Of the many challenges we face, the climate crisis is the one that will shape the lives of our children and grandchildren the most.
On Wednesday I will release advice from the independent, science-led Climate Change Commission on the total amount of global warming pollution we must cut over the next 15 years.
The advice will also outline the pathway that this – and all future Governments – must follow to build a low emissions future for Aotearoa New Zealand. It’s a moment that I want our children and grandchildren to look back on as another milestone in our response to the climate emergency.
Aotearoa New Zealand was already one of the first countries in the world to put the 1.5˚C global warming threshold into law. Not only this but, over the last three years, we have also overhauled the Emissions Trading Scheme and put a sinking lid on emissions for the first time; we’ve ended new offshore oil and gas exploration; and become the first country in the world to introduce a law that would require large financial firms to report on climate change.
We have also made significant investments in Aotearoa New Zealand’s low-carbon future, including public transport and major cycling projects. We have introduced vehicle emissions standards for new imports for the first time in New Zealand history; brought back the mandate to include biofuels in the petrol we’ll still use in our cars for years to come; invested in electric vehicle charging infrastructure around the country; and led by example by starting to replace the entire government fleet with zero-emission vehicles.
We have also started replacing our own coal boilers in our schools, hospitals and universities with clean alternatives; declared a Climate Emergency; and committed the public service to carbon neutrality by 2025.
We have published a climate change curriculum resources for schools; increased subsidies for home insulation; started the Building for Climate Change programme to cut emissions from building and construction; and made Greenstar 6 the minimum build standard for all new state homes.
Aotearoa New Zealand has also become the first country in the world to legislate for a price on agricultural emissions, and we’re currently building the world’s only farm level emissions measurement, management and pricing system. We have also started planting one billion trees and invested $1.2 billion in Jobs for Nature, creating permanent carbon sinks all over New Zealand; set up a new energy research centre in Taranaki to kick-start the hydrogen economy; and helped businesses to switch to clean energy with the Government Investment in Decarbonising Industry fund.
We have also doubled our climate change related aid to the Pacific and working harder than ever to ensure our Pacific neighbours can build climate resilience and adapt to the impacts of climate change that we know we cannot avoid.
In short, we have done more to fight the climate crisis in the last three and a half years than the combined efforts of governments over the last three and a half decades.
Even so, I am expecting the Climate Change Commission’s advice to say that we need to do more. For we are yet to see a sustained decline in the pollution we put into the atmosphere. And even when we do, we need to ensure that decline continues and, in fact, picks up pace, every year until we hit net-zero.
The Commission’s advice will no doubt say that this is possible, but only if we act now.
Today’s young people are growing up in a world that will be profoundly altered by the choices we make over the next few years. They are looking at us, wondering if we have the courage to step up, to meet this moment with the urgency it demands.
If we fail them, we will not be forgiven.
For the responsibility of change doesn’t fall on the shoulders of young people who did not cause this crisis. It falls on us.
Of course, had the transition started 30 years ago, the necessary pace of emission reductions would have been more gradual. There would still have been the same need for rapid, coordinated action across every part of government, but it could have happened over a longer timeframe.
But, as has been well documented, that’s not what happened. And so here we are, in power at the last possible moment before the window of opportunity closes forever.
The release of the Commission’s advice on Wednesday will mark a significant moment for the future of Aotearoa New Zealand. What we do with it will determine the quality of life for millions of people – not just for the next few years, but for the generations to come.
When the Commission’s draft advice was published for consultation in January, I said I had never felt more confident that a climate-friendly, prosperous future for New Zealand was within reach. That’s because of the legislative and institutional framework we had in place and the roadmap the Commission provided at the time.
Based on what I have read of the Commission’s final advice so far, I am confident that I will still feel the same on Wednesday. But I am also expecting the Commission to spell out that building this future will require urgent action across a range of areas, including energy, transport, waste, agriculture, construction and financial services.
The first chance we will have to show that we are equal to this challenge will come immediately after the Commission’s advice has been released when work will begin on an Emissions Reduction Plan setting out how we will meet our climate targets.
Every part of the Government will need to come to the table and commit to urgent action to bring down emissions in their sector.
If we can do that, then we can reverse the current trend and finally bring emissions down in line with what science requires. Put simply, from now on, nearly every Minister will need to think of themselves as a Climate Change Minister.
The Emissions Reduction Plan will be an opportunity for us to open the door onto something new, something better for Aotearoa. T
he Commission’s final advice will no doubt show that this low carbon future is possible, the question will be whether we have the courage to step outside; to find the space we need to rethink the way we do things; to build a future that is more equitable, more prosperous, and more innovative – and all within planetary limits.
And so, when the Commission’s advice is released on Wednesday let’s take a moment to celebrate what we have achieved so far, and then let’s get to work.
• James Shaw is Minister of Climate Change – Minita Take Āhuarangi and Associate Minister for the Environment (Biodiversity) – Minita Tuarua mō te Taiao (Rerenga Rauropi).
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