Student asks Jacinda Ardern what difference School Strike 4 Climate will make

Jacinda Ardern has given her take on what impact the upcoming student climate change strike will have. 

The Prime Minister attended a live chat at Wellington College on Wednesday alongside Climate Change Minister James Shaw, where they discussed with students the Government's role in combatting climate change. 

The debate came two days before students across New Zealand will join the global School Strike 4 Climate on Friday, organised globally by Swedish student Greta Thunberg and in New Zealand by Porirua student Sophie Hanford. 

Ms Ardern took questions at the live debate after giving a speech, where she was asked by a Wellington East Girls College student what impact the student climate strike - which has been met with scepticism from MPs - will have. 

"Don't underestimate the power of your voice," the Prime Minister said. "I think too often we make this assessment that in order to have an impact you have to be of voting age. That is just not the case."

Last week the Prime Minister gave a less enthusiastic response to the strike, telling media: "What I'd like to think is in New Zealand there is less cause for protest. We are certainly trying to do our bit."

She told students on Wednesday not to "underestimate this global movement" which she said is not only about sending a message to politicians, but also "sending a message to the rest of the country... helping spread the message of why". 

Jacinda Ardern told students their protest will help people understand why climate action is important.
Jacinda Ardern told students their protest will help people understand why climate action is important. Photo credit: Newshub

"This is a generational issue - a longstanding challenge that will go beyond electoral cycles, so it's not just about what we adopt, it's about what successive governments choose to adopt," Ms Ardern said. 

"We need to give certainty to a whole range of communities. We need to give certainty to your generation, we need to give certainty to businesses that are making investment decisions around energy generation, and we need to give certainty around security of supply.

"We can give that greater certainty if we have consensus amongst us, and that consensus is formed when not only political parties come together, but actually when civil society and the public does as well."

The Prime Minister concluded by saying the student strike is "helping us with that".

"I'd like to think we're already on board, we're ready and we recognise this challenge and we're doing what we can. But we need that to be reinforced and reinforced really strongly. So keep challenging all of us."

The upcoming strike has been met with doubt from some ministers, even the Prime Minister's own deputy. Winston Peters said last week: "We pay a lot of money for people to get educated. Attending school is compulsory in this country."

100 percent renewable energy target

During the live chat the Climate Change Minister was asked why the Government protected existing offshore oil and gas exploration permits when it announced plans to ban them in April last year. 

"Governments are restricted in terms of what we can do in terms of existing property rights, and that's actually quite a good thing, because occasionally you get governments that would make decisions and trample all over people's rights," Ms Shaw said. 

"When it comes to why we allowed existing permits to continue, there are a couple of reasons for that - one of which is that the country still relies on a certain amount of fossil fuel as part of our existing energy mix.

"If we were to switch that off tomorrow, then we actually wouldn't have enough electricity to power the country. You'd see prices go through the roof, and of course it's people with low incomes and from poorer families who have the least choice." 

He said the world has a "period of time" where fossil fuels can be phased out, and that "buys us time to bring in more renewables into the mix until we can get to that goal of 100 percent renewable".