Election 2023: Greens co-leader James Shaw delivers speech at party's annual general meeting

  • 08/07/2023

Greens co-leader James Shaw has delivered a speech at his party's annual general meeting on Saturday in Auckland.

The majority of his speech focused on climate change and what it's doing to the planet and New Zealand.

He also touched on the work the Green Party has done on climate policies since it came into power in 2017.

Read his full speech below.

Kia tau te rangimārie

O te Rangi e tū iho nei

O Papatuānuku e takoto nei

O te taiao e awhi nei

Ki runga i a tātau

Tihei mauriora

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tatou katoa.

Ngā mihi o te ahiahi.

A few days ago, on Tuesday 4th July, it was the hottest day anyone had ever recorded on planet earth.

Scientists estimate it was the hottest day since sometime in the last interglacial period 125,000 years ago.

The second hottest day was Monday the 3rd July.

Last month, June 2023, was the hottest June ever recorded.

Here in Aotearoa, we have experienced first-hand some of the most extreme weather we have ever seen.

In Tāmaki Makaurau lives were upended by devastating flooding.

Which played out again only a few weeks later in Hawke’s Bay.

We have seen incredible storm damage, over and over again, in Westport and Buller.

Droughts in Southland so severe that the Awarua–Waituna wetlands caught fire – in autumn.

The climate crisis is no longer something that’s happening to someone else, somewhere else, at some point in the future.

It’s happening to us. It’s happening here. It’s happening now.

Climate change defines our relationship with the world. And it is pla

ying out exactly as scientists warned it would.

So much so, that we are now at the entirely predictable - and predicted - point where we are in an emergency.

For decades, government-after-government pursued short-term goals without seeing the bigger picture.

Without understanding that everything they did - for better or worse - to deliver prosperity to Aotearoa depended on a stable climate.

But that stability… the stability that we depend on… is unravelling.

Temperatures today are 1.1 degrees warmer than they were 150 years ago.

That might not sound like much but fractions of a degree matter.

A 1.3 degree world is less bad than a 1.4 degree world.

Super-powered by a fossil fuel industry whose political power has engineered the atmospheric conditions that supercharged Tāmaki Makaurau’s state of emergency earlier this year, we are moving rapidly towards a 2 degree world.

I do not want any child growing up today to find out what that looks like.

For 30 years - ever since a small group of committed activists got together and formed the Green Party - we have been the only - the only - political party to treat climate change as the crisis it truly is.

The danger of giving in to the fossil fuel industry, or the mining companies that want to bulldoze our precious habitats, or the massive corporations that want to plunder the ocean floor.

The question then is not whether we need to act.

The question is, and always has been, whether we will act before it’s too late.

Previous generations didn’t have the technology - but we do.

Future generations won’t have the chance - it will be too late.

And so, it falls to us.

What we do over the next few years will profoundly impact the world our children and grandchildren inherit from us.

We can create a world with clean air and water, unlimited renewable energy that powers everything from our cars, to our bikes, to our heat pumps.

And we can have a thriving natural environment that will sustain us well into the future.

And we can do it without increasing the world’s temperature.

All we need is a government with the political courage necessary to match the scale and urgency of the challenges in front of us.

A government that looks at these challenges, not with fear, but with hope.

For young people growing up today, climate change isn’t the slowing moving scientific issue 30 years of governments before us ignored.

It is the lens through which they look at their future. Their lives have been burdened by the slow progress of governments that came before us.

What we have delivered over the last six years with the governments we have been given is quite frankly remarkable.

But, now they are looking at us and wondering if we have the courage to step up and tackle climate change with the urgency it demands.

Today, less than 100 days out from one of the most significant elections we have ever had in Aotearoa…

… I want to talk to you about some of what we have been able to achieve as part of the last two governments.

And the story of what we have achieved is also the story of why we are not yet done.

Six years ago, we pulled together to get the party through the most traumatic election campaign we have had.

An election that took us to the brink - but that also took us into Government, with ministers, for the first time in our history.

We immediately got to work on what would quickly become the largest government programme of work to cut emissions this country has ever seen.

Creating a single framework, that would require every single future government to take action to cut emissions, was the job of the Zero Carbon Act - which we passed.

Amongst other things, the Zero Carbon Act requires Governments to have binding plans to cut emissions and to adapt to the coming floods and storms.

Last year I was very proud to usher in the country’s first, comprehensive, all-of-government Emissions Reduction Plan.

It is a blueprint for a zero-carbon Aotearoa.

With well-paying jobs doing meaningful work, upgrading the country to run on clean energy, with better infrastructure, and to restore our native wildernesses and wildlife. 

There are now sixteen different Ministers, holding eighteen portfolios between them, that are named as having responsibilities in the plan.

So, when I said at AGM two years ago that every Minister is a Climate Change Minister, this is what I meant.

Climate change has gone from being the problem of the Ministry for the Environment and the Minister of Climate Change, to everybody’s problem.

