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The Climate Protection Plan - Speech by James Shaw, 10 September 2017

Speech to a rally at the launch of the Green Party's Climate Protection Plan

Kia tau te rangimārie o te Rangi e tū nei

o Papatūānuku e takoto nei

o te Taiao e awhi nei

ki runga i a tātou.

Tīhei mauri ora!

He mihi nui ki te mana whenua, Ngāti Whātua ki Ōrakei, mō tō manaakitanga i tēnei rā. 

He hōnore nui ki te kōrero ki a koutou e pā ana ā mātou kaupapa ki te tiaki i ngā taonga tūturu i tēnei whenua, ā, ki te kāhore i te huringa o te āhuarangi. 

Nō reira, tēnā tātou katoa.

Normally when I talk about climate change I talk about how we have to do something to stop it for the sake of future generations.

We have to do it for our kids, or our grand-kids, or generations unborn.

Most people get that, they understand that we have this responsibility to those who come after us.

Some don’t, but most do.

The problem is someone else’s future is quite abstract. It's not as real as the challenges we face today in our own lives.

That’s one of the reasons that traditional political parties always fail to deliver on climate change. They always defer the problem. Kick it down the road.

Because there’s always something more pressing in the short term that affects current voters, or business or lobbyists, or pressure groups, and those short term challenges always win out over doing something for future generations.

Last week I watched the online coverage of the Monsoon floods in India and Bangladesh and the hurricanes that flooded Houston and destroyed villages and towns all over the Caribbean.

Climate change aggravates these events. It heightens the catastrophe.

The sea and the air are warmer. There’s more energy in the storm systems, there’s more water in the atmosphere, the sea levels are higher.

Climate change makes extreme weather events like floods and droughts and hurricanes much worse.

I saw photos of a retirement home in Houston and all these Texan retirees were sitting in their lounge chairs, and their lazy-boys with their cardigans on, with the water level up to their chests, waiting to get rescued.

And it hit me that climate change isn’t about generations unborn any more.

It used to be, thirty-odd years ago, when we first started talking about this.

But we didn’t do anything.

So now, that’s what retirement is going to look like for a lot of my generation.

It’s already what it looks like for some people in my parents’ generation. Not all of them. Most of them are doing fine. For now.

But it’s going to get worse.

We need to stop thinking about climate change as a problem that other people are going to face in the future, that we should address out of the goodness of our hearts, because we have a moral obligation, and start thinking about it as our problem, that we face today, because if we don’t, our own lives are going to get much, much worse.   

The US military describes climate change as a threat multiplier.

What that means is that all of the challenges we face right now, all of the problems we currently have, deepen as our climate changes.

Storms and other extreme weather events get more destructive. Conflicts get deadlier and harder to solve.

The refugee crisis gets worse: there are sixty-six million displaced people in the world right now, twenty-one million have been classified as refugees, and that is going to start doubling, and doubling again as housing and infrastructure is destroyed.

Last week I released an official report on the effects of climate change on New Zealand that the National government had been suppressing since April.

It showed that the homes of 133,000 New Zealanders are at risk from climate change and rising seas.

And to think, we already have a housing crisis and we already have a homelessness crisis.

Droughts get worse. Economic instability gets worse. Environmental collapse gets worse.

All the problems that traditional political parties are trying to fix at the moment - instead of doing something about climate change because that’s a long term problem: they’re happy to talk about it but somebody else can deal with it.

Meanwhile what happens? Climate change gets worse.

Unless we act now.

I’ve spent my whole adult life in sustainable development, starting when I first joined the Green Party in 1990.

And in all that time, I’ve heard countless politicians talk about climate change, and give speeches about climate change, and promise to do something about climate change to prevent this grim future from coming to pass.

New Zealand’s first ever emissions reduction target was put in place by then Minister for the Environment Geoffrey Palmer in 1990.

The target then was 20% below 1990 levels by 2005. 

Well, that target was binned by the incoming National Government in 1991 and now, twenty-seven years later, New Zealand’s emissions are over 50% higher than they were in 1990. 

Twenty-seven years. More than half my life. A whole generation has been born, raised, educated and started their own careers since then. Many of them have had their own children.

