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Cross-Government Climate Action Plan: James Shaw's Speech to the 2019 Green Party Conference

Toitū te whenua

The land remains

Toitū te taiao

The natural environment remains.

Tīhei mauri ora!

Behold, the essence of life!

He mihi nui ki te mana whenua o te rohe nei.

Ngā hapū o Kaitahu, tēnā koutou.

I would like to pay tribute to the mana whenua of this land. The many people of Kaitahu, I greet you.

Ki a koutou te whānau o te Pāti Kākāriki kua huihui mai nei, ko tēnei te mihi ki a koutou.

To all of you, the Green party whanau, who are gathered here, this is my greeting to you.

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa.

Thank you all, we are here as one.

 

I want to take you back to our Green Party AGM in 2016.

For those of you who were there, you might remember it was in Lincoln, in Canterbury –

We’d recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Labour Party to Change the Government –

And 18 months later we did.

You did.

At that AGM, I talked about a possible future…

It’s a future where, on your weekends away, you’ll go to sleep at night safely knowing that the same beach that you’re enjoying now will still be here for future generations, unthreatened by rising seas.

In the morning, you’ll be woken by a dawn chorus from flocks of birds that once bordered on extinction.

After lunch you’ll pack the family into your electric car and head safely home on uncongested roads while your kids count the containers on the freight trains running on the tracks alongside you.

If you’ve got time, you might even stop by a river on your way home – and actually swim in it!

On Monday morning in New Zealand, you’ll catch the tram into town, and head off to some social enterprise or a clean-tech start-up, for a day of meaningful work, making the world just a little bit better and, while you’re at it, earning a fair day’s pay.

When you’re done, you’ll head back to your warm, dry, family home, a place you can call your own, secure in the knowledge that at the end of the month you’ve got enough to pay the rent or the mortgage and still put plenty of food on the table.

I said then,

That’s the country I want to live in. That’s the future I’m committed to.

It’s just a better world and it’s entirely possible.

The reason that I wanted to remind you of that speech, is because 18 months after we changed the Government, we are actually starting to make that world a reality.

We’re reducing the threat of rising seas by getting climate pollution under control with the Zero Carbon Bill…

We have banned new fossil fuel exploration in our waters, because we know that we can’t afford to burn the fossil fuels that have already been found…

Eugenie is bringing back the dawn chorus with the largest injection of funding into DOC since it was created…

Julie Anne’s making it possible for families to afford electric cars, making it more convenient to use public transport, making it safer to cycle, and she’s unclogging the highways with huge new investment in rail freight…

Our Government has a massive programme to clean up our rivers so you can swim in them again…

We’re boosting clean technology and the low-carbon economy with the Green Investment Fund…

We’re lifting the minimum wage year after year so that you get a fair day’s pay…

Jan Logie is making our homes and our communities safer with world-leading solutions to one of our country’s great disgraces, domestic and sexual violence…

We’ve reformed the Residential Tenancies Act to make sure every family has a warm dry home…

This year’s budget alone contained $6 billion in new funding for Green Party initiatives.

And we’re just getting started.

Now, I don’t know if you were at that 2016 AGM or not, but at that point it wasn’t clear that the media - or anyone else - believed we could actually change the Government.

And then when we did change the Government, I don’t think we imagined just how much we would achieve in our first 18 months. After all, we’d never been in Government before.

But we did dare to dream that a better world was entirely possible.

THE NEW CLIMATE DENIERS

And that brings me to my point today.

We have to strengthen our hope and strengthen our resolve.

Because while a better world is possible, it’s far from certain.

We have to make a lot more progress than we have so far.

Because when it comes to the greatest challenge of all time – the climate crisis – over the last 18 months the news from around the world has gotten worse rather than better.

Small steps are proving to be big battles.

And they’re battles because we’re still fighting climate denial.

It’s not the climate denial of old – you know, global warming is caused by sunspots or volcanoes or aliens… climate change is a United Nations conspiracy involving every scientist in the world… that kind of thing.

We’ve moved on from that.

Today’s climate denial is far more dangerous.

And it’s dangerous because it doesn’t actually deny the basic existence of climate change or the science behind it.

It’s dangerous because it sounds reasonable.

The first stage of climate denial is – it’s not real.

The second stage is – if it is real, then it’s not us.

The third stage – if it is us, then it’s not that bad.

The fourth stage is – if it is that bad, then there’s nothing we can do about it.

Now think about some of the things you’ve heard from some politicians recently:

“…a climate emergency is nothing more than political posturing and virtue signalling….”

“It’s not a climate emergency today. It’s something we need to work our way through.”

Sound familiar?

Those are the soothing words of former Associate Climate Change Minister Simon Bridges and his colleagues.

Words designed to lull us into a false sense of security that climate change isn’t a really big deal.

And therefore we don’t really need to do anything different.

Don’t need to make low emission vehicles cheaper.

Don’t need to ban offshore oil and gas exploration.

Don’t need to reduce agricultural emissions all that much.

It all sounds so reasonable doesn’t it? Yeah, climate change is real. Yeah, it’s caused by humans. But it’s OK, we can fix it without really changing anything.

Don’t worry about it. We’ve got this.

So reasonable.

So… dangerous.

And the truth is, the politicians and their allies who are the new climate deniers are driven by something even more dangerous: calculated, short-term self-interest.

The politicians think it’s good for their polling.

Their allies think they’ll be able to delay action until a new Government comes along and kicks the can even further down the road.

But they are wrong about all of this.

I believe that the gravest danger we face right now is the narrative that’s being spun by Simon Bridges and others – that it’s not such a big deal, that we don’t need to change anything, that half a percent more of economic growth is a more important concern than staving off more epic droughts and encroaching oceans.

And that making any changes at all to business as usual would destroy the economy and society as we know it.

When Chlöe Swarbrick stood up in Parliament to declare a climate emergency, the opposition simply blocked it.

That is the new climate denial: the denial that we need to change how we do things, to avoid a climate crisis.

It is desperate and it is dangerous.

Simon, it’s time for a bit of truth-telling, don’t you think?

Climate change is real, it us, but it is bad. Really bad.

Since 1980, the world has experienced a fifty-fold increase in the number of dangerous heat waves.

The United Nations estimates that by 2050 the world will need nearly twice as much food as it does today.

But drought is turning some of the world’s most arable land to desert.

The Arctic is on fire right now. Today. While I stand here and talk to you.

The Arctic.

On fire.

And that picture behind me, that’s the Port Hills in Christchurch.

We’re already seeing a 25 to 30 percent increase in Category 4 and 5 hurricanes.

If we let our planet keep warming we’ll lose about 70% of the world’s coral reefs because of ocean acidification – reefs which support a quarter of all marine life, the food source for about half a billion people.

If we keep changing the climate with our actions, there is about a one in two chance that global economic output will be cut by 20 percent this Century.

By comparison, the Great Depression of the 1920s and 30s amounted to about a 15 percent cut in the global economy.

The Great Recession – the GFC – of last decade caused about a two percent cut.

The climate crisis could mean a 20 percent cut.

Think about that.

That means fewer jobs and lower wages.

Less food to eat.

The new climate deniers won’t admit this, but that’s the future they’re trying to push us towards.

They still don’t seem to have realised that the economy and our society operate inside the environment.

Jobs happen on the planet.

Prosperity happens, on the planet.

Calling this a crisis, calling this an emergency, isn’t alarmism – it’s a description. It’s a statement of fact.

To suggest this isn’t a crisis, isn’t an emergency, is at best uninformed, and at worst misleading.

Well I have bad news for the new climate deniers.

Climate change is real.

It is us.

It is bad.

But here’s the good news: we can fix it.

Because the disasters and the denial are not all we’re seeing, are they?

In the face of all this, something else is stirring.

A hunger for change. And a movement for hope.

Around the world, school students are striking. They are putting down their books and asking why the adults who claim to be looking out for their interests are letting them down so badly.

They're marching in the streets and demanding action for their futures.

They're telling us we have to change.

When I stepped out to meet these students at Parliament – thousands and thousands of them – I was moved. I was inspired.

Because make no mistake – these students – our rangatahi – are an inspiration.

They are the common decency of humankind. And for me, they are in a very real way, the hope and inspiration for the future that we need right now.

We, the Greens, must be their voice in Parliament – and in Government.

So yes, we need to tell the truth about the climate crisis and what may be coming if we don’t act to prevent it – now.

But we cannot allow ourselves to be overwhelmed with fear and despair. All that does is bring about helplessness and powerlessness and inaction.

And we cannot afford that right now.

The new climate deniers are using fear to their advantage. Everything Simon Bridges is doing right now is about spreading fear and misinformation.

Fear of change.

Fear of uncertainty.

Fear it might cost you money.

He figures it worked for Trump. It worked for Brexit. It worked in Australia. He figures it’ll work here too.

But we have another story to tell.

Our job is to imagine the future we want to see.

And you know what? We are doing that. We are making it happen.

We know that this is an emergency.

And we have a plan to deal with it.

GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCEMENT: CROSS GOVERNMENT CLIMATE ACTION PLAN

So today, I’m announcing Aotearoa New Zealand’s very first Cross-Government Climate Action Plan.

This is a massive work-programme right across government that will run for many years.

It will lead to fundamental changes to how we get around our cities, how we heat our homes, how we farm, and how we dispose of waste.

Some of you may remember that last year the Productivity Commission landed a 500-page report on our desks, about how to achieve a low emissions economy.

It contained 77 primary recommendations and dozens of sub-recommendations.

It told the Government to do more, and do it faster.

And we have listened.

Our Government is moving to implement or further develop almost all of the recommendations.

And some of the recommendations we’re getting started on may sound familiar to Green Party members like you, such as…

Establishing a Green Investment Fund, to drive investment into clean technologies and jobs.

Like scrutinising all new legislation with a Climate Impact Statement, so that all ministers think about climate change in everything they do.

We’re passing the Zero Carbon Act and establishing the Independent Climate Change Commission.

Work is underway to ensure large organisations publicly report their climate related risks.

Because as the great climate change activist Bill McKibben once said:

“You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet.”

I know which one I choose. 

The Government’s proposed clean cars discount will reduce the price of electric and fuel efficient cars, both new and second hand.

Thanks to Julie Anne Genter and her close work with our colleagues across the government, we have shifted billions of dollars of investment away from surprisingly short but exceedingly expensive motorways and into safe walking and cycling, and frequent buses and trains.

To clean up our electricity system, Gareth Hughes is making sure the urgency of climate change underpins the development of an ambitious new renewable energy strategy.

We have so much potential here in Aotearoa for more wind, solar, geothermal, and hydro. There is really no reason to dig up dirty stuff and burn it

And because we’re in Dunedin, I want to shout out to the folks from BlueSkin Bay, including Scott Willis, whose sustained effort to help us understand how we can reap the benefits of more wind power is beginning to pay off around the Cabinet table.

Under this Government, Aotearoa’s biggest industrial coal users are moving to clean alternatives.

We’re phasing out the free allocation to big polluters in the Emissions Trading Scheme, so that it’s more cost effective for them to upgrade to clean technology.

And our Government is working on a plan that will hopefully end the use of coal to heat public buildings like schools and hospitals.

In the near future, the only place your kids will see coal is in a museum.

But changing energy sources isn’t enough if our buildings don’t use that energy efficiently.

Which is why I am delighted that in upcoming work to review the Building Code, the Government will be looking at how homes and buildings can help fix the climate crisis, instead of making it worse.

I’m looking forward to hearing more tomorrow about the homes of the not too distant future from our co-leader, Marama Davidson.

And of course, we are going to price and reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, because we all have a part to play, and agricultural emissions are almost half our national total.

And farming leaders are, for the most part, on board.

I cannot stress how much of a big deal that is.

Appropriate decision making is a core value in the Green Party’s charter.

And it means that the people most affected by a decision should be at the table when that decision is made.

That principle has driven our efforts to bring farming sector leaders to the table on agricultural emissions pricing.

And it has worked.

Yes, it could be more, and it could be faster.

But without the Greens at the table, it could also be less, and slower. Or nothing at all.

For the first time ever there is agreement that it has to happen.

We know that for the transition to a clean economy to work, it must be a just transition.

And we also know that the transition must be urgent and rapid, because the consequences of global warming will hit working people and families on low incomes much harder than they will hit people who can afford to move further up the hill away from the rising seas.

And that would not be just.

The just transition kaupapa is hugely important for the Green Party, and I want to acknowledge our workplace relations and welfare spokesperson, Jan Logie.

Jan is working to ensure everyone, particularly those on lower incomes, has the resources to live sustainably as we transition our economy.

This is about debunking one of the main myths about climate action: that climate action is unaffordable for ordinary people.

The new climate deniers who say action to reduce emissions is just a cost with no economic benefit: they could not be more wrong.

The low emissions economy of the future is more productive, more innovative, and better paid, than that of today.

Local solutions to global problems has always been a mantra in our party.

So from the local to the global: our Government is now integrating its international climate change strategy with its international trade strategy.

In the past our trade deals have run counter to our environmental agreements and responsibilities. We’re bringing them together. 

Golriz Ghahraman is leading this work for the Greens.

None of this would be happening without the Greens at the heart of government, driving change from the core.

The Minister of State Services is writing to the State Services Commissioner to make sure the whole public service is focused on the work that needs to be done.

The Chief Executives of the lead agencies – the Ministries for the Environment, Transport, Primary Industries, Treasury, and so on – together sit on a Board that I’ll be meeting with regularly to track progress against the plan.

With this Cross-Government Climate Action Plan, you can see that the Government – with the Greens at its heart and always pushing for more, faster – the Government is working to reduce emissions from all sectors of our economy and society.

We are building a country where everyone has enough to live good lives, within what the planet can provide.

The new climate deniers may be loud, they may be trying to scare us, and hold us back as a country and as a planet, but they are losing.

You know – as most New Zealanders know – that we face a climate crisis.

We do not buy the desperate, dangerous message of denial.

And we will not be petrified by fear.

We all know that we can fix this.

By the end of this term of government – just 36 months – we will have done more to stave off the climate crisis than the sum total of all previous governments for the last thirty years combined.

And it is happening because of the work all of you have done, over the years, to bring the Green Party to where it is today.

Have we done enough? Not even close. There is so much more to do.

But we have done all this – from stopping new oil and gas exploration to investing $14 billion in clean transport – with just eight Members of Parliament.

Imagine what we could do… with just a few more.

No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.