Emissions and immigration policy

Just listened to an RNZ interview with National’s climate change spokesman Todd Muller, around the silly question of whether or not a “climate emergency” should be declared.  Muller called it symbolism, but symbols have a place –  it is much worse than that, just empty feel-good virtue signalling  (whether or not you think our governments should be more aggressive in doing something to lower New Zealand emissions).

But Muller introduced his comments referring back to a sense as early as 1990 that something needed to be done.  And it reminded me of the single worst policy National and Labour have presided over for the last 30 years, in terms of boosting emissions from New Zealand: immigration policy.

New Zealand’s population in 1990 was about 3.3 million.  Today it is almost five million.  And here is a chart, using official data (which has some weaknesses, but the broad picture is reliable) of the cumulative inflow of non-New Zealand citizens since 1990.

PLT 2019

That data series was dumped last year, but you can add another 60000 or so people in the year since then.    Almost all of them needed explicit prior approval from New Zealand governments –  more than 1.1 million of them.

Over such a long period, the cumulative inflow becomes a little misleading.   It understates the impact.  Of course, over 30 years some of the migrants will have died, but many more will have had children (or even grandchildren).  Those children will (mostly) be New Zealand citizens, but that doesn’t change the fact that their presence –  and their emissions (resulting from their life and economic activity) – results from explicit immigration policy choices.

Those who are made uncomfortable by all this but simply wish to dismiss it will say “oh, but emissions and climate change are a global problem, and it doesn’t really matter where the people are”.  Strangely, this is not usually an argument the same people invoke when they favour (say) New Zealand oil and gas exploration bans, or other New Zealand specific actions that will have either no impact on global emissions, or only a trivial impact.

As you will no doubt recall, it is not as if New Zealand is already some low-emissions nirvana.  Per unit of GDP (average) emissions in New Zealand are among the very highest, and per capita (average) emissions are also in the top handful of OECD countries.    The typical migrant to New Zealand is not coming from a country that has higher emissions than we do.    Rather the reverse.  Of course, it isn’t easy to distinguish (empirically) the marginal and average emissions, but it is simply silly to suggest that the policy-driven rapid population growth has not had a material impact in boosting total New Zealand emissions –  migrants drive cars and fly, migrants live and work in buildings (that often use concrete), migrants have even helped maintain the economics of the dairy industry.  On a cross-country basis, I showed in an earlier post the largely unsurprising relationship betwen population growth and change in emissions over decades.  New Zealand’s experience was not an outlier (except perhaps in the sense of much faster –  policy-driven –  population growth, reflected in the emissions growth numbers.  If anything, and at the margin, New Zealand’s immigration policy has probably increased global emissions.

Of course, there would be a reasonable counter-argument to all this if it could be confidently shown that the high rates of immigration –  highest in the OECD for planned immigration of non-citizens over the period since, say, 1990 – had substantially boosted average productivity in New Zealand.  Then the additional emissions, and associated abatement costs (not small), would simply have to be weighed against the permanent gains in material living standards from the immigration itself.  But even the staunchest defenders of high –  or higher still – rates of immigration can’t show those sorts of productivity gains and (since demonstrating it would be a tall order) can’t even come up with a compelling narrative in which large productivity gains from immigration go hand in hand with the continued decline in our productivity performance relative to other advanced economies.

If the government (or the National Party) were serious about “doing our bit” (or just “being seen to do our bit”) about emissions and climate change, and if –  at the same time –  they really cared much about living standards of New Zealanders (‘wellbeing’ if you must), they would be taking immediate steps to cut permanent immigration approvals very substantially.  Not only would that lower population growth and emissions growth relatively directly, but it would result in a materially lower real exchange rate, which would greatly ease the burden on competitiveness that other anti-emissions measures are likely to impose over the next few years, would ease pressures on the domestic environment (and might even, thinking of my post earlier this week, ease the economic pressures on the dairy industry, while providing margins to deal directly with the environmental issues around that industry).