Twenty-seven years where the politicians did nothing but talk and it was twenty-seven years we couldn’t afford to waste.


But waste it they did, and now that future is here. We are living in the climate changed world.

And politicians are still just talking.

Climate change is the reason I’m in politics. I’ve spent my life working on it.

And I’m tired of all the talking. I want to change things.

If the Green Party is in government, in our first hundred days we will commit to making New Zealand carbon neutral.

It’s going to be the greatest transformation our economy has ever seen. It’s going to create tens of thousands of new jobs.

It’s going to make our cities and our rivers and our seas cleaner and greener.

It’s going to change our towns, our suburbs, our businesses, our schools, our government and our homes.

It will change our country. It will change our lives.

And no, it is not going to be easy.

But recall the words of US President John F. Kennedy in 1962.

He said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

Our commitment to this change has to be total. Most of the time politics is the art of compromise. It’s about negotiation. You come to an arrangement. You meet each other half-way.

But you can’t negotiate with the climate. Ask the citizens of Houston if Hurricane Harvey would meet them half-way.

That’s why the traditional political parties aren’t up to this challenge.

Fortunately, New Zealand has a party who’ve been thinking about this problem and how to meet it for over twenty years.

Here’s how it's going to work.

First: we are going to plant one point two billion trees.

We’re going to plant them in the cities. We’re going to plant them in the towns. We’re going to plant them in in the National Parks. We’re going to plant them in the regions.

That’s going to be tens of thousands of jobs. A lot of them will be in the regions. That means lower unemployment. Lower poverty. Lower crime. Cleaner rivers. More native species. It would be worth doing even if we weren’t saving the world.  

A lot of them will be native trees. Native forest shapes the beauty of our country’s landscape.

Take a second, and imagine what returning another 4-5 percent of our country to native forest would look like. Where once you’d see erosion-scarred hillsides, there’ll be lush forest and bush. Flocks of birds. Clean rivers.

Take another second, and imagine how many jobs, in the regions, for young people, might be created through planting those trees, and then through pest control in those forests, possum trapping, and the like. Even through mountain biking and maintaining walking tracks.

Imagine a revitalised plantation forestry sector, providing enough wood for biofuels, high end manufactured goods and – yes – housing.

Those 1.2 billion trees soak up a lot of our emissions.

The next step is to get those emissions down. That means putting a proper price on the pollution that causes climate change – our greenhouse gas emissions. All of them.  

We’re going to bin the Emissions Trading Scheme – a scheme that has seen hundreds of millions of dollars change hands, our forests get cut down and converted to intensive dairy farms and our emissions increase by over 21%.

The point of an ETS is to bring down emissions. Ours have increased 21% since we put the ETS in place. I can think of few more poorly conceived pieces of public policy than one that achieves the precise opposite of what is intended.

We say, tax pollution more, and tax peoples’ incomes less.

You can’t really put a price on the damage that’s causing to our planet, well actually you can.

That leaked report I talked about earlier laid out nineteen billion dollars worth of property risk due to climate change, so let’s start there.

We need to make companies and individuals accountable for the damage they’re causing. That’s what’s going to drive change.

As soon as you put a price on carbon, companies will respond by minimising that cost.

Now, because everyone’s been paying income tax for so long, and polluters have been creating pollution at no cost for so long, we don’t see how strange it is that we’re taxing work, but pollution is free.

As soon as we change that, it’s going to seem bizarre that we didn’t do it decades ago.

A proper price on pollution will raise the average household’s living costs by about ninety to a hundred dollars a year in increased petrol and energy costs.

So we’re going to reduce the bottom tax rate from 10.5% to 9%.

Everyone earning less than a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year will get at least an extra two hundred and ten dollars a year, which is more than double the increased fuel and energy costs.

So everyone is already better off.

It’s going to be a lot more for low income earners and families, because this campaign is about saving the planet and ending poverty.

Why not do both?

If you package it all together, a family with three kids with both parents on the median income will be better off by one hundred and thirty dollars a week.

Finally – and this is the kicker – every single Kiwi over 18 will also get a $250 dividend bonus at the end of the year based on the carbon tax revenue.

That number would be higher, but we’ve got over a billion trees to plant.

I think a $250 bonus and the knowledge that you’re not going to spend your retirement in a climate refugee resettlement camp is a pretty great deal.

