Jacinda Ardern hits back at speculation over New Zealand's absence from Climate Action Summit

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has hit back at "not at all justified" speculation New Zealand was excluded from the virtual Climate Action Summit over the weekend. 

Some reports suggested New Zealand's climate action record put us offside with some of the better-performing countries and was thus rejected from speaking at the event, hosted by the United Nations, Britain and France. 

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. 

But Ardern said the only reason New Zealand did not feature at the event is because the Government had nothing new to announce. 

"I really welcome the opportunity to clarify this because in my view this is not at all justified the level of commentary that it has," Ardern told reporters on Monday. 

"We were invited to take part in the summit but as with those participating, the instruction was that invitations or speaking slots would be given to countries who would make announcements specifically at the summit."

Ardern said the Government expressed two views.

"We prefer to make our significant announcements to a domestic audience," she said. 

"It's been something that actually there's been criticism before around anything that even looks remotely like an announcement on an international platform before a domestic one, so that's been our preference. These are issues that are significant to us and that should take priority.

"The second issue for us also was of course many of the things that we're doing work on now, particularly through our Climate Commission, is taking place early in the new year and so the alignment for us around substantive, new work that we're doing is not eight weeks after our election but a little bit further down the track.

"What again I would highlight, you can see from the Climate Summit that actually countries in various different positions - some not necessarily as ambitious as New Zealand - have been part of that because of course they were extending their ambition.

"So, it wasn't a relative judgement as to who was the most ambitious. It was whether you had announcements."

It comes after Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg criticised the Government's climate action progress on Twitter, describing the recent climate emergency declaration in Parliament as "nothing unique to any nation". 

It prompted Climate Change Minister James Shaw to concede that New Zealand has a long way to go. 

"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."

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 also announced in July 2019 it had reached a consensus with the agriculture sector to implement pricing on emissions from 2025. But farmers will get a 95 percent discount - despite agriculture making up about half of New Zealand's reported emissions. 

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."