For the country as a whole –  New Zealanders –  it would be a win-win.   That isn’t to pretend there would not be some individual losers –  we’d need fewer houses, potentially developable land would be less valuable, and some industries (particularly non-tradables ones) that have come to rely on migrant labour would face some adjustments.  But, and lets face it, there is no sign the existing model –  in place in some form or another for several decades –  has worked well for the average New Zealander –  the productivity performance has been lamentable, and we’ve created a large rod for our own back on the emissions front.

But our political parties – every single one in Parliament, based on words and on their records in government –  would prefer to pretend otherwise, and keep on with the failed, corrosive, immigration policy, which hasn’t worked for us, is unlikely to ever do so (given our remoteness etc) and is so far out of step with what the bulk of advanced countries do.


44 thoughts on “Emissions and immigration policy

  1. I have to wonder, if it is so obvious that our immigration levels are not a good thing, is it possible that our politicians don’t also see it. If they can see it then way is it not something to be talked about and dealt with.

    My concern is they all know it is just a big ponzi scheme. They know the damage they are doing to our country. They just don’t care. All they need to do is hope that when it collapses they have either retired or are in opposition and can point the finger. So there are three year periods where they are in the firing line or safe. It is purely a numbers game and running the odds. A bit like a serious game of musical chairs but with dire consequences for the rest of us.

    Liked by 5 people

    • I think the most generous interpretation would have two dimensions:

      – there is a global elite/academic consensus that immigration is typically beneficial, to natives (the evidence for that claim is much weaker than it should be, but nonetheless it is the consensus). Little or none of it looks specifically at the case of a really remote resource-reliant economy like NZ.
      – most business and political people don’t think in macro terms at all. They think of the last individual constitutent etc they talked to. For many individual firms – everything else about the economy unchanged – immigration not only feels beneficial, but is beneficial (at current prices eg you could not run a rest home without immigrant labour). But thinking about economywide policy settings, you can’t just assume all else is constant, but the idea that cutting immigration might lower the exch rate, reduce the need for housebuilding, make NZ firms more competitive etc (even as wages for some sorts of jobs rise) is much harder to get your head around.

      (Leaving the charity behind) especially if you have no incentive to make the effort.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I was listening to one of Shane Jones Provincial Fund contractors. Maori chap complain on and on about not being able to get reliable NZ workers and have asked for the resignation of Ian’s Galloway for the slow approval of his much needed foreign worker visas in order to meet his planting targets under the billion tree planting programme.


  2. The failure of the “Knowledge Wave” (from the earlier post re the so called industry strategy) is nothing; now we have a government putting serious obstacles in our path to future prosperity: the hysterical overreaction to the Climate non emergency and a willingness to pull the rug out from under entire industries on the flimsiest ideological pretext. All of this is contributing to a general lack of confidence, within and without, in the direction of our country.
    This lot look to be taking their clues from the same “thought space” as the widely lambasted Green New Deal by the US Democrats: a cunning plan to close down large chunks of key industries and give everyone a bunch of free stuff. What could possibly go wrong!
    After all this wasted money, lost opportunities and needless worry, what happens when it’s finally realised the Climate Change King has got no clothes.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Successive governments have used large scale low-skilled immigration as a way to stimulate apparent economic growth during their terms of office. Bridges referred to the desirability of this approach only yesterday in fending off attacks on his position on the UN Migration Compact. Both major parties have in fact perpetrated a massive fraud on voters but it is these days very difficult to question the desirability of immigration without being accused of “xenophobia” or even latterly “white supremacy”. People are easily intimidated, especially when we now see the Police making housecalls on some who question particular aspects of immigration policy.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Actually it is more to do with large scale tourism that drives the large scale low skilled immigration. Not tge government. Government is too busy spending billions of tax payer dollars killing cows.


  4. “As for My people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them.” (Isaiah 3:12. 12)

    Isaiah didn’t seem to think this was an ideal situation in his day, and I’m inclined to the same view today. We have children lecturing us on the evils of climate change and demanding ‘action’, and while not wanting to make too much of the gender issue, I note that our PM is not opposed to declaring a ‘climate emergency’ for all of New Zealand.

