New Zealand has declared a “climate emergency” and promised to make its public sector carbon neutral by 2025.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told legislators on Wednesday that the climate emergency declaration was “an acknowledgement of the next generation – an acknowledgement of the burden that they will carry if we do not get this right and do not take action now”.
The motion, which passed Parliament by 76 votes to 43, called climate change “one of the greatest challenges of our time”, noting the “devastating impact that volatile and extreme weather will have on New Zealand” as well as the “alarming trend in species decline”.
“In those cases where we do issue declarations, it is often where there is a threat to life, a threat to property, and civil defence emergencies,” Ardern said in Parliament. “If we do not respond to climate change, we will continue to have these emergencies on our shores.”
New Zealand now joins 32 other countries that have declared a climate emergency. They include Japan, Canada, France and the United Kingdom.
The main opposition National Party voted against Ardern’s motion saying it was nothing but “virtue signalling”.
“It can do harm in making people think that by declaring an emergency something has happened, when it hasn’t,” National leader Judith Collins told Radio New Zealand.
Ardern, who returned to power in October delivering the biggest election victory for her centre-left Labour Party in half a century, has called climate change the “nuclear-free moment of our generation”.
In her first term she passed a Zero Carbon Bill, which sets the framework for net zero emissions by 2050 with an exemption for farming and banned new offshore oil and gas exploration.
Nearly half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, mainly methane.
The government on Wednesday promised the public sector will achieve carbon neutrality by 2025. Government agencies would have to measure and report emissions and offset any they cannot cut by 2025.
The programme will be backed by a 200 million New Zealand dollar ($141m) fund to finance replacing coal boilers and help purchase electric or hybrid vehicles, it said.
Greenpeace welcomed the declaration but challenged the government to follow through with policy and action.
“When the house is on fire, there’s no point hitting the alarm without fighting the fire as well,” said Greenpeace agriculture and climate campaigner Kate Simcock.
“Fighting the fire in New Zealand means tackling agricultural emissions.”
Critics also say that Ardern’s government has not done enough to enhance New Zealand’s “clean, green” reputation since she took office in 2017.
Climate Action Tracker – a science-led independent assessment service – rates New Zealand’s climate policies “insufficient” to meet its goals under the 2015 Paris climate accord.