NZ climate chief to aim higher at UN talks

·3-min read

The coronavirus pandemic has shown humans are very good at responding to an immediate crisis, says New Zealand's Climate Change Minister James Shaw, but when it comes to dealing with a slower-moving threat like climate change we are "terribly bad."

The minister was speaking on Wednesday ahead of a key climