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The Nation: Simon Shepherd Interviews James Shaw

On Newshub Nation: Simon Shepherd Interviews James Shaw


It has been two years since Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called climate change her generation's nuclear free moment.

And on Monday, against a backdrop of global climate protest, she will give the opening speech at the United Nation's climate action summit.

But does New Zealand really deserve its reputation as a leader on climate action?

Simon Shepherd asked Climate Change Minister James Shaw.

James Shaw: The way that I see it is we’re not the leader, but we are one of the leading countries in the world on climate change. And we’re by no means perfect. So it is a mixed story, and I don’t think that we should over-claim leadership.

Simon Shepherd: So how would you rate our government and your performance as Climate Change minister?

Well, look, in this term of parliament, right, in three years, by the end of this term of parliament, we’ll have put in place a legally binding target to stay within 1.5% of global warming above pre-industrial levels. We’ll be one of the first countries in the world to do that. We’ll have put in place a mechanism for emissions on agricultural pricing. We will be the first country in the world to have done that. And we’ll have reformed the Emissions Trading Scheme so that it’s got a proper cap on the amount of emissions in any given period. We’ll have brought in a clean-car discount to make it easier for people to afford electric vehicles and low-emission vehicles. We’ll have set up a green investment fund. I mean, we will have done more, I believe, and I’m not spinning you, in this term of parliament, than the combination of the last 30 years’ worth of government.

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So is that the kind of a brag sheet that the Prime Minister is taking to the UN?

We’ve got to be honest with ourselves. We haven’t been as fast to address this as we should have been. We are one of the countries that wants to do more and wants to do it faster. But even we’re struggling to move as fast as the problem actually requires.

So what will be the focus of the PM’s address at the UN?

We do have this very large agricultural sector unlike most of the other OECD countries. People are looking at us for leadership in that space. And so that will be part of what she’s talking about. But she’s also just really trying to galvanise international action and say, ‘Come on – we’ve actually got to move faster on this thing.’

You said on our show before that as long as everyone is equally unhappy with the Zero Carbon Bill, you can get this over the line, but I would say that the farmers are more unhappy. In fact, some of them are devastated. How are you going to bring them along with you?

Well, look, there’s actually a huge spectrum of opinion in the agricultural community and farming communities about this. And certainly there are people who are really worried and fearful. And I can understand why. And I think that we’ve got to do a better job of, you know, working with those people and saying, ‘Look, actually, there’s all to play for here. This is not about the end of farming or anything like that. We’ve actually talking about a better world. And if you went 30 years ago, our farms are quite different to how they were 30 years ago, but they’re much more valuable now. I think the future is exactly the same.

There’s a political risk there for you, though, isn’t there, that if you don’t get everybody to come along with you, you’re not going to get another go at it.

Yeah, of course, but you’re got to try. And, you know, I have bent over backwards to try and build political consensus over the past two years.

And I think that there is a measure of consensus now that there wasn’t just a few years ago.

I mean, you did question the integrity of Simon Bridges about the same time as the Green Party conference. So has that become a major stumbling block for getting that political consensus?

No, I don’t think so. And remember we are talking about, you know, across all of society, not just between the political parties. And certainly political parties are here to represent constituencies – those pressures do exist, but there’s a spectrum of opinion inside the National Party as well. And I honestly don’t think that they’ve worked out where they’re going to land on this thing yet.

Well, they supported the Zero Carbon Bill in its first reading, but we’re not sure where they’re going now.

That’s right.

Have they indicated to you that they’re going to go with it?

Well, they said at the first reading that they agreed with basically every provision in the bill, but they didn’t think that the top end of the range for the 2050 target on methane – they wanted to narrow it. I’ve always said if they can come back with something that is scientifically grounded, that, you know, I can guarantee, hand on heart, lives within that temperature threshold of 1.5%, well, I just haven’t seen it yet.

Okay. You haven’t seen that, but you are open to the idea of reducing that methane cap?

Well, what I’m open to is a solution to that conundrum, if you like, but it’s got to meet the science. It has to be grounded in science.

One of the other ways of keeping within that cap you’re talking about is transport emissions. How unhappy are you with the fact that the light-rail project in Auckland, it seems to be delayed once again?

Yeah.

And that money is going to go probably to roads.

Well, it is very annoying, because we think that there is a solution there. It should have moved faster than it was, and I think that the frustrations that our Transport Ministers have had with, you know, agencies and other factors in getting that over the line sooner is pretty evident.

How can we trust that this government is going to make advancements in that area if you can’t deliver on what is a key Green policy of getting more public transport?

We are going to deliver on it. And actually if you look at what we’ve done is we’ve diverted $14.5 billion over the course of the next years into light rail, heavy rail, walking, cycling, public transport and so on. And so I think whilst the machine was very set up just to deliver these astonishingly expensive but very short motorways, actually creating a holistic integrated multi-modal transport system is a big challenge when everything that the last government did was just build motorways. And so there’s a lot of retooling the system that needs to happen in order to get the shift that we need.

And just finally, you’ve also announced some voluntary guidelines on how businesses can offset their emissions, but aren’t offsets just a way for the wealthy businesses to buy their way out of climate guilt?

And that’s one of the concerns actually that some of those leading businesses had. They said they don’t want to be perceived as just this kind of get out of jail free card. And so the guidelines themselves say, you know, that offsetting should be your last resort, not your first resort. The whole idea is you’ve got to reduce your emissions as much as you possibly can. But frankly, there are some areas where their technology means you can’t swap out right now. And so if you can’t get them down to zero, then you really should offset the difference.

Is it mutually exclusive, our main earners like tourism and climate change?

Yeah, Chris Luxon, the outgoing chief executive of Air New Zealand swears that we’ll be flying electric planes at least for regional routes within 10 years. We know that people are testing hydrogen as a fuel for long-distance aircraft. And so I think a change is definitely coming. You know, Auckland Port has just bought the world’s first electric tugboat. So things are changing, but it is taking a while to change.

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