Greta Thunberg calls out New Zealand Government for 'so-called' climate emergency declaration

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg has called out the New Zealand Government for its "so-called" climate emergency declaration earlier this month.

In a tweet on Sunday (local time), the 17-year-old linked to a Newsroom opinion piece, arguing the Government's declaration is merely virtue signalling unless it's backed by immediate action to reduce the country's carbon emissions.

"'In other words, the Government has just committed to reducing less than 1 percent of the country's emissions by 2025'," Thunberg tweeted, quoting an excerpt from the article.

She continued: "Text explaining New Zealand's so-called climate emergency declaration. This is of course nothing unique to any nation. #FightFor1Point5."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has pledged to decarbonise the public sector by 2025, announced a climate emergency in New Zealand on December 2 in recognition of the devastating toll extreme weather will take on New Zealand, as well as the alarming loss of species.

The Government's plan to decarbonise the public sector by 2025 is a step towards its goal of a carbon-neutral New Zealand by 2050. The Government has also 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. 

As well as a goal of zero net carbon emissions by 2050, the Government has also set a target of reducing methane emissions by between 24 and 47 percent by the same year. 

However, New Zealand has seen some of the biggest increases in greenhouse gases. Since 1990, greenhouse gas emissions have risen by nearly 60 percent, and gross emissions have increased by 24 percent. In 2018, nearly half of the country's gross emissions came from agriculture - 47.8 percent - followed by energy - mostly transport - at 40.5 percent.

The National Party opposed the declaration, calling it "virtue signalling".

"Declaring a climate emergency is nothing but virtue signalling," National's climate change spokesperson Stuart Smith said in Parliament. "Symbolic gestures just don't cut it."

In comparison, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pledging to reduce the country's emissions by 68 percent by 2030, and to stop funding international fossil fuel projects.

On Saturday night, New Zealand was noticeably absent from the international Climate Ambition Summit 2020, hosted by the United Nations, France and the UK. 

More than 80 world leaders and environmentalists took part in the virtual conference - however, Ardern did not speak at the summit. The Prime Minister's absence sparked suggestions that New Zealand's poor record put the country out of favour with better-performing nations.

"This summit was really for countries to make some quite significant announcements. In the time we had available to us, we felt we couldn't do it justice," Climate Change Minister James Shaw told reporters.

Across the Tasman, Australia's Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was reportedly barred from speaking at the summit, with critics claiming his unambitious policies saw his exclusion from the event.

"The Climate Ambition Summit is for those who do the most, not for those who are trying to get away with the least," said Richie Merzian, the climate and energy director at The Australian Institute.

Newshub has contacted Climate Change Minister James Shaw's office for comment.