Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won't compare climate change to World War II

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she wouldn't compare to climate change to World War II - a comparison her Associate Transport Minister, Julie Anne Genter, made last week.

On Twitter last week, Genter declared climate change was "our generation's WWII" while discussing the Government's proposed 'feebate' scheme which would provide discounts on some low-emission, electric and fuel-efficient petrol-run vehicles.

However, on the flipside, vehicles which emit more than 250 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre (CO2/km) would be considered heavy polluters so importing those vehicles would come with a financial penalty of up to $3000.

That's angered farmers and tradies who say they need larger vehicles for their jobs. Glen Burr, president of New Zealand Plumbers, Drainlayers and Gasfitters - who drives a Holden Colorado ute - told Newshub he would be forced to pass the tax onto his customers.

Genter says she has spoken with the imported vehicle industry and heard their concerns. She said she also shared some of her own.

"The climate crisis is the biggest challenge of our time. It's our generation's WWII. We are the first generation to feel its impacts," Genter tweeted.

"New Zealand was too small to win WWII. But that didn't stop many of our forebears from putting their hands up. They put their lives on hold, and travelled far away, to be part of a larger effort, because it was the right thing to do.

"This is how we play our part, little New Zealand, in the most important global challenge of our time. Everyone pitching in and doing what they can."

Some Twitter users agreed with Genter's comparison, with one user saying: "Climate change and WW2 are very similar. Massive threats to our way of life that requires concerted and substantial action to overcome, including sacrificing lifestyle."

But others weren't convinced. One person wrote: "Not a very well thought out metaphor and bugger-all to do with this current situation and alarmism doesn't help with clarity of thought."

While Ardern has previously compared climate change to her generation's "nuclear-free moment", she wouldn't compare it to WWII - a conflict in which 12,000 New Zealanders died.

"In terms of the big challenges our current generation is battling, climate change is our greatest security challenge of our time," Ardern told The AM Show.

"I wouldn't liken it in terms of human loss."

Julie Anne Genter and Jacinda Ardern.
Julie Anne Genter and Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Facebook / The AM Show.

But she also wouldn't criticise Genter, saying she wasn't aware of the context in which Genter made that statement and individuals could characterise the challenge of climate change as they pleased.

"She needs to choose her own way of talking about that challenge we face. I wouldn't make that comparison but I am not critiquing her for that."

While popular utes like the Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux would become more expensive to import to New Zealand, Ardern said it was an important incentive. 

"We need to incentivise people to start making the choices where it is not just about EVs, it's about low emission vehicles generally. There are options that we do need to start trying to prioritise.

"People pay more at the pump by not buying these more fuel efficient cars as well. People will save money in the long run."

National's Associate Transport spokesperson Brett Hudson said hiking the cost of certain vehicles will impose more costs on some families who can't afford to switch to an electric vehicle.

Deputy leader Paula Bennett echoed Hudson, telling The AM Show: "Don't mess with my tradies and their utes, man, and don't mess with our farmers - they're out there doing a damn good job."

National MP Judith Collins criticised Genter on Friday, saying she should stay away from issues "she is not intimately involved in". 

Genter told Newshub her grandfather fought in Italy and Africa during World War II.

"WWII was a moment in history where nations big and small fought alongside each other to defend their share values and common humanity.

"Climate change also requires us to look beyond our borders to our common humanity, and do our bit to solve a problem that affects all of us, however big or small we may be."

The Government is taking numerous measures to combat climate change, introducing a Zero Carbon Bill into Parliament in May which would create a legally binding objective to limit global warming to now more than 1.5C with a net zero carbon approach.