Tax pollution, not work.

The Kiwi Climate Fund will put a proper price on the pollution that causes climate change, stimulate innovation and change in the economy, and leave every single New Zealand household better off at the end of the year with a dividend payment.

But, finally, there’s no point taxing carbon use domestically if the energy industry can keep digging up coal or oil and ship it overseas.

My commitment to you today is that in a Green government there will be no new coal mines, no new fracking, and no new deep sea oil drilling.

The world cannot burn most of the fossil fuel reserves that have already been discovered without causing catastrophic global warming.

Those reserves are stranded assets. There is no need to look for more.

Anyone who says that they want to take real action on climate change, but at the same time wants to keep looking for new coal or oil, simply isn’t serious.

We will stand up to the oil and coal companies and say guys, it’s time to change.

We will tell the Anadarkos and the Exxon Mobils of this world – who have their eyes on the oil and gas that might lie under the Maui’s dolphin sanctuary off the Taranaki Coast – that it’s time to find something else to do.

There’s plenty of jobs mining silica deposits in Southland so we can create all the solar panels we’re going to need.

There’s plenty of jobs in geothermal energy in the Central Plateau, or Northland, or the West Coast, for the people currently working the platforms off the Taranaki Coast.

If we don’t do this, even if there’s a change of government, then it will be business as usual for the energy lobby.

It will be business as usual in Parliament.

And it will be business as usual across New Zealand, with rivers getting dirtier, traffic getting worse, and the good old Huntly smokestacks continuing to pump out coal smoke.

The Greens are the only political party that has spoken the truth, that New Zealand has too many cows. And we’ve developed a plan to support farmers to move to cleaner farming.

We’re the only party promising to prioritise – not just build, but prioritise – buses, trains, cycling, and walking. And we’ve got a fully costed plan to do that.

We’re the only party with a plan to marshal the private sector behind us and direct the whole economy towards sustainability.

And we’re the only party that has worked out a way to do all of this, and make families and households better off at the same time.

The climate protection plan I’ve laid out today is incredibly comprehensive.

Hell, it’s 23 pages long.

If you want a new government that has a proper plan to reduce emissions, vote for the party that has sat down and worked through what has to be done.

Vote for the Green Party.

Otherwise, it will be business as usual for our country, and our future cannot afford business as usual.

If you watch the polls – and I do, as much as they sometimes make my teeth grind – you’ll see that New Zealand is about to elect a new government.

The big question now is not whether Labour will win, but who they’re going to invite into government with them.

Who will give them the numbers to govern.

If you want Jacinda Ardern leading a progressive government and you don’t want Winston Peters holding Labour over a barrel, I am asking you to give your party vote to the Greens. 

A vote for the Greens is a vote for the most environmentally friendly, most progressive government in generations.

Every vote we get increases the chances of a change of government and reduces Winston ability to choose whether Bill English or Jacinda Ardern get to be the next Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Doing the right thing often comes at a cost. But the cost of doing nothing was far greater then, just as it is now.

We’re a small country. We’re a young country. It’s only about a thousand years since the very first travellers here waded ashore and took that first step onto an empty beach at the end of the world.

But in that time we’ve become a country and a people who are willing to stand up and speak out and say, ‘This is wrong.’

When the people of Parihaka saw the British Crown confiscating land they said, ‘This is wrong.’

The suffragettes who saw that women were disenfranchised from the political system said, ‘This is wrong.’

Savage and the leaders of the first Labour government saw the inequality and injustice of a broken economy and said, ‘This is wrong.’

When the world stood on the brink of nuclear war New Zealand stood up and said to the world, ‘This is wrong.’

And every time we said those words we took action to show that we meant what we said.

Today we need to honour that legacy and live that tradition.

Today we say to those who refuse to take action on climate change, ‘This is wrong,’ and we need to show them that we mean it.

That’s what it will mean to have the Green Party in government and it will only happen if we have the Green Party at the heart of the next government.

We will not give up. We will not give in. We will not give way, because the hour is too late, the threats are multiplying.

The storm is rising, and the Green Party is the only party that is ready and willing to meet it.

We choose to make New Zealand a world leader in the global fight against climate change, “…because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa.