23 Apr 2020

Can New Zealand's climate policy survive Covid-19?

From Nine To Noon, 9:09 am on 23 April 2020

The country's economic rebuild must deliver a more climate-friendly New Zealand than it currently is, Climate Change Minister James Shaw says.

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Photo: RNZ, 123 RF

Shaw has also asked the Climate Change Commission to review the plan to ensure New Zealand adheres to the Paris Agreement to limit global warming.

He said there was a risk, in a bid to quickly green light "shovel-ready" projects, that countries rush into stimulative spending without ensuring they are in line with the bigger picture: the goal of reducing emissions.

"We can make choices about how to create employment, rebuild industries, rebuild our export markets, and so on, in a way that serves that longer-term view, not just the immediate response. And I have to say my colleagues in the government are thinking that way," Shaw said.

He expected some countries, especially developing ones, may backtrack on their environmental progress.

While admitting the progress against the Paris Agreement hasn't been "in the best of shape" internationally, he doesn't expect the agreement to collapse.

"I think frankly many developing countries who don't have the kind of health systems to cope with the crisis will find it very difficult to maintain momentum. 

"But if you look at other countries in the world - South Korea, the UK, the EU at large, Costa Rica and others - have said exactly what I'm saying: that they want Covid recovery to be directed to help us create a vibrant economy and society, but one that's at the same time more sustainable and lower emission than the one we've got at the moment."

Shaw said there's been a historical narrative that the economy and the environment were opposing forces, and that countries could only have one or the other, which he rejected.

"Actually in a number of cases you get optimal outcomes by combining those things together - not treating them as trade-offs, but actually there's a synthesis of those whereby focusing on creating good outcomes you actually get the best of both."

He has also asked the independent Climate Change Commission to review New Zealand's plans to address climate change to ensure it will meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.

New Zealand's committed to an average 30 percent reduction on 2005 emission levels over the 2021/30 period. Shaw said the country was not on track to reach it with the current settings.