AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch): With New Zealand’s 2017 general election two weeks away, Pacific Media Watch looks into the policies and stances of the country’s major political parties on climate change. Despite scientific consensus that sea levels are expected to rise by a maximum of 1.5 metres, which could displace approximately 1.7 million people in the Pacific by 2050, the issue of climate change has notably been absent in this year’s election campaign, particularly in the leaders' debates.
The Greens have announced the party will attempt to pass binding climate change legislation in the first 100 days of parliament in a move Green Party leader James Shaw described as “real climate action”. Shaw announced on TV Three's The Nation the party will subsequently commit to a Zero Carbon Act. Tackling climate change appears to be an election priority for the Greens, with the party launching a plan to “truly address climate change” on Sunday, September 10. The Greens say their climate change policy is “about adapting to climactic changes that are already locked in, and doing our part to help other nations, especially our vulnerable Pacific neighbours”. The Pacific features heavily in this policy, particularly in terms of ‘international adaptation’, in which the party pledges to provide mitigation and adaptation funding, assist in forced relocations, and encourage international support at the UN for the Pacific in terms of its security and future survival. On World Refugee Day - June 20, 2017 - Shaw announced within the Green Party's immigration policy it would create a humanitarian visa for climate change refugees from the Pacific, initially available to 100 people a year, within its move to increase New Zealand's refugee quota. It is important to note the Green Party’s policy document on climate change has not been updated since 2014.
“This [climate change] is my generation’s nuclear free moment, and I am determined that we will tackle it head on.” Despite this rallying cry by Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and her comments climate change was a challenge “postponed for too long” at Labour’s campaign launch, the party’s policy on climate change does not appear to be as aggressive. While the Green’s say they are committed to being carbon neutral by 2050, Labour is unclear on an exact date, choosing to wait until an independent carbon commission advises the party on a correct path. "We will have a target, but I want to make sure that it's not politicised, that we have that independent view and they hold us to account," Jacinda Ardern has said. Labour’s policy on climate change aims to: ensure a just transition to a sustainable low-carbon economy with decent and secure jobs; establish an independent Climate Commission and carbon budgeting; restore the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to putting an effective price on carbon; make New Zealand a leader in the international fight against climate change, and in ensuring the 2015 Paris Agreement is successfully implemented. The party does, however, state: “more to be announced in this area”.
The Māori Party’s climate change policy is centred on solutions, in which a switch to renewable energy sources features. The party says it plans to introduce, provide and develop renewable energy and alternative fuels. This includes subsidised solar panels for all homes in New Zealand and championing their installation in schools, marae, hospitals and government agencies. The Māori Party also aims to close all coal-fired power plants by 2025 and support a proposal which will see 100,000 hectares of new forest planted over the next 10 years. The party’s 2017 environmental policy document reveals it also wishes to enact climate change emissions targets into law, with an independent Climate Commission established to ensure this occurs, while subsidising electric vehicles for community groups. Importantly, the party is proposing a new visa category for Pacific climate change refugees, in a policy move similar to the Greens.
New Zealand’s current Government, the National Party, says it takes climate change seriously. The party admits it is presented with the challenge of reaching 30 per cent emissions below 2005 by 2030 while continuing to grow the country’s economy and creating jobs. Emissions have fallen eight per cent since National took office, but the party does not shy away from the fact it “needs to do more”. National therefore intends to ensure a third of its approximately 15,500 vehicles are electric or hybrid by 2021 and continuing to aim for 90 per cent renewable electricity while implementing changes to the ETS to make it “fit for purpose”. Climate change spokesperson Paula Bennet has also said National is committed to supporting New Zealand’s “Pacific cousins” in adapting to climate change. However, the National government’s position on climate change is not without its critics. National is currently being criticised by both Labour and the Greens for delaying the release of a Ministry of Environment report on climate change impacts in New Zealand. Green Party leader James Shaw has said: “It seems that there are inconvenient truths in this new report, which the Government would rather not talk about in the lead-up to the election.” Labour’s climate change spokesperson Megan Woods has also voiced concerns the government is being “cavalier” and “secretive”: “I want the report released immediately, so that New Zealanders can see for themselves what the risks are from not confronting the Climate Change crisis.” National Party leader Bill English has said most New Zealanders do not wake up thinking about climate change, prompting one West Coast principal to write: “To flippantly make out it is not something New Zealanders think about suggests to some that Mr English does not really care about environmental issues such as climate change.”
New Zealand First
New Zealand First states a balance must be struck between the country’s economic progress and environmental goals. Opposing the ETS, which New Zealand First sees as “profiteering from our environment”, is one of the party’s policies in tackling climate change. New Zealand First says it believes wide public consultation should occur in the development of such climate policies, as the country transitions from fossil fuels to a renewable economy. New Zealand First states within this transition, electricity retailers would purchase power generated by customers at the retail price through a “net metering” process. The party also believes New Zealand should implement similar climate legislation to the UK, in which emissions targets become law under a Climate Change Act supervised by a Parliamentary Commission for Climate Change. New Zealand First states if effective climate change policy is not implemented the country’s trade will be at risk. “As a trading nation we cannot afford to sit on our hands. To do so would be to put our trade in primary products at risk, especially with countries that are doing their bit to reduce emissions.” New Zealand First’s policy on climate change has allegedly been endorsed by Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters claims.
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