16 Sep 2021

'I'm gutted, I didn't want to do it' - Shaw on climate plan delay

2:54 pm on 16 September 2021

The Climate Minister says the disruption caused by the Covid-19 lockdown is behind a five-month delay to its proposal to tackle the climate crisis, but an environmental campaigner claims that government agencies have also fallen far behind on creating the plan.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with Climate Change Minister James Shaw.

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Climate minister James Shaw yesterday announced that Cabinet agreed to delay the Emissions Reduction Plan until the end of May 2022.

Also yesterday, New Zealand was named and shamed in the Climate Action Tracker international report for its poor record on carbon emissions.

Shaw told Morning Report the lockdown has disrupted the public's ability to provide feedback on the plan.

"I'm gutted, I didn't want to do it, but ultimately we've got a third of the population under lockdown at the moment," he said.

"We've got a lot of the organisations, whether they're iwi organisations or businesses or community organisations, that are just trying to keep the lights on.

"Ultimately we thought if we try to conduct a consultation with the public under those conditions, then basically those people wouldn't be able to participate in the fullest.

Shaw said some meetings could be done digitally, but many people who are working from home are already facing an increased workload and conducting all consultations online is "quite a privileged position to come from."

Under the Zero Carbon Act, the final plan was due by the end of the year, but Shaw said it will now be released by the end of May, in line with the 2022 Budget. But he said that the framework for what the plan entails will be clear sooner.

"During the consultation in October you'll get a pretty good sense of the outline of the plan," he said.

Climate campaigner Dr Paul Winton, founder of the 1.5 Project, said there are good reasons to delay the plan, but the main one is what he called the "ineptitude" of government agencies to get started on the work.

"On first pass, it's obviously disappointing that one of the most important plans that New Zealand is going to come up over the next decade has been delayed, but if you reflect on what that actually is, it kind of makes sense.

"What this plan will do is effectively steer the strategy of the country in many regards out to 2035."

But Winton said that there's been a failure by government agencies to do what was needed.

"Unfortunately the agencies under the ministers simply have not done the legwork in advance of that to front-foot that plan. They started almost cold and as a result they had three months to craft a 15-year-plan.

"It's actually good that they have given themselves some more time that we can come up with a much better plan than something that is rushed."

Shaw is scheduled to travel in November to this year's United Nations Climate Change Conference - or COP26 - in Glasgow, Scotland.

He said New Zealand will be presenting some of its upgraded climate targets at Glasgow.

"Yes, we will. You've got to remember that the nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement, we were always going to go to Glasgow with an upgrade to that as well as a change to our commitment on what we call climate finance, which is essentially the support that developed countries are giving to developing countries to help with the transition."

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Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Winton said the government needs to start working with the public now to make clear what changes will be made to meet the demands of climate change.

"If we get this right, this should actually enhance living standards," he said, but added, "The government should be coming up with a concerted [public relations] campaign that's akin to what we're seeing in Covid now."

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared in 2018 that the world needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.

Winton said there's been plenty of time to react to that report.

"That was written in concrete from two years ago. At that point those agencies should have scrambled, pulled together teams to come up with the bones of a plan of what that might look like.

"But unfortunately, if you listen carefully, there was the sounds of crickets chirping the previous couple of years until around April of this year.

"There's a lot of head-shaking going on around here. The word ineptitude was used and I think it is just staggering that agencies like Waka Kotahi Ministry of Transport and the like who are responsible for the bones of the plan around this have not front-footed this."

Winton said with New Zealand getting criticised for its slow action by groups like the Climate Action Tracker, it's important for Shaw to make a solid impression in Glasgow.

"There has been a global expectation that people come to the party with serious plans."

"On balance I think it's the right thing to delay this ... but it's a really, really bad look."

Shaw said New Zealand will live up to its commitments in crafting the Emissions Reduction Plan.

"I can't presuppose a Cabinet decision which hasn't happened yet but the Climate Change Commission gave us very clear guidance in May saying that our current targets under the Paris Agreement is inadequate for a 1.5 degree world and needs to be much much greater than 36 percent in order to be not just credible, but even scientifically valid."

"Cabinet is currently working through what the options are on that."

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