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Post date: Monday, 1 November 2021

The Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) – a guide for busy educators

By Rachel Bolstad

With so much Covid news coming at us every day, the Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) may not be high on many educators’ radar. You might be asking: 

  • What is the ERP?  

  • Why do I need to learn another acronym? 

  • What’s it got to do with education?  

As we've learned through NZCER's climate change research, climate policy can take a while to get your head around. 

In this post, I’ll explain what the ERP is, and why I think educators, students, and communities should take the opportunity to engage in shaping this important plan for our collective future.  

What is the ERP? 

The ERP is the Government’s plan for how Aotearoa New Zealand will reduce climate-changing emissions to meet our global climate action obligations under the Paris Agreement. It is supposed to present the policies, strategies, and plans that will deliver the greenhouse gas emissions reductions New Zealand needs to make, in order to achieve our national emissions budgets.  

A draft ERP discussion document is currently out for public consultation until November 24. It’s important to know that the ERP is already half a year behind its original schedule – it was originally meant to be done by the end of 2021. Covid delays have pushed this out, partly to enable sufficient public consultation and engagement. The ERP is now due to be finalised by May 2022, and “from June 2022, agencies and Ministers must be accountable for what it sets out”. (p.33) 

In climate action terms, any delays in plans and actions that bring us closer to our emissions-reduction goals are never great. But the delay gives us the time to engage now, to ensure a plan that will work. 

Didn’t I already give feedback on this earlier in the year? 

You may have given feedback to the Climate Change Commission, the independent body that prepared advice for the Government on how to shape Aotearoa New Zealand’s climate reduction planning. They issued their draft advice in February, and a final package of advice in May. If you gave them feedback, great! That means you’ve probably already done some thinking about how education can contribute to Aotearoa New Zealand’s climate goals. You’re in a great position to give feedback on the ERP. 

OK, so what’s in the ERP discussion document? 

The discussion document lays out our emissions budgets and starts to frame up processes for achieving them. It talks about strategies and plans to support change across some of the key sectors that need to reduce their emissions – transport, energy and industry, building and construction, agriculture, forestry, and so on. The ERP should also show lay out how these transitions will happen, and in particular, how this can be done in a way that is equitable, inclusive, and socially just – what is known in the literature as “just transition”.  

The ERP discussion document is clearly still quite incomplete, and a lot of the detailed planning seems to be missing. As noted on page 5: 

“…. we are not presenting a draft plan in full. We know there is still work to do to make sure we meet our emissions budgets, and we want to hear your ideas so we can make sure they inform the conversations underway across Government” 

There’s also a call to hear about what we – organisations, businesses, and communities – think we can do to support the transition to a low-carbon future: 

“We also want to hear about the part you will play in the transition – the steps your community can take…  and what you need from the Government to support these changes. You know your organisations best, and what can be achieved. Tell us what could be included in the final plan and what you need from us to make it happen” 

Does the ERP discussion document mention education? 

Education doesn’t have its own section, but education is mentioned 25 times.  

  • There are some high-level statements about: “strengthening … education systems to help people adapt to a low-emissions future” (p. 28) and “strengthening the responsiveness of the education system [to support an equitable transition]” (p. 28).  

  • There are a few specific indications about what kinds of education might be important for a climate-responsive transition. For example, “building knowledge and education on circular economy”“identifying skill needs and training options” (p.15), and “more effectively using the educational system to develop and prepare workers and the workforce to build for climate change” (p. 95).  

  • There is mention of the current work of “reforming the vocational education system, to ensure it’s better able to produce the skills that learners, employers and communities need” (p.29). 

  • Education and public awareness campaigns are signalled to support emissions-reducing behaviour changes, such as reducing food and garden waste and other forms of waste, saving energy, and changing our modes of transport.  

  • Page 47 lists a smattering of education resources, strategies, and programmes, some of which are aimed at the public or communities, some at sectors such as farming, and one resource aimed at school students. 

Schools are mentioned 13 times. 

  • Twelve of these are about school transport - strategies for making school transport healthier and greener, such as encouraging travel by bike, walking, and public transport, and equitable housing development to ensure that students are able go to schools near where they live. 

  • One reference talks about “kids going to schools heated by clean energy because of the work we are doing to replace coal boilers”. (p. 5) 

These statements are all…. fine. But I’ve seen a lot of documents like this, and I know it’s common for climate action policy statements to be liberally sprinkled with statements about education and training. Yet international studies show that the potential of the education sector to be a lever for transformational and equitable climate transition is almost always under-realised in national educational policy and strategy.[1] 

I think part of the problem is that climate transitions and emissions reduction come across as a technical, economic, scientific, and technological challenge. But the transition to a low-emissions future is also, to a huge extent, a social and cultural transition.  

The ERP discussion document is currently pretty light on some key issues, including how commitments to working in Te Tiriti partnership will work in practice. Pacific peoples and communities are also barely mentioned, and it’s not clear how they will be engaged in shaping and finalising this plan. Nor is it clear how working people and their unions will be involved. Children and young people receive a few mentions, but their roles in shaping and improving these plans – which will affect their futures deeply – are unclear. 

Our research, and many conversations with teachers, school leaders, and students who are deeply engaged with climate and sustainability action, shows that the education sector has so much to offer on the pathway to imagining and realising an equitable transition to a low-carbon future for Aotearoa New Zealand.  Young people and communities can be powerful sources for innovation and social change.  Educators and school leaders often have insights into the diverse needs and circumstances of communities.  

The ERP needs our input

I encourage you to connect with your existing networks in education to consider how you can help to ensure the education sector’s expectations, aspirations, and needs – and those of the learners and future generations we serve – are reflected in the ERP. 

If you're looking to kickstart  climate-conscious conversations in your school, take a look at some of our  2-page research briefings.



1. For example, see Marcia McKenzie (2021) Climate change education and communication in global review: tracking progress through national submissions to the UNFCCC Secretariat, Environmental Education Research, 27:5, 631-651, DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2021.1903838


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