19 May 2021

Climate activists hold low expectations for budget's climate focus

8:25 am on 19 May 2021

Climate activists are laying out their climate wishlists but are bracing themselves for disappointment from tomorrow's Budget.

Climatologist James Renwick has won the 2018 Prime Minister's Science Communication Award.

Climate scientist James Renwick says the window for action is closing fast. Photo: Supplied

They say that while the need for action to lower emissions and tackle climate change has never been greater, they doubt the government will step up.

It is being pitched as a Covid-19 recovery budget, as the world starts to emerge from 16 months focussed on battling the virus.

Victoria University climate scientist James Renwick said the window for climate action was closing fast.

"Forget 10 years to sort emissions it's really only 18 months.

"It's this period last year and this year where governments are making investments, we've got to get that right - the pressure is on."

Greenpeace climate change campaigner Amanda Larsson said the government needed to stump up serious money to help farmers cut emissions.

"We at Greenpeace have called for a $1 billion investment, which would include things like building necessary infrastructure, for example: new plant-based food factories and compost facilities.

"But also providing grant funding for farmers to take up regenerative techniques, for example: agroforestry."

Larsson said the cost of borrowing has never been lower, the government has a huge parliamentary majority and political mandate - now's the time for action.

Forest and Bird chief executive Kevin Hague said he wanted to see pest control massively ramped up.

"Not only because we have forests that are collapsing and so many species on the verge of extinction, but also because our native forests play such a huge role in storing carbon.

"So making a difference there makes an immediate impact on our carbon emissions profile."

Kevin Hague is leaving Parliament to head Forest and Bird.

Forest and Bird chief executive Kevin Hague. Photo: RNZ / Demelza Leslie

Hague said, after years of government dithering, he wanted money for cameras on commercial fishing boats, and for Labour to fulfil its promise to fund the fight against kauri dieback.

Transport is responsible for 47 percent of New Zealand's CO2 emissions.

Dr Paul Winton from the 1Point5 Project said the last thing the country needed was more large roading projects to be announced, instead more money should go into public transport and walking and cycling infrastructure.

Young Wellington councillor and climate portfolio holder Tamatha Paul said more money for public transport was crucial given how much young people and Māor rely on it.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said a focus of this Budget would be securing a "just transition" to a low emissions economy - making sure the change does not disproportionally hurt some groups.

To this end, Paul wanted the government to commit money to helping Māori move from working in carbon intensive industries like agriculture and logging, and into green jobs around waterways.

"I'd like to see more money put towards cleaning those up and planting around there and again creating more job opportunities for whānau."

Jason Boberg from disability climate justice network SustainedAbility said disabled people, Māori, Pacific and other marginalised groups will be the worst affected by climate climate.

He wanted funding set aside for an independent monitoring body to scrutinise climate decisions to ensure disabled people's voices and needs are leading the programme.

"Making sure that we have an approach of zero ableism in our planning as much as we have zero carbon."

Robertson said climate change was one of three core government priorities that include housing affordability child wellbeing.

It has even set up a special government unit to make sure it is following through on its promises in these areas.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw told RNZ earlier this week to expect both small and large climate announcements come Thursday - but also put a dampener expectations.

He said the government was still waiting for the Climate Change Commission's climate roadmap, due at the end of the month, and substantial funding would not be allocated until next year and beyond.

Hague said, in that case, the government should put aside a big pot of money for climate, similar to in last year's Budget when it stashed $20b for future Covid-recovery spending.

"Fill in the specifics when that final advice from the Commission is received.

"There is not an excuse to delay for a further year before the government takes definitive action."

Generation Zero spokesperson Adam Currie said the budget presented an opportunity to create clean, living wage jobs.

"The budget should finance getting the public sector off coal, paying all workers the living wage, supporting regenerative agriculture, building clean infrastructure and making it cheaper and more accessible - ideally free."

"We urgently need mass investment in public and active transport, and an end to funding roads to nowhere.

"The transport projects that this budget initiates will take years to construct and have impacts for decades to come - we need to properly fund the low-carbon transport projects our country so desperately needs. New Zealanders deserve accessible, clean options to get to the places they work, learn and play - this budget must fulfill the government's commitment to 'build back better'."

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