Chris Hipkins and Christopher Luxon's response to climate change question horrifies experts

Tom Kitchin for The Detail

There was an answer to a question in the election's first televised leaders' debate which made some people's hair stand on end.

Although Chris Hipkins and Christopher Luxon both said New Zealand was in a climate emergency, their answers to a follow up question: "Personally, what are you doing to change your lifestyle?" were revealing.

"As a family, we embraced recycling some time ago," Luxon responded.

"I have an EV (electric vehicle), I'm a recycler," said Hipkins.

RNZ's climate change correspondent Eloise Gibson said those answers were to her "horror".

"It turned out that they made a really common mistake – both of them – which is thinking that recycling's going to make much difference to climate action. You would've hoped that our two prospective leaders would be better informed." 

Gibson says studies have shown changing one's mode of transport and diet are the best options.

When it comes to transport, she says flying less regularly can help.

"If you can find a way to say to your boss who's like 'you've got to be in Wellington from Auckland for this staff meeting once a week or once a month' – if you can find a way not to do that, absolutely that's the first thing you should knock off.

"For people who are just getting themselves around town, cycling and walking for small trips and public transport are the two biggest things that you can do. EVs are great if you're replacing petrol and diesel trips with an EV, that's great, but just getting us all into EVs doesn't solve congestion or the emissions cost of manufacturing vehicles."

On diet, Gibson says beef uses a "massive amount of resources" compared to other food and has a higher greenhouse gas footprint.

"Switching some of your beef to something like chicken helps. A lot of people aren't going to be willing to go cold turkey on their animal products ... but swapping out beef for other things ... is something that has an impact." 

Dr Kevin Trenberth is one of the world's top climate scientists and is based in Auckland.

He's a distinguished scholar at the National Centre of Atmospheric Research in Colorado, and an honorary academic at Auckland University's physics department.

He watched the debate and says he was disappointed when it came to the discussion on climate change.

"They didn't say very much, and it was very much the overall national tune associated with the need to cut emissions.

"They never did address what I thought were the main issues ... New Zealand certainly needs to set examples and New Zealand could do a lot more."

He takes The Detail through several things he thinks would have the greatest impact, such as using wood instead of coal at New Zealand's largest power station in Huntly, cutting down on the use of cars while introducing congestion charges, and using more solar electricity. 

He thinks a lack of knowledge is leading to bad outcomes.

"This is the reason I'm talking to you here now, to try to rectify that a little bit."

Listen to the full podcast for Trenberth's advice.

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Chris Hipkins and Christopher Luxon's response to climate change question horrifies experts