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Jacinda Ardern on the campaign in Whanganui. Photo: Toby Manhire
Jacinda Ardern on the campaign in Whanganui. Photo: Toby Manhire

PoliticsApril 12, 2018

Votes for women, nuclear-free, and now we can be world leaders on climate

Jacinda Ardern on the campaign in Whanganui. Photo: Toby Manhire
Jacinda Ardern on the campaign in Whanganui. Photo: Toby Manhire

The government sprung a surprise today by announcing an end to offshore oil and gas exploration permits.  The response was mixed, with criticism from industry and acclaim from environmental groups. The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, formally revealed the move in this speech to students at Victoria University of Wellington.

I want you for a moment to think about what you will be doing in 2048. Hopefully you will of course have graduated. You may well have a mortgage. A partner. Kids. If my attempts to predict the future as a teenager was anything to go by, you will also travel on a hover board.

But what will our world be like? Our environment, and New Zealand’s place in the world?

The idea of having to think about the what ifs 30 or even 40 years before it happens is an overwhelming prospect. But the truth is, we have to.

I know that decisions we make today have a long lasting impact. But the temptation in politics for too long, has been to do everything in three year cycles. Not too think too far ahead least you have to make hard decisions.  But if there is one issue that proves we just can’t operate like that anymore, its climate change.

And that is why I am here. As young people I know that you have a good grasp of the important issues of the day.  You have been a part of some of the most significant. But climate change is not just another movement that is increasingly being led by you, it is one that will also cost you unless we take action.

There is another reason we are here today. I have always been a big believer of evidence informed policy making. I had to remind myself of that the first time I ever spoke about climate change 10 years ago at a public meeting, and was booed very loudly by a group that included my grandmother.

Evidence matters. Science matters. And that is why I want to acknowledge the climate change experts and researchers here at Victoria University who have done such excellent work to raise the profile of the problem.  Your own campaigns over the last few years helped inform us and keep action on climate change on the agenda.  Professors James Renwick and Tim Naish are just a few of your great spokespeople, thank you to you and your teams.

But while you do the work, it is ultimately us as politicians who have the chance to make that work a reality.  And I can think of no better place start doing that, than right here in New Zealand.

When I spoke with Al Gore a few months ago I said that New Zealand’s role in climate change is anchored in who we are as a nation – we were the first to give women the vote, we were around the table when we established the United Nations, we were at the forefront of the anti-nuclear movement and this feels like the next stage for New Zealand to make a stand on an issue.

We are anchored in the Pacific – surrounding us are nations, including ourselves, who will be dramatically impacted by climate change. You can’t avoid seeing the impact around us, especially in the Pacific as warmer sea temperatures contribute to more storms, as we see more droughts and fires, and more extreme weather in general. That’s just the obvious impact of climate change. There’s also sea level rise, ocean acidification, the movement of mosquito borne diseases like zika and dengue.

Tens of thousands of New Zealanders and Pacific peoples live on the coastline and will be affected by rising sea levels.  That means people may need people to move their homes, breaking up communities and causing stress and hardship. , Underground infrastructure and fresh water sources could be inundated with sea water, and crops that have previously been a staple will change or even disappear.  For the pacific, this is not just a hypothetical, it is real.

On my recent visit to Samoa and Tonga I saw the damage to homes. It was devastating and wide spread.  And it wasn’t just homes that were effected.  Schools, parliament buildings, businesses and infrastructure like power lines that were taken out by coconut trees. Families struggling to fix their homes were sending children to school where they had to learn in tents supplied by UNICEF.  The damage from these storms is immense and the reconstruction period is long and hard.

I have said in the past that I believe we have a duty to our pacific neighbours to raise the need for mitigation and adaptation in the face of these challenges. Increasingly though I have come to see that we are the pacific. When we raise these issues, and when we act on them, it will be as much about Tokelau as it is about us.

And action is taking place already. And not just by us.

Around the world we see oil companies investing billions of dollars in clean energy. Companies are investing in charging stations for electric vehicles. Oil companies themselves are looking to the future and that includes renewables. We all know we are going to have to do things differently.

Norwegian-based Energy Company Statoil has developed its own climate road map in support of the Paris Climate Agreement. It includes by 2020 putting 25 percent of its research funding into developing new energy and energy efficiency solutions, and making decisions that support a low carbon future.

You might have seen in the news over the weekend that oil giant Shell issued a report in 1988 predicting climate change and noting that with fossil fuel combustion being a major source of CO2 in the atmosphere, a forward looking approach by the energy industry was needed. They followed that up some 30 years later by this week saying they strongly support the Paris Agreement and the need for society to transition to a lower carbon future, while also extending the economic and social benefits of energy to everyone.  To quote shell “successfully navigating this dual challenge requires sound government policy and cultural change to drive low-carbon choices for businesses and consumers. It requires cooperation between all segments of society.”

