Jacinda Ardern defends environment policies after Greta Thunberg criticises New Zealand’s ‘so-called climate emergency declaration’

Activist retweets analysis suggesting initiative to cut government agencies’ climate impact will only deal with 1 per cent of annual emissions

Harry Cockburn
Monday 14 December 2020 12:39 GMT
Greta Thunberg criticises lack of action on climate, five years on from Paris Agreement

New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has defended her Labour government’s environmental goals after Greta Thunberg criticised the policies the country has in place to help tackle the climate crisis.

New Zealand officially declared a “climate emergency” on 2 December, with the government billing the announcement as a symbolic gesture.

Ms Ardern’s administration simultaneously launched a new initiative requiring many public agencies to become carbon neutral by 2025, through getting rid of coal boilers, meeting energy emission building standards, and through reducing numbers of cars in fleets and buying electric vehicles.

But an analysis of the policies by New Zealand news website Newsroom suggests the total impact will be to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 483,000 tonnes a year by 2025 – just 1 per cent of the country’s annual emissions output of 78.9 million tonnes.

Quoting the research, Ms Thunberg said: “‘In other words, the government has just committed to reducing less than 1 per cent of the country's emissions by 2025’.

“Text explaining New Zealand's so-called climate emergency declaration. This is of course nothing unique to any nation. #FightFor1Point5.”

The research states that New Zealand “will come nowhere close to meeting the IPCC's recommendation that countries reduce emissions to 45 per cent below 2010 levels by 2030”.

“In 2030, our net emissions will be just 6 per cent below 2010 levels, according to projections from the Ministry for the Environment,” the article said.

Ms Thunberg’s hashtag at the end of her post is a reference to the ambition set out in the Paris accord to halt the average rise in world temperatures to 1.5C more than pre-industrial levels.

On Monday Ms Ardern said she hadn’t seen Ms Thunberg’s tweet but said it had been described to her as a “reference to our public service carbon neutral goal of 2025”.

According to TVNZ, Ms Ardern said: “I would, of course, give the context there that, if that was the sum ambition of any government, then that would be worthy of criticism.

“It is not our sum ambition. And it is not the totality of our plans on climate change,” she said.

She also said it is a “good thing that there are people out there continuing to urge ambition and action”.

Earlier this month Ms Ardern and other lawmakers promised to back up the declaration with a continuing effort to tackle the climate crisis.

The government said the crisis was an important consideration in rebuilding the economy from the downturn caused by the coronavirus, and that it was imperative to “build it back in a sustainable way, with a focus on carbon neutrality”.

Opposition climate change spokesperson Stuart Smith said the declaration was hollow and lacked substance.

Last year New Zealand’s government passed a bill for the country to become carbon neutral by 2050, however the law included significant exemptions for farmers, who bring in much of the country’s foreign income.

Over the weekend, Ms Thunberg attacked the “distant, hypothetical targets being set” by countries to tackle the climate crisis and “empty words” being used by governments.

Marking five years since the Paris agreement, a deal adopted by 196 countries on 12 December 2015, Ms Thunberg said “the action needed is still nowhere in sight”.

The 17-year-old activist addressed her 10.5 million Instagram followers in a video, urging them to #FightFor1point5.

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