Together, the more than 300 actions contained within the plan, and the billions of dollars of investment it is backed with, add up to a future we will be happy to pass on to our children.

The end of coal.

Kids walking or cycling to schools powered by clean energy.

Modern, accessible, convenient and affordable public transport, as New Zealanders deserve.

More people getting around in zero-emission electric vehicles.

Families raising their kids in warmer, drier, healthier homes.

I have made no secret of the fact that I wanted it to go further.

What stopped that was not an absence of ideas, or ambition, or fight…

But a majority government that had other priorities. 

The next government, that New Zealanders elect in October, will need to update the climate plan next year.

Just like Labour will need our support, the only way that Christopher Luxon can become Prime Minister is with the support of David Seymour and the ACT party.

An ACT party that has pledged to restart oil drilling and ditch our climate targets.

The decisions the next government makes will determine emissions reductions for the rest of this decade.

Every year, when I make these speeches at AGM – my eighth as co-leader – I am reminded that I stand before you, not as a Minister, or co-leader, but as someone who wants the same things you do.

As someone who does not want another generation to have to bear the burden of slow progress.

There is no doubt in my mind that the only way to get the speed and scale of action we need is to make sure the plan is led by a Green Minister of Climate Change.

One who is supported around the Cabinet table with more Green Ministers pushing for bold climate action in their own portfolios and across the Government.

Now, this job is mostly hard work.

But it is punctuated by moments of real pride when we accomplish something significant.

And I had one such moment, yesterday.

Many of you know that I first joined the Greens in the middle of our very first election campaign, in 1990.

It was about that time, over thirty years ago now, that the government made it a requirement for local councils to identify areas in their region where there was significant native wildlife.

Once identified, they were required to protect these areas from anything that may damage the precious native wildlife that made it home.

The trouble is, that’s all the government did.

They - and every government since for the last three decades - failed to provide any advice or guidance on how this work should be done.

Nor how councils should work with their communities, with landowners, and with tangata whenua.

The result has been… not great.

A patchwork of protections across the country.

Wetlands and tussock lands disappearing, year after year.

So yesterday was a moment of real pride, when I announced that, after three decades of trial and error - mostly error - the Government has finally released the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity.

It is a clear set of rules that councils and communities will need to follow so native wildlife can regenerate and flourish.

To stop this slide into extinction for threatened species and prevent further destruction of native habitats.

This is why we are in government.

Change can be slow, messy, and endlessly frustrating.

Our path can be blocked by other Ministers with different priorities to those we hold dear.

But we keep fighting.

And we get there.

For the first time ever, we have standards across the country for the protection of our native wildlife.

It will provide a level of certainty to councils, landowners, farmers and growers, tangata whenua, forest owners, and developers that they just haven’t had before.

And it’ll ensure that Māori management and ownership of land goes hand in hand with indigenous biodiversity protection.

And it only happened with the Greens in Government.

Imagine what we could do with more Green Ministers!

And alongside the environmental protections I announced yesterday, I also announced that our Government is establishing a system of biodiversity credits and incentives.

A way to value nature, not as an extractive resource, but by its own intrinsic value.

A well-designed system of biodiversity credits could do just that.

It could provide the resources that landowners, farmers and tangata whenua need to actively restore and regenerate those significant natural areas on their land that are protected by the National Policy Statement.

Or that are protected as nga whanua rahui or QEII Trust covenants.

It could also help to close the financial gap between fast-growing exotics and slow-growing, but biodiverse, native forests under the Emissions Trading Scheme.

It could help to finance the reforestation of badly eroded land in Tairawhiti after Cyclone Gabrielle.

It will essentially support people to do what they already want to do, which is to be part of the solution.

There is nothing more beautiful and endlessly fascinating than the natural world.

Every one of us here today has encountered its astonishing beauty. From native birdsong, to the comfort of a shady tree, to a walk along the beach.

It is part of who we are as people.

But the complex web of life of which we are a part matters to us in other profoundly important ways.

Every mouthful of food, every sip of water, the air we breathe…

… It is all the result of work done by the natural world.

Our native forests, wetlands, peatlands and mangroves are also critical to removing climate emissions from the atmosphere.

In other words, when we damage the natural world, we damage ourselves.

One of humanity’s greatest weaknesses is our almost complete inability to perceive and respond to slow moving, invisible, distributed threats until they become fast moving, highly visible and very specific to us personally.

Much like warming temperatures are difficult to see day-to-day, when natural environments shift from one state to another, it can be almost impossible to notice the change.

Right now, three in every four of our native plants and animals are threatened with extinction.

178 of 217 species of birds.

39 of 51 species of freshwater fish.

116 of 124 species of reptiles.

Archey’s Frog, at risk from mining on conservation land.

Longfin eel.

The Otago skink.

The rock wren - who, incidentally, we propelled to Bird of the Year last year…

… are all among the native species our children and grandchildren may only get to know by reading about them in books.

