21 Feb 2023

National MP Maureen Pugh walks back climate change comments

5:36 pm on 21 February 2023
National MP Maureen Pugh with Simon O'Connor and Louise Upston in Select Committee

National MP Maureen Pugh says she regrets her comments were not clear. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

National MP Maureen Pugh has walked back on comments she made at Parliament on Tuesday morning about awaiting evidence that humans have contributed to climate change.

Her remarks were immediately disowned by the leadership, who said there was no place for climate deniers or minimisers in the caucus.

A few hours later, Pugh emerged with a statement she read out to reporters, which said she "regretted that her comments ... were unclear and will have led some to think I am questioning the causes of climate change. That is not my position".

"I accept the scientific consensus that human induced climate change is real and there is a need to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

"We are seeing the impact of climate change in the cyclone that has devastated so much of New Zealand."

She insisted that was her true belief, and had not been forced to change her position.

"These are my words, I have not been instructed to say this at all," she told reporters.

When pushed on why she had changed her stance, Pugh said this "wasn't her comfort zone, you guys in front of me with cameras ... I probably wasn't calm enough this morning to articulate properly". She had also apologised to the party leader.

National MP Maureen Pugh and party leader Christopher Luxon speak at a stand up in Nelson.

National leader Christopher Luxon says Pugh was not forced to make her new statement. Photo: RNZ / Samantha Gee

Christopher Luxon said they had had a "conversation where it's really clear about understanding that actually, there is no dispute that there is science that strongly suggests and that does suggest that man-made climate change is real, and I'm a firm believer in that".

He was asked whether his MP had now been forced to issue a statement which she did not actually believe: "No, that's not true," he said. "She's owned that statement, that's her statement".

Pugh had come out and said "she does support and believe in science and that man-made efforts have contributed to climate change, absolutely, and that's her position, Luxon said.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said the science had been "settled for decades".

"There are tens of thousands of New Zealanders who have just had a firsthand, lived experience of the effects of climate change, and we cannot debate the basic science for why they are going through that experience," he said.

Pugh's comments were a gift to the government, on a day when the only political attention should have been on the urgent response to the cyclone.

"I'm staggered the National Party is still having this debate, climate change is absolutely man-made," chipped in Prime Minister Chris Hipkins.

Senior cabinet minister Michael Wood invoked the infamous, unflattering description of Pugh by former National leader Simon Bridges from a few years back.

"I won't repeat them here, but I put them in that category."