    It’s difficult to express how truely daft this has become on just so many levels.

    While it is true that our agricultural sector pushes up our average greenhouse gas emissions per capita (making us one of the worst in the world) we are a net exporter of protein which helps to feed those people living in other geographies. This not withstanding, our emissions make up a mere 0.17% of all human induced greenhouse gas emissions, which makes up 3% of total emissions, which makes up 0.4% of the atmosphere.

    China on the other hand makes up 25% of all emissions. I understand they are bringing on stream two new coal fired power stations every month, and are on track to continue this process for the next 12 years. India is on a similar track, and why? They are taking electricity to hundreds of millions of people who don’t have it, and who currently rely upon cow dung as a major energy source.

    There might be a justice issue at work here, perhaps?

    Given the increasing demand for coal based energy globally, any actions we take to reduce emissions are truly meaningless in this context. We need to become a climate change follower, not a leader. If our government wants to do something, they might consider averaging the CO2 emission reductions achieved by the top five emitters globally, and then agreeing to match that locally.

    Our actions would still be meaningless, but the fiscal impact would be considerably less on all New Zealanders.

    And, if you think renewables are going to replace fossil fuel based energy sources then it’s time to think again. Globally renewables make a small percentage of the worlds energy demands, (less than 10%). They are unreliable, and need other forms of energy to provide a base load, and a complete backup capability when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. This has the effect of doubling the cost of electricity for those whose governments are committed to this agenda, while only marginally reducing CO2 emissions.

    Worst case, we do nothing, the planet warms a few degrees, food production increases, the sea level rises several centimetres by 2100 and we adapt, just like humans have always done.

    Is it too much to hope we might move on from this any time soon?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the apt quote from Isaiah. Any government seriously concerned about their country’s emissions would prioritize nuclear power. It would also be keen to explore the possibilities offered by gene editing for reducing agricultural emissions, but New Zealand is sadly hostage to ignorant ideologues who would rather impoverish the country for their beliefs.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Sorry NZ is a nuclear free zone. This is a David Lange legacy. Nuclear power is the first step towards nuclear arms which we have banned.


  5. Corruption is the inevitable consequence of migration by numbers – get used to it

    Just one example

    Adulterated Manuka Honey: Company and manager fined $370k for doctored mānuka products
    Note the use of the terms “adulterated and doctored” no mention of corruption


    Guy Trafford writing on Interest.co.nz refers to “deception” and “transformation” – unable to use “corruption”

    He says
    “Unfortunately, there are rumours of exporters of “New Zealand Pure” products who are exploiting New Zealand’s reputation and supposedly importing products from over seas at cheaper prices than the same products can be obtained locally, and then with very little ‘transformation’ re-exporting to markets prepared to pay a premium for “New Zealand” branded products”.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The power of the silencers

    Once upon a time Winston Peters and NZ First were advocacy champions of reducing migration

    He offered hope of draining the swamp – Now he has gone silent – they finally got to him


  7. No critical analysis has been carried out on the IPCC’s so called settled science – yet governments around the world are falling over themselves in virtue signaling. The evidence for human induced global warming is at the best circumstantial, i.e. slight warming, an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide and anthropogenic emissions, with the presumption that the emissions cause the increased CO2, which causes the warming. There are plenty of other explanations for atmospheric temperature and CO2 changes. Also anthropogenic emissions are only about 5% of total emissions from the biosphere, but are supposedly responsible for the total increase in atmospheric CO2. Some of IPCC’s other science is also very questionable e.g. conflating animal emissions with emissions sourced from fossil fuels. The animal emissions are part of a short term biological cycle, albeit with a short lived methane phase, but otherwise much the same as biofuels, yet are treated as gross emissions, unlike biofuels which are supposedly carbon neutral.
    To undertake the drastic changes proposed for the NZ economy, there needs to be a truly independent scientific inquiry – very difficult as the global warming cult is politically driven and there are very few if any independent scientists that would be brave enough to question the ruling paradigm.
    It was only a few years ago that the Greens were saying that NZ should not bow to the dictates of an international body – in this case the WTO. The tables have certainly turned.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thumbs up from me David. If you haven’t already please check out the study I linked above. I bet not one person in a thousand knows how greenhouse gases really work; and that includes the apparatchiks at the IPCC.


