Parliament has officially declared a climate emergency in New Zealand – a move Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called an “acknowledgement of the next generation”.
It was a “declaration based on science,” she told MPs in the House this afternoon.
After she moved the motion – which was opposed by National and Act, but supported by the Greens and the Māori Party – Ardern announced 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 move 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.
Government agencies will now be required to “optimise their car fleet” by purchasing electric vehicles or hybrids, when EVs are not appropriate for the required use, such as for some military purposes.
To pay for this, the Government will dip into its $200 million State Sector Decarbonisation Fund.
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 opposed the motion – leader Judith Collins did not speak in reply to the motion and left the chamber halfway through the debate.
But 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.”
Act was similarly critical – “Today’s climate emergency was a triumph for post-rational politics with feelings rather than facts driving the Government’s response to climate change”.
The motion in the House passed by 76 votes to 43 – the Greens, perhaps unsurprisingly, supported the motion.
”We are saying this is an emergency that has a level of equivalence to any Civil Defence emergency,” Greens co-leader James Shaw said.
The declaration was supported by the Council of Trade Unions – its president Richard Wagstaff said it signalled a more urgent move to a Just Transition for people working in carbon-based industries.
Greenpeace said the motion was a “win for people power”, but is challenging Ardern and her Government to follow through quickly with policy and action to cut New Zealand’s climate pollution.