I completely agree.

And that is why I am here with our partners, New Zealand First and our Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones, and the Green Party and our Climate Change Minister James Shaw, along with Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods.

They are here because we together made it a priority as a Coalition Government to make a fresh start in tackling this problem.

In striking a balance I would like to acknowledge the manner in which New Zealand First and the Green Party were able to join Labour in finding a pathway that both protects existing permit holders while signalling our shift towards a just transition in the sector.

We have a Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw, who represents us internationally, as well as leading the agenda at home. Just a few weeks ago he spoke to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group on Land, being held in Christchurch. There were 120 scientists and experts, from 59 countries there.

I’m sure he was proud to be able to tell them that we have committed to the goal of becoming a net zero emission economy by 2050, with an interim step of making our electricity system 100 percent renewable by 2035. They’re ambitious goals we should all be proud of.

And we have to be ambitious about what we can do to make a difference. Because in this enourmous challenge we are facing, also lies opportunity for us. If we create a plan.

And this government has a plan.

Firstly, sustainable, low emission food production promises to be a valuable opportunity if we can get it right.

We are also encouraging and incentivising innovation and investment to deliver a clean, green carbon neutral New Zealand – and the Green Investment Fund will support this. It aims to stimulate up to $1 billion of new investment in low carbon industries by 2020, kick-started by a Government investment of $100 million.

As part of our regional development work and under the leadership of Minister Shane Jones, we have started a programme to plant 1 billion trees in the next 10 years. This will contribute to reducing CO2 emissions, both through C02 absorption and by reducing erosion.

We are setting up an Independent Climate Commission of experts who will develop carbon budgets right through to 2050. That means they’ll set the amount of carbon we can afford to put into the atmosphere each year to get us to carbon neutrality, while ensuring we have enough energy available to run our economy and country.

We also have to make sure that we are focused on just transitions – that in areas where fossil fuels have played a major role, we don’t switch off the tap overnight, that we make decisions 30 years in advance and invest in those regions. We have asked MBIE to start work co-ordinating this activity.

But just transitions have to start somewhere. And unless we start thinking about the when and the how now, we run the risk of local communities experiencing a jarring shock just because we didn’t think beyond short electoral cycles.

And that is why we have to consider the future of oil and gas exploration in New Zealand. Not for tomorrow, but for 30 or 40 years time.

The need to transition to a low carbon economy is understood and agreed on by both sides of parliament as well as widely supported by this industry.

So it comes as no surprise that we have been considering what to do about the future of oil and gas exploration.  We have previously talked about the ‘block offer’ where areas of land and sea are offered to companies for oil and gas exploration.

In considering this we have been clear about two things:

  1. We need to give certainty.
  2. We need a plan.

Certainty means being clear that we need to honour existing permits. And as a government, we are committed to that. In honouring these permits, we protect current jobs and businesses and provide time to work on change for the future together.

New Zealand First accentuated its support for protecting the rights of existing permit holders and this we agreed to, to ensure certainty for all those in the industry currently holding exploration and mining permits.

There are currently exploration permits that cover an area roughly the size of the North Island, and a number of mining permits. These all have a long shelf life, and a long lead time.  Nothing will end tomorrow.

But certainty is also about setting our expectations for the future. And that is what we have done today.

Today we announced that onshore block offers will now be limited to acreage in the Taranaki region.

We have also announced that we will no longer be granting any new offshore oil and gas exploration permits.

This is another step on our transition away from fossil fuels and towards a carbon neutral economy.

Some will say that is not enough to prevent climate change. Of course that’s true. But as you know now, this is not the only thing this Government is doing to address climate change.  The Block Offer is only one part of our plan. Climate Change Minister James Shaw may tell you more after this speech.

And this announcement is also only the beginning of our work on Just transitions. While I am reassuring people today that we are not going to rip their jobs from under them, nor leave communities to cope with change on their own, we also need to talk to them face to face about the 30 year plan.

We’ve seen before the enormous social damage done in the 1980s due to rapid, uncaring change. I’m a child of the 80’s – I grew up at a time when this country was going through incredibly difficult economic change in a very short period. People lost jobs suddenly, communities were gutted, families were displaced. I saw plenty of evidence of that growing up in Murupara and Morrinsville.

We will not let that happen here. I want to thank New Zealand first. Supporting our regions and ensuring we have a plan for the longer term, and honour our existing commitments has been a key point of advocacy for them. And last week Shane Jones started that by investing $20million in the Taranaki region as we work towards the future.

This Government has set ambitious targets for our country – hitting these targets will have huge benefits for everyone. We protect our environment, have a healthier environment, create new jobs in new industries and can live up to our reputation as a leader on the world stage.

We have been a world leader on critical issues to humanity by being nuclear free, the first to support women’s vote and now we could be a world leading in becoming carbon neutral.

We owe this to future generations – but ultimately, we owe it to you.

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