James Shaw responds after Greta Thunberg calls out NZ over lack of climate change action

Greta Thunberg has taken aim at New Zealand for what she saw as the Government’s lack of action on climate change.

In early December, Parliament officially declared a climate emergency in New Zealand – a move Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called an “acknowledgment of the next generation”.

It was a “declaration based on science”, Ardern told MPs on December 2.

But the response has irked environmental activist Thunberg, with the 17-year-old commenting in an opinion piece that described the declaration as virtue signalling with little substance.

She tweeted a line from Newsroom’s comment piece, which said: “In other words, the Government has just committed to reducing less than 1 per cent of the country’s emissions by 2025.

She then added her own response, saying New Zealand’s lack of response is “nothing unique to any nation”.

“Text explaining New Zealand’s so-called climate emergency declaration. This is of course nothing unique to any nation. #FightFor1Point5.”

Climate Change Minister James Shaw has since responded to Thunberg’s dig, saying she is only pointing out what we already know while agreeing the declaration is only just a starting point of New Zealand’s climate response.

“Greta Thunberg is essentially pointing out what we already know: that we have a long way to go to narrow the gap between what our emissions are right now, and what they need to be in the future.

“We are working on this as quickly as we can and the declaration of a climate emergency is actually helping – because now every part of government is clear that action to cut emissions is a priority.

“This is what climate emergency declaration should do. It is not an end in itself, rather it signals our intent to do everything we can to tackle the climate crisis and build a better, safer future for our kids and grandkids.

“Over the next 12 months, we will agree the first three emissions budgets required under the Zero Carbon Act, publish an emissions reduction plan to meet these budgets, consider updating New Zealand’s target under the Paris Agreement, and adopt a plan to meet our international obligations for the period 2021-2030.

“Work is underway on each of these and together they will ensure we are playing our part to cut global emissions in half by 2030.”

In the comment piece for Newsroom, Marc Daalder argues “the declaration of a climate emergency is just virtue signalling if it isn’t backed up by immediate, radical action to reduce emissions”.

He goes on to say “the Government has just committed to reducing less than 1 per cent of the country’s emissions by 2025”.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends countries reduce emissions to 45 per cent below 2010 levels by 2030.

New Zealand’s net emissions will be just 6 per cent below 2010 levels according to Ministry for the Environment projections.

During the declaration announcement, Ardern mentioned a suite of new measures in a bid to curb climate change.

The Government now requires all its agencies and ministries to exclusively buy electric vehicles and will mandate all public sector buildings to be up to a “green standard”.

This is part of the Government’s goal to make the entire public sector carbon neutral by 2025.

“It is up to us to make sure we demonstrate a plan for action, and a reason for hope,” Ardern said – she was the one who moved the motion in the House.

She had previously said that simply declaring a climate emergency on its own wasn’t enough and it needed to be backed up with substance.

That was a sentiment shared by National, whose climate change spokesman Stuart Smith told MPs that Ardern’s motion was “nothing but virtue signalling”.

But Ardern argued that the policies announced by the Government today showed that the motion was not just empty words.

“Globally, we have entered an age of action,” she said, before calling on MPs to get on the “right side of history”.

New Zealand is the 33rd country in the world to declare a climate change emergency – it joins the likes of the UK and Ireland.

“It is up to us to make sure we demonstrate a plan for action, and a reason for hope,” Ardern said.

One of the ways she plans to do this is through the Government’s new electric-vehicle mandate.

It is a lofty goal – there are currently nearly 16,000 vehicles in the Government’s fleet.

The Government will dip into its $200 million State Sector Decarbonisation Fund to achieve this.

That money will also help pay for another target – phasing out coal boilers in its ministries and agencies.

There are roughly 200 coal-fired boilers currently heating water and buildings in the State Sector – the largest and most active will be phased out first.

National MP Nicola Willis said that there was no doubt in her mind: “Climate change is the greatest environmental challenge of our time.”

She said National was on board with the global mission to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But she said it was not clear just how declaring a climate change emergency would actually decrease global emissions.

“My suspicion,” she said in the House, “is that the Government intends this motion to distract New Zealanders from its incredibly poor track record on climate change.”

Climate Change Minister James Shaw has been approached for comment.

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