James Shaw backs Greta Thunberg over comments targeting New Zealand's rising emissions

Green Party co-leader James Shaw is backing comments environmental activist Greta Thunberg shared targeting New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions.

In a Twitter post, Thunberg linked to a piece from The Guardian on New Zealand's dairy cow emissions, which have climbed to record highs. 

"New Zealand is one of the world's worst performers on emission increases. Its emissions rose by 57 percent between 1990 and 2018 - the second greatest increase of all industrialised countries," Thunberg wrote, quoting an extract of the article.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked on Tuesday if Thunberg's remarks hurt the Government.

"We are obviously in the process now of just having received our Climate Commission report, of responding to what is a significant piece of work in order to plan our emissions reductions and our carbon budgets," Ardern told reporters.

"It would be unfair to judge New Zealand based on what, essentially, are targets that were set some time ago - when we are now undertaking an incredibly heavy piece of work to lift our ambition and our emissions reductions."   

But Shaw, who is the Climate Change Minister, says "Greta has a point", especially given the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) report showing the world is dangerously close to runaway global warming.

"The IPCC report should be a wake-up call. It really underscores the need for urgent and comprehensive action on climate change," he says.

Greta Thunberg.
Greta Thunberg. Photo credit: Getty Images

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called the climate change crisis a "code red for humanity" and the "alarm bells are deafening".

In its first study since 2013, the group reveals climate change is having an impact on every continent, region, and ocean on earth.

The report laid bare that climate catastrophes are coming on top of one another and the world is heating up faster.

If emissions aren't reined in, the world will reach 1.5C of warming within a decade - which is much earlier than predicted.

Warming above 1.5C may put some Pacific Island nations at risk of being completely wiped out - sea levels could rise by up to two metres this century and up to five metres by 2150.

Professor James Renwick, who is a co-author of the IPCC report, is fearful of these countries that could disappear.

"Climate change is happening at a faster rate than even a few years ago, we know it's affecting every part of the world," he says.

The report calls for a rapid reduction in methane - and agriculture is New Zealand's biggest source of gas. But farmers want annual methane figures put in context.

"You actually need to look at the trend and the trend for New Zealand agriculture is pretty much stable in terms of emissions of methane," says Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard.

What isn't stable is New Zealand's private transport emissions, which is trending upwards.

The pumping out of carbon dioxide is what Renwick says is climate change's biggest villain.

"That's where most of the growth in New Zealand's emissions has been in the last 30 years - mostly from the likes of us driving our cars," he says.

The UN's report doesn't offer recommendations - it's instead up to world leaders to take action.

Shaw will attend the UN's climate summit in November where countries are expected to make tough pledges to cut emissions.

A Climate Change Commission report in June found New Zealand isn't doing enough to meet its goal of net-zero emissions by the year 2050.

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