspect it would not deter highly paid immigrants even with partner and children but it ought to be accounted for somewhere. Maybe make it a charge based on highest assumed cost in 2030 and refund it proportional to whatever savings we have made by then.


      • Easier to reduce the cow population to meet the emmissions target. With already a 50% reduction in milk prices the impact to our economy is near negligible and many farms not contributing to taxes due to the massive tax losses, i think the subsidies by taxpayers for emmissions by cows is just nonsense. Best that they pay their fair share. Better to have a booming tourism and international student market supported by foreign workers than more cows that benefit a few farmers income.


      • The whole shambles is a rort. A communist way of transferring wealth from the haves to the have not’s who end up wasting it anyway. NZ being a good example and Venezuela being the end result.


    • And Germany has days when it produces all its energy requirements from renewables. We don’t even need to get to 24/7 renewables to avert the worst.


    • 43% of all energy investment. Doesn’t it matter how long the form of electricity generation is designed to last? Thinking about power stations isn’t 50 years about normal (dams, coal and oil generation, wind, tidal, nuclear) with solar rather shorter but period still to be established. So another way of looking at it is 57% of our dirty energy will still be churning out Carbon in 2067?

      Conclusion the transition is too slow. Please prove me wrong I don’t like this conclusion.


  5. Livestock Numbers NZ from 1972 – 2015
    You cant tell me there is no GHG’s being generated in Auckland by all the immigrants

    Does not account for these

    Fox Glacier

    Fox Glacier – RNZ

    Must be the touristas

    Liked by 1 person

    • Or the 10 million cows bellowing methane gas every second of every day. Or the methane gas from the buried rotting corpses of the many millions of cruelly extracted baby calves from the 5 million mother dairy cow so she generates milk


  6. It is most unlikely this government would seek or care to receive officials’ advice on the impact of immigration on the cost of meeting our Paris commitments. The current importation of thousands of low skilled migrants is to serve the profits of employers. Any costs will be socialized onto the taxpayer.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. The Australian scientific advisor to Government was recently asked that if Australia wiped out all carbon emissions , what effect would it have on the worlds temperature.
    He answered , virtually nil.
    Australias’ supposed contribution in emissions is 1.3%.

    The whole thing is a hoax.


  8. NZ will deal with the obligation under Paris in the same way that every other country will (including the holier-than-thou Europeans): in 2028 we will simply default by changing the target to whatever has happened. There is no penalty for this under the Paris agreement. Consequently, MBIE are correct: there is no interaction between our immigration policy and our climate policy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, I suspect you are right but I can’t find a decent non-doctrinaire website that explains what we have signed up to.
      However the Europeans will find it easier – they can all buy French nuclear energy, they can increase usage of public transport because of their denser population, they have more electricity that can be converted from coal, oil and gas compared to our 20% and agriculture is less important to their economies.


  9. Of course, employers at the individual firm level can have a much more enthusiastic view of immigration because they don’t have to provide infrastructure, roads, waters, schools, hospitals, housing

    However, unless something is done fairly soon, the time is rapidly looming where employers will have to sweeten the pot (in Auckland) by providing subsidised housing. Already happening in the secondary school system


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