11 Dec 2023

Greenpeace billboard labels government 'climate extremists' over oil and gas exploration plans

10:27 am on 11 December 2023
A Greenpeace billboard on climate extremists at Parliament.

The billboard near Parliament in Wellington. Photo: © Dave Lintott Photography 2023. www.lintottphoto.co.nz

Anyone promoting more fossil fuel use in the midst of a climate crisis deserves to be called out as "extremist", Greenpeace's executive director Russel Norman says.

Greenpeace Aotearoa has erected a billboard near Parliament in Wellington in response to the government's plan to reintroduce offshore oil and gas exploration.

The plan won New Zealand the title of 'Fossil of the Day' last week at the international climate conference COP28 in Dubai.

However, Climate Change Minister Simon Watts who is attending COP28 says New Zealand is committed to the phasing out of oil and gas and is also in step with global climate goals.

At the forum, a coalition of more than 80 countries including the US, the European Union and small island nations, are pushing for an agreement that includes language to phase out fossil fuels, the main source of greenhouse gas emissions that scientists blame for global warming.

They are coming up against tough opposition led by the oil producer group OPEC and its allies, Reuters has reported.

Greenpeace New Zealand executive director Russel Norman.

Russel Norman said the billboard was a timely reminder of the government's folly. Photo: Greenpeace

"So it's making the basic point if you're supporting the expansion of oil and gas production in the middle of a climate crisis that really does make you a climate extremist."

Norman said the last time there was a National-led government its energy policies included oil and gas exploration which led to "widespread community opposition in many different forms".

Eventually, the companies left the country. Norman was firm that if they tried to return, they would face a similar level of opposition.

The climate movement would be doing its best to add to that uncertainty for those businesses, Norman said.

He said companies might be deterred from returning to New Zealand with "a flip-flop back and forward between a ban and not a ban" with the change in government.

At COP28 the debate was continuing on phasing out or "phasing down" the use of fossil fuels while at the same time the New Zealand government was going in a different direction, Norman said.

The International Energy Agency and the UN Secretary-General had made it clear the world could not afford to use existing reserves of oil and gas if it wanted to avoid a climate catastrophe.

"So we certainly can't be looking to find and burn more fossil fuel reserves and that is the plan of this climate extremist government that we've just got."

Supporters of finding new oil and gas reserves argue that gas is a cleaner form of energy than coal which New Zealand imports from countries such as Indonesia in dry years.

Norman countered that the Labour government was proposing to store excess forms of water if the large battery project at Lake Onslow had gone ahead, however, this proposal has now been ditched by the new government.

He said the priority should be on decarbonising the energy system rather than looking for new supplies of fossil fuels, some of which would be exported, adding to emissions problems in other parts of the world.

"Let's open the door to decarbonisation."

'Absolutely committed'

Simon Watts

Simon Watts. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Climate Change Minister Simon Watts said New Zealand was committed to the phase out of fossil fuels but the first step is to move away from coal.

Watts addressed the COP28 conference in Dubai overnight. During his speech he backed three global commitments the forum was aiming for: tripling renewable energy, doubling energy efficiency and also the phasing out of fossil fuels.

He told Morning Report the government was on board with the move to end the use of fossil fuels but it needed to be a step-by-step approach.

"We need to move off coal and gas is a better option than coal, but we do need phase out [of oil and gas] and we're absolutely committed to that phase out," Minister Watts said.

For some industries the solution was not at this country's fingertips, however, New Zealand's policy on doubling renewable energy was "very much aligned with the global stance".

"What is clear is that New Zealand is playing its part and we are also working on behalf of our Pacific neighbours because the reality for them is they are at the frontline of this."

He said talks have been constructive despite some criticism of New Zealand from other Pacific countries, including Palau and Samoa.

"Their conversations in a generic sense are more directed at those countries that are completely against or are not keen to undertake any phase out of fossil fuels," Watts said.

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