Helen Clark warns New Zealand will look 'as silly as we do now' if climate change 'political football' continues

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark is warning New Zealand needs to stop "see-sawing" on climate change policy if it wants to make an impact on combatting emissions.

Clark, who's edited a newly-released book Climate Aotearoa, said in an interview with The Project on Tuesday climate change was like a "slow onset train wreck" and New Zealanders needed to look at the way they use transport, waste, and energy.

"There's going to be these tipping points where suddenly we think, 'oh, if we had acted in time we wouldn't have faced the worst.'

"At the moment, the world's on course for something like a 3-3.5C warmer temperature over the pre-industrial levels which is catastrophic, and far from what the Paris Agreement tells us we should be aiming for."

New Zealand signed the Paris Agreement - a global climate plan - in 2016. But according to climate campaigner Paul Winton, we aren't doing well at meeting our goals as part of that agreement.

"Measured against the Paris Accord, we are doing absolutely terribly at the moment," he told The Project.

Clark said New Zealand's cities and planners have a role in meeting those goals. Last year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared a climate emergency in Parliament and the Government announced it planned to make the public sector carbon neutral by 2025.  

"The basic stuff, I think, is we look at the way we use transport, our waste, and the way we use energy," she said.

"That's for the individual; do we need to take the car on all the trips? Could we get on our feet? Could we take the bike?

Helen Clark.
Helen Clark. Photo credit: Newshub.

"That, of course, also puts obligations on our cities and planners doesn't it? Because we need to be safe when we walk, we need to have public transport options, we need to have the bike lanes."

A recent report found New Zealand's gross greenhouse gas emissions had increased by 26 percent between 1900 and 2019. 

Clark said waste made up a significant amount of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions.

More Kiwis had to follow the "reduce, reuse, recycle" approach, she said.

"What we need is to stop see-sawing on climate change policy," said Clark. "We need consistent approaches. If it's a political football, we're going to be looking as silly as we do now."