There is nothing remotely like the situation we’re in at the moment.

Successive governments have presided over an expansion of mining, intensive farming, and industrial fishing that is erasing Aotearoa of so much of its natural wonder.

This country has never made as much progress on conservation as it did when the Honourable Eugenie Sage was Minister.

Our wildlife and wildernesses need a Green Party champion at the decision-making table.

Someone reminding every other minister of their duty to protect the natural world; to finally ban mining on conservation land; and to put global biodiversity targets into New Zealand law, like we did for climate through the Zero Carbon Act.

That’s what we could do with more Greens in government!

One of the main drivers of the climate crisis has been the wholesale destruction of the world’s forests and wildernesses.

Here in Aotearoa, warming from deforestation and land use change is roughly seven times the warming from our fossil emissions.

Think about that.

Our destruction of our natural wildernesses has had seven times the impact on climate change than has our use of fossil fuels.

Since human settlement began, we have removed three quarters of our natural forest cover.

More than half of that deforestation occurred in the last 200 years since colonisation began, and most of that in the last 100 years.

For decades, successive Governments have tried to deal with our biodiversity and climate crises separately, trapping what should be complementary solutions into silos.

But the reality is, neither the biodiversity crisis, nor the climate crisis, can be successfully tackled unless they are tackled together.

Eight years ago, the nations of  the world agreed that 1.5 degrees of warming was a red line to avoid.

After a lot of pushing, 18 months ago, I successfully won an agreement to increase New Zealand’s contribution to global climate action under the Paris Agreement.

As a result, the climate pollution that New Zealand is responsible for in the year 2030 will be half what it is today.

Under the global climate agreement, countries must submit national plans to cut emissions over the course of the decade.

Most countries around the world highlight the benefits of protecting ecosystems - such as forests, mangroves, wetlands and marine ecosystems - in these plans.

Aotearoa is one of only two countries in the world that restricts its ambition on nature-based solutions to climate change to forestry.

In other words, we are ignoring the climate impact of around two thirds of our land area in Aotearoa.

Native forestry, of course, has an important role to play.

But so too should we be looking at every possible option to restore living systems such as wetlands, peatlands, and grasslands as a way of sucking carbon dioxide from the air and locking it up.

Restoring nature also helps protect people from the increasing extreme weather events.

Trees help prevent surface flooding.

Mangroves protect coasts from erosion and inundation.

The first order of business has to be to stop putting the pollution into the atmosphere that causes climate change in the first place. 

We need everything from more rooftop solar and community wind turbines.

To fast, frequent, and affordable buses and trains that run on electricity, not fossil fuels.

To ways of producing food that are good for the planet, good for people, and good for farmers.

But that alone is not enough.

We also need to draw down much of the carbon dioxide that we have already chucked into the atmosphere.

And that means harnessing the power of nature.

It’s been a source of some frustration to me for pretty much the whole time I’ve been Minister of Climate Change that New Zealand essentially runs two sets of accounts.

That there’s a gap between the comprehensive inventory of all the sources and sinks of climate pollution in Aotearoa on the one hand, and what we count for our Paris targets on the other.

That gap is frustrating to a lot of other people too.

Particularly farmers and other landowners who would like to be able to be recognised for all of the scientifically valid ways that their land can and does draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

And for environmentalists, who would like see us put as much effort into restoring wetlands and peatlands and mangroves as we do into planting exotic forests.

So it has been a goal of mine for some years to properly recognise nature in our global climate change targets.

And today I am very pleased to confirm the first step in that journey.

Last Monday Cabinet made a decision to start work on how the revival of native ecosystems can help deliver our global climate goals.

Put simply, action to restore our rivers, oceans, forests and wildlife to health can soon become a core part of our plan to cut climate pollution at the speed and scale required.

In practical terms, that means that, in the not-too-distant future, action to restore our native wildernesses should count towards our efforts to stop the climate crisis.

And that includes recognition for wetlands, peatlands, mangroves and other non-forest land uses in the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme.

That decision happened because the Greens are in government.

And it will be delivered if we are elected to government on 14 October. 

Make no mistake, a National-led Government that is beholden to the Act Party would reverse all the progress we have made over the last six years.

Everything we have achieved, from putting climate targets into law, to ending the use of coal to heat our schools and hospitals, to finally putting nature at the heart of our climate response will be dismantled…

…and we’ll be back where we were, thirty years ago.

If we are to build on the progress we have made and face the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis with the urgency they demand, the only way – the only way – to do it…

…Is to have more Green MPs in the next Parliament and more Green Ministers in the next Government.

Aotearoa can be one of the leading countries in the world in the fight against the climate crisis.

Together, we can restore the health of our rivers, forests, and oceans.

We choose to do these things not because they are easy, but because we cannot sit by and listen to excuses.

There are no excuses now.

No time for half-measures.

No room for marginal improvements.

This is it.

The time is now.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.