  8. For those who are interested in the climate change debate read my “The price of feeling good’ available at tailrisk.co.nz

    I am currently working on a submission on the Bill (titled – ‘A question of trust’ which is really a lengthy ‘fact check’ on the MfEs analysis in their various papers. the key take out is
    ‘The MfE has variously misrepresented, exaggerated, cherry picked, suppressed and fabricated evidence. Mindless mantras have substituted for hardheaded analysis. We found that the MfE cannot be trusted. The MfE might think that a few white lies, and shoddy analysis is acceptable in a good cause. The public needs to be jollied along, or frightened. We disagree’

    Liked by 5 people

  9. I’m happy to accept the scientific consensus on climate change (happening, human induced), glyphosphate (not cancer inducing), GMO (safe, particularly using CRISPR), molten salt nuclear power (safe, not contributing to nuclear weapon stockpiles), 1080 (necessary to protect birds at a macro level).
    That’s because the science is discoverable, replicate-able, peer reviewed, and at a level I can pretend to engage with, but not at the margins where the subtleties are actually important.

    If this government wants to make a real difference they can get rid of the restrictions on us being able to innovate our way into lowering emissions, like with GMO crops, volunteer to trial commercial-level molten salt nuclear reactors, and lower our immigration. The incentives (or even road blocks backed by tanks) are all messed up.

    I pity those who live in the fantasy land where NZ punches above its weight, is innovative and willing to try new things, when we’re more like Ivanka Trump, pretending we belong with the elite, but actually there because of what out fathers/grandfathers did, not on merit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is no scientific consensus on climate change.
      The IPCC is a fraud.
      Read Joanne Nova or Judith Curry, Climate Depot to get the real story for a start.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. The problem is the level of the debate. This article comes from the Dominiom Post
    and contains this paragraph:
    “”Immigration has always been a sensitive subject in this country, even though we take a small number of refugees compared with other nations, and our immigration policy is generally targeted at people who can bring desired skills, money or preferably both.””
    Actually immigration is not a sensitive subject in NZ when compared to other countries. But a useful discussion in a serious newpaper needs clarity not muddling refugees (we do not select them for their skills but for their need) and immigrants where an apologist for the last 30 years of NZ governments might claim we have been targeting skills and money.
    It fails to mention the recent doubling of the refugee quota which puts NZ in line with those OECD countries that take refugees (some do not). And fails to mention NZ taking more legal immigrants per capita than any other country over the last 30 years.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “our immigration policy is generally targeted at people who can bring desired skills, money or preferably both”. I especially liked this line. I had no idea that shelf stockers, booze outlet staff and waiters was such a desired skill these days. Perhaps they need to add training for these desirable jobs to our education system. As for the money part, show us your cash and we will give you a passport.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Except we now have to pay them at least $53,000 to manage stock shelves, booze outlet managers and supervising waiters. Same job just higher pay and better titles. Still need those foreign workers. Local Kiwis won’t work those jobs unfortunately.


      • GGS, regardless of what anyone considers (if that’s the right choice of word), if you are born here you can’t be “considered” a migrant or, to use the preferred racist dog whistle, colonist.

        Liked by 1 person

      • GGS: I’m sure that if I was a Maori I’d think everyone else is a migrant and I reckon I would be against increasing the number of them. But I’m not a Maori although distantly related by marriage to a couple.

        David: if you are born here nobody should consider you as a migrant but they do and often do so merely on appearance. Once I had a long conversation with a middle aged man who looked Samoan and eventually I asked him “I’m not a good judge – where are you from”, he replied “Samoan” but eventually I discovered that he was born in NZ over 40 years ago and he thought I was a born and bred Kiwi but I’d only arrived 10 years earlier.

        Both my grandchildren are Melanesian and born in Auckland and I hope and expect them to be accepted as New Zealanders for as long as they live here.


