Climate Change Minister James Shaw admits New Zealand has 'long way to go' after Greta Thunberg criticism

Climate Change Minister James Shaw admits New Zealand has "a long way to go" to bring down emissions after Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg criticised the Government's progress. 

Thunberg, 17, posted a link on Twitter to a Newsroom opinion article questioning the Government's commitment to tackling climate change and whether the recently declared climate emergency is backed up by sufficient action. 

Thunberg quoted the text of the article - written by Newsroom's parliamentary press gallery reporter Marc Daadler - which referred to the Government's commitment to make the public sector carbon neutral by 2025. 

"The Government has just committed to reducing less than 1 percent of the country's emissions by 2025."

Thunberg described the article as an explainer on New Zealand's "so-called climate emergency declaration" and called the climate emergency declaration in Parliament "nothing unique to any nation". 

More than 30 other countries had already declared a climate emergency. 

"Greta Thunberg is essentially pointing out what we already know: that we have a long way to go to narrow the gap between what our emissions are right now, and what they need to be in the future," Shaw told Newshub.

"We are working on this as quickly as we can and the declaration of a climate emergency is actually helping - because now every part of Government is clear that action to cut emissions is a priority."

Shaw argued that's what a climate emergency declaration should do. 

"It is not an end in itself, rather it signals our intent to do everything we can to tackle the climate crisis and build a better, safer future for our kids and grandkids."

While most industrial countries have reduced emissions in the last decades, New Zealand has seen some of the biggest increases in greenhouse gases. Nearly half of New Zealand's emissions come from agriculture, followed by energy - mostly transport. 

Since 1990, New Zealand's greenhouse gases have increased nearly 60 percent, while the likes of Japan, Australia, the UK and Sweden are all seeing decreases, of up to 73 percent. 

Climate Change Minister James Shaw.
Climate Change Minister James Shaw. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

The Government has banned new offshore oil and gas exploration and established the Climate Change Commission which will advise governments on how to meet targets set in the Zero Carbon Act passed in 2019. 

The targets include zero net carbon emissions by 2050 and a reduction of between 24 and 47 percent of methane emissions by 2050. These targets are intended to keep global warming to within 1.5C by 2050.

The Government announced in July 2019 it had reached a consensus with the agriculture sector on the need to implement pricing on emissions from 2025. 

It was then decided in October 2019 that farmers would be given five years to develop practical ways to measure and price emissions at the farm-level, to be separate from the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). 

Agriculture will be included in the ETS if an alternative isn't figured out by 2025. But either way, farmers would get a 95 percent discount - despite agriculture making up about half of New Zealand's reported emissions. 

"That's hardly likely to incentivise behaviour change," Daadler writes. "While the Government dithers, climate change is real and it is only getting worse."

He said while New Zealand makes up only 0.2 percent of global emissions, it makes up just 0.06 percent of the world's population meaning we are "emitting more than our fair share" of emissions. 

Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg.
Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg. Photo credit: Getty

Shaw said over the next 12 months the Government will agree the first three emissions budgets required under the Zero Carbon Act. 

It will also publish an emissions reduction plan to meet these budgets, consider updating New Zealand's target under the Paris Agreement, and adopt a plan to meet our international obligations for the period 2021-2030.

"Work is underway on each of these and together they will ensure we are playing our part to cut global emissions in half by 2030."

Thunberg said in video on Friday that global leaders are failing to deliver on the ambition set out in the Paris Agreement five years ago to hold the rise in average global temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. 

The United Nations and research groups recently warned that pledges so far to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would put the world on track for 3C or more of warming this century. 

The report produced by the United Nations Environment Programme and other research groups said the 1.5C target requires fossil fuel production to decrease by around 6 percent per year between 2020 and 2030 but fossil fuel producers are still expanding production. 

"Hypothetical targets are being set and big speeches are being given, yet when it comes to the immediate action we need, we are still in state of complete denial," Thunberg said. 

"We are still speeding in the wrong direction."