Greens co-leader James Shaw rejects claims of hypocrisy over climate trip to Scotland

By Russell Palmer for RNZ

Green Party co-leader James Shaw is defending against accusations of hypocrisy for travelling to a climate conference in Glasgow after criticising Parliament's sitting at alert level 4.

The Green Party refused to attend Parliament while Wellington was still at alert level 4 on Tuesday last week.

Shaw at the time had said there was a perfectly serviceable option that would enable MPs to work from home - Parliament via teleconferencing software Zoom - and politicians should be modelling the health advice to stay home. He said the party was reluctant to be returning to the House even at alert level 3.

"I think it's absolutely irresponsible, I mean it literally risks people's lives by holding an in-person Parliament," Shaw said.

This year's United Nations Climate Change Conference - or COP26 - is being held in Glasgow, Scotland, in November. Shaw, as Climate Change Minister, is expecting to attend.

In a statement today, ACT leader David Seymour said Shaw's hypocrisy was breathtaking.

"Shaw is on the record saying many people, such as teachers, have adapted to working over Zoom. It seems that Shaw's regard for international conferences, this one being the 26th of its kind held, is higher than his regard for New Zealand's Parliament," Seymour said.

He said it was even worse to be travelling to a Covid-19 hotspot which recorded nearly 6000 cases yesterday considering the demand for MIQ spaces, and the fact Shaw had declared a climate emergency.

"If he was serious about public safety - he would cancel his trip. If he was serious about the climate emergency - he would cancel his trip. If had any compassion for overseas New Zealanders who are desperate to get home - he would cancel his trip.

"Surely if he was taking this so-called 'emergency' seriously he would stay home and not increase his emissions profile."

A spokesperson from Shaw's office said there was nothing hypocritical in following health advice.

"Opposition MPs in Parliament were given the option to meet virtually. There isn't a virtual option for COP. Exactly as he did with the return to Parliament, the Minister will follow all the health advice, including returning to New Zealand through MIQ," the spokesperson said.

"Those nations most impacted by the climate emergency have urged countries to come together at COP to agree a major and urgent increase in action, as well as to accelerate funding to support mitigation and adaptation in the most vulnerable countries.

"Minister Shaw is attending so NZ can play its part fully in bringing about this outcome. Of course, if New Zealand is at alert level three or four in November then we will seek health advice on the best thing to do."