21 Sep 2021

Shaw says COP26 conference most important since Paris Agreement

6:59 pm on 21 September 2021

Climate Minister James Shaw's trip to the COP26 conference and his delegation's use of MIQ spaces upon their return is again being criticised by the opposition.

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Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has strongly backed the move and specifically set aside places for the group in MIQ, but that decision is also under fire.

The annual conference is being held for the 26th time this year, in Glasgow, after it was cancelled last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

ACT leader David Seymour has previously taken Shaw to task over the trip, and returned to the topic today.

"He said he doesn't want to go to COP26, I think he should take his own advice and not go to Glasgow ... he's actually flying into a Covid hotspot boots and all and facing a Scottish pack which is ridden with Covid," Seymour said.

Seymour said that after 25 such conferences, he did not believe the value of New Zealand attending was worth the risk.

"I don't think the benefits of New Zealand being at the 26th Conference of Parties is going to outweigh the costs of our very very scarce MIQ space, especially if you're taking nine - or is it 15 - people over there.

Act leader David Seymour

Act leader David Seymour Photo: Rob Dixon

"I think it's far too dangerous and let's face it there's been 26 of these COP conferences, if the first 25 didn't solve the problem why does he think this one will do it?

"Captain planet was a hero but James Shaw sadly is not taking pollution down to zero, he's actually raising it by flying over there and potentially bringing Covid back to boot."

COP26 organisers announced today that more than 100 heads of government had confirmed they would attend, making it the largest political gathering the UK had ever hosted.

Shaw, who is also co-leader of the Green Party, stood by the decision saying it was probably the most important climate change conference since the Paris Agreement.

"The conference of the Parties is an annual conference that's trying to design, essentially, a global governance regime to transition our global economy to a net zero economy over the course of the next 30 years," he said.

"New Zealand is one of the countries that takes a very strong stand on things like transparency, environmental integrity, and so on. And there are a lot of countries who are represented in those negotiating rooms who take a different view so if we are not represented at those talks then generally the weight of the conversation - it could go the other way."

He said he was taking nine diplomats with him, and there may be more in the extended delegation including some based overseas.

"This set of negotiaions is two weeks long, I'm going for the second week, our negotiation team will be there for the whole time, they work approximately 16 to 20 hours a day; there are 30 negotiation rooms in parallel and so even with a delegation of nine we are not going to be able to cover all of the issues that are being negotiated.

"Ultimately there is a pandemic on, this is the smallest delegation that we're taking for many years, it's smaller than the delegations that the national government took to the conference, ever."

He was dismissive of Seymour's concerns and said he was "aware" he would face criticism either way.

"I think of all of the issues to do with climate change, the fact that this is the one that's managed to get the opposition's attention is ironic ... I honestly don't care what David Seymour thinks."

"This conference is probably the most important since the Paris Agreement, and that's because the scale of what countries have put up in terms of their ambition does not yet meet the requirement of staying within 1.5 degrees of global warming."

National Party climate spokesperson turned the criticism on Ardern however, saying her allocation of 10 rooms for the delegation broke the government's own rules for special exemptions for MIQ.

"The MIQ website explicitly states the conditions of getting a group allocation such as this includes the requirement of 20 rooms [minimum]," he said in a written statement.

"Either the government is not following its own rules - the rules everyone else has to work to - or Minister Shaw is now actually planning to take at least 20 delegates from Wellington instead of nine. Either way, this is a shambles."

He said Ardern should either tell Shaw not to travel to the conference, or "at the very least, significantly reduce the size of his entourage".

Ardern said Shaw would be only the second government minister since Covid began to travel away from New Zealand - after Damien O'Connor went to the EU and UK on a trade delegation in June - and it was important he be there.

"We have of course the ability to do small group booking allocations and we've done that for business groups where there is a serious econonomic impact.

"I do consider New Zealand's presence at COP to be important. Yes we are facing a global pandemic but climate change is the most significant threat that we face for decades to come that needs a response from us now."

"We will keep seeing how small we can make that team but I have told the minister this is an important piece of work for New Zealand so we will work to find a way to secure a small number of spaces so New Zealand can be represented at the table."

She said MIQ vouchers were distributed to about 5000 people yesterday under the new virtual lobby system, and several thousand more spots would be released in the coming weeks and months.

"There is a balance to be struck here between making sure that yes, New Zealanders are able to return home, and I know many are seeking to do so for summer and to see family and friends and I know how important that is for them, but we here also need to enable a minister to represent New Zealand for these important negotiations."

She said the government would keep working to see if the size of the team travelling to Scotland could continue to be reduced.

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