Climate Change Minister James Shaw defends COP26 Glasgow trip

Climate Change Minister James Shaw copped criticism over plans to attend COP26 in Glasgow, but he's questioning why the same outrage didn't apply to Trade Minister Damien O'Connor. 

"I do notice that none of this criticism was levelled at Damien O'Connor, our Trade Minister, and he's taken two trips this year so far," Shaw told The AM Show on Tuesday.

Host Ryan Bridge questioned the need for Shaw to travel across the globe to attend an event, when O'Connor has been travelling abroad to secure trade deals - even if he did accidentally pose by an Australian flag.

"So, what you're saying is making money is more important than a breathable atmosphere?" Shaw shot back, to which Bridge replied: "Well, that's a good point..."

Shaw acknowledged the thousands of Kiwis stuck overseas unable to secure a place in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) - precious space taken up by the Green Party co-leader and 10 officials. 

"Look, I really feel for those people who have been stuck overseas. I know you get contacted a lot by those people a lot - so do we - so we know the scale of tragedies that people are facing," Shaw said.  

"We've been quite strong advocates that MIQ should be more needs-based rather than more random at the moment.

"If we want New Zealand to participate in international diplomacy whilst there is a pandemic on, that does mean that some ministers have to travel and so do some of our officials."

Shaw is adamant that attending COP26 via Zoom wasn't an option. 

"We can't do it by Zoom. That was made abundantly clear over a year ago. When I talked to MFAT officials I said, 'Is this an option?' and they said, 'No, it isn't'. The United Kingdom has been abundantly clear that this will be an in-person event. 

"If I'd been given the option, I would rather that that was available to us - and it isn't."

He said attending via Zoom probably wouldn't be possible. 

"You've got to remember that there's about 30 different parallel rooms that are negotiating. They generally run for about 16 hours a day for a full two weeks. They involve 200 countries from around the world. 

"Some of those negotiating rooms will have dozens and dozens of negotiators from dozens and dozens of countries in them, and I think the United Kingdom probably took the view that there isn't decision-making software available that would allow that to occur for 16 hours a day in 30 different parallel rooms for two weeks."

Shaw also defended the $1.3 billion the Government has committed over four years  to support countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. At least 50 percent of funding will go to the Pacific and the rest will go to international climate funds. 

"We do have some concerns about our ability to deploy that amount of resource in the Pacific over the next few years but we will be aiming to deploy as much of that as we can in the Pacific because they are our closest neighbours, they are the most susceptible to the effects of climate change," Shaw said. 

He said the funding would be used in various ways. 

"In Tokelau, you're seeing sea level rise come up over the atoll and it's getting into their freshwater supplies and so we're looking at freshwater remediation there. 

"Fiji has asked us to help them move 43 villages away from the coastline to higher ground. 

"And the Cook Islands, who of course have suffered a huge blow with the loss of their tourism industry, even before that, they think that they spend about 25 percent of their annual budget on either recovering the last cyclone or preparing for the next one."

Shaw recognised that Kiwis struggling financially through the COVID-19 lockdown might not understand why the Government is spending money on other countries. 

"It's about $325 million a year is what we're deploying and you compare that to a government budget of over $110 billion a year 

"If you look at what we're deploying in order to support people through the COVID crisis - the wage subsidy, business subsidies, and so on - it pales in comparison versus what we're spending here. 

"I think the Government can walk and chew gum at the same time. People in the Pacific desperately need this support, they are not in a position - especially given COVID - to be able to build up that resilience themselves. 

"This is a commitment that was made by the previous National Government when they signed up to the Paris Agreement, that we would be one of the countries that supported developing countries like those in the Pacific - and we can do that as well as looking after our people here at home. 

"This doesn't come at the cost of anything we're doing at home."