SocietyDecember 9, 2019

The world thinks we’re leading the way on climate change – let’s prove them right


Cindy Baxter is at COP25 – her 17th climate change conference – and for the first time, New Zealand is one of the good guys. But are we?

As we head into the second week of the climate talks in Madrid, I’ve been reflecting over the first week, and the strange position many of us Kiwis at COP25 have found ourselves in as we listen to everybody raving about New Zealand’s climate policies.

I arrived a week ago as my friends in Australia evacuated their houses and struggled to breathe in the smoke-filled air from the horrific bushfires. This weekend I watched as another mad storm hit the South Island. Things are no longer normal.

This is my 17th climate meeting. Over the course of the last week, members of the MFAT NZ delegation at various events around the halls have been surfing on the Zero Carbon Act wave and soaking up the global praise and back-patting.

The zero carbon commitment came as part of coalition negotiations between James Shaw and Jacinda Ardern. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

I’ve been bemused at them excitedly telling people about our “Just Transition” programme in Taranaki. It certainly seems like a much more concrete thing here in Madrid than it has manifested back home, where the focus in Taranaki has been the ongoing protests against OMV’s drilling programme.

We also heard that the former UNFCCC chief executive Christiana Figueres described New Zealand, along with Costa Rica and Spain, as the countries “leading the world away from fossil fuels.” Seriously? As a member of Coal Action Network Aotearoa I don’t see any government policy addressing coal, not even the promised policy of banning mining on conservation land.

It seems like there’s a lot of Kiwi Kool Aid being guzzled.

Yes, the Zero Carbon Act is great, but it’s just a framework. Now the real work starts, and there’s a lot to do. The Climate Action Tracker has rated our policies as “Highly Insufficient” and nobody can get an answer out of the government as to whether New Zealand is planning to announce an improved 2030 target next year, as everybody in Paris promised they’d do.

Just after this new government was voted in, I was at COP23 in Bonn as our brand new climate change minister James Shaw was on his way to the meeting. I commented to a seasoned New Zealand official “well, things are going to be different for you guys now, with this progressive new government, right”?

His response? “Well, we can’t go changing our strategy every time there’s a change of government.”


In all the years I’ve been going to climate negotiations, either working for scientists counting the numbers and doing modelling, or with NGO’s staging actions and protests outside, there has been one constant: New Zealand has never really been one of the good guys in these talks.

We are supposed to “stand with the Pacific” but we have never really done that, not really. I just hope things can change, because the Pacific Islands are feeling the one degree of warming more than most.  Some nations have lost islands, and many are regularly dealing with the havoc being caused by king tides. We are all facing cyclones of increasing intensity as the world warms.

James Shaw will arrive at the COP today. A main priority for him this week is to “stand with our neighbours in the Pacific.”

I look forward to him supporting a decision at the end of the week that includes a strong statement about the need for everyone to increase their Paris 2030 targets by the time we get to Glasgow next year.

I look forward to him advocating for new finance on the crucial issue of “Loss and Damage” – supporting developing countries coping for the losses from climate impacts like the loss of land and islands. This is an enormous issue for the Pacific.

I look forward to him opposing Australia’s push to be allowed to carry over old Kyoto credits to meet its 2030 target. It’s great he has ruled that out for New Zealand, but will he stand with the Pacific against Australia’s bid to be allowed to do this?  The rationale for opposing these carryovers is to make sure that governments actually cut emissions, instead of carrying out a creative accounting exercise.

And even though it’s a continent not a Pacific Island, our nearest neighbour Australia, could also benefit from the world keeping warming to 1.5 degrees. Because despite the fact their government refuses to accept the link between bushfires and climate change, we should at least make an effort for the koala, and all the people and critters in the path of the carnage over there.

Keep going!