      • George, the Maori version of The Treaty of Waitangi is very clear on this. There is Maori and there is the Colonial British Crown. The NZ government in any dealings with Maori will not call itself the NZ government but will only self reference as The British Crown.


      • “Indeed, Maori does consider that 85% of NZ are migrants.” (GGS)
        I don’t believe it. You are not an immigrant if you are born in the country. On your logic, since almost all of those “85%” are part-Maori, part of their makeup is also “immigrant” so it would be a senseless claim, they have immigrant blood. And of course, going back further they were immigrants themselves who either slaughtered or assimilated those here before them. So the argument becomes silly.


      • Matt, actually I am just clarifying on behalf of Jett because it was clear it me that his comment “You are a migrant” is actually directed at Michael.


      • Matt, better believe it. It is the holy grail in the Treaty of Waitangi. There are only 2 recognised parties to this agreement, Maori and the Colonial British Crown. Therefore 85% of NZ are migrants since the Colonial British Crown is slowly being expunged from history. People of mixed ancestry with a percentage of Maori, as long as they are able to identify with a Maori Iwi, they are considered full Maori. All previously Colonial British names for locations throughout New Zealand are being slowly by surely expunged and replaced with their original Maori names, eg Mt Roskill is now Puketepapa, Even Colonial British statutes of heroes are now considered mass murderers and racists and slowly taken down and placed in the back rooms of museums.

        But for some strange reason, Auckland Council just put up a giant 5.8metre white pakeha striding boy in Potters Park in Mt Eden, which does run counter to the Maori name changing going around. For tourists it would look rather creepy. I would have expected a fierce Maori warrior for photo opportunities would make more sense.


    • There’s a very interesting article over on Quillette on immigration and the implications for liberal democracy and national sovereignty.
      ” Taking the long view, we may also note that this clash between extreme liberalism and democracy may well be destructive to both. Infringing on the ability of citizens to protect their hard-earned liberal rights is bound to hurt these very rights, since their only real guarantee is the fact that we can dismiss our governments and appoint their replacement. It also reduces citizens to subjects, because liberty without participation in sovereignty robs people of the most crucial right that democratic nation states have endowed them with: taking part in shaping their collective destiny. Without this most fundamental right, they cannot be, in the beautiful phrase of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, “masters of their own fate, in their own sovereign state.”


      • Watched John Campbells one sided reporting on TVNZ this morning. A long queue of fat overweight people claiming hardship allowances wearing $100 Nike and Adidas shoes with $150 Kathmandu jackets. How bad can John Campbells reporting actually get?

        Obviously people know what a soft touch this government is and are in queue for freebies. Stop this ludicrous blaming of private landlords who have to pass on the costs of the government not providing housing for the needy.


  11. I’m all for a stable or static population, where it replaces itself naturally (births) or by immigrants to balance it out. I’ve never noticed politicians ever opening up a discussion on why the population is rising and whether the citizens should actually have some say in this issue. Periodically over the last thirty years we hear reports of departures to Australia means more migrants are needed but none of that explains the steep growth in the graph Michael shows from 1990-2018. And they are not all milking cows either, look at the population of Auckland, which mirrors the growth curve. I agree if emissions are an issue to be addressed, zero population growth should be seriously considered and debated, and frankly I don’t care whether the billion trees are planted or not.


    • You forget to mention that 4 million tourists and 120,000 international students need to eat, sleep and be entertained in order to spend $15 billion every 12 months spending directly in the local NZ economy.


      • Unfortunately old people slow down, work less and require more assistance. The health services industry is growing at a accelerated rate each year. Services equate to more people when old folk are not dying.

        By 2036, it’s projected:

        Around one in 4.5 New Zealanders will be aged 65-plus
        That’s 1,258,500 million people
        It’s an additional 547,300 over 65’s, up from a total of 711,200 in 2016.
        Or a 77 per cent increase
        Contrast that with the under 14s:

        There will be 991,900 children by 2036
        It’s an extra 70,400 under 14s, up from 921,500 in 2016
        It represents only a 7.6 per cent increase


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