Jacinda Ardern declares climate emergency in New Zealand after decades of rising greenhouse gas emissions

The Prime Minister has declared a 'climate emergency' to recognise the 'devastating impact' extreme weather will have on New Zealand, and the 'alarming' loss of species. 

But 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. 

To help bring down emissions, the Government is zeroing in on the state sector - phasing out coal boilers at hospitals and schools. 

National is opposing the motion saying it's virtue signalling.

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

The declaration comes after hoards of students marched in September 2019 as part of an international movement sparked by teen activist Greta Thunberg, urging authorities to do more on climate change. 

"When I look at the future, I'm worried, I'm scared," Rhiannon Mackie, 16, told Newshub outside Parliament on Wednesday - scared of more floods and storms, more species dying, and the seas rising and warming. 

Mackie is one of the perhaps hundreds of thousands of the school strikers who called for a climate emergency - and they finally got one. 

"This declaration is an acknowledgement of the next generation, an acknowledgement of the burden they will carry if we do not get this right and if we do not take action now," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in Parliament. 

The declaration is largely symbolic. 

"It is an absolute responsibility that we have to declare this emergency and to back it up with substance," said Climate Change Minister James Shaw. 

If New Zealand is to reduce emissions, there's work to do.

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. 

"We're pretty good at the talking but we haven't actually done much around reducing emissions, yet," said Victoria University Professor James Renwick, a weather and climate researcher.

The Government is now cleaning up its own house - schools, hospitals, and the police force - they'll all go carbon neutral in the next five years.

First they'll have to start measuring emissions, then in 2025 they'll have to start paying for emissions they don't cut - and a fund will help phase out coal boilers. 

"I think phasing out the coal boilers - great - it's low hanging fruit you might say, something that's easy to do that will make a difference," said Prof Renwick. 

The directive is a little too late for police who just signed up to a five-year lease on fossil fuel-burning Skodas. 

"What we're hoping is that during the course of that lease they will find an electric vehicle or the next best thing a hybrid that meets their operational requirements," said Shaw. 

New Zealand is slow off the blocks to declare an emergency - Wales declared theirs in April 2019. 

Shaw said New Zealand First prevented the Government from declaring a climate change emergency during the previous term. 

"Yes, they did."

He doesn't have to worry about that any more - a farewell bash on Tuesday night attended by screeds of ambassadors was possibly one of the last times Winston Peters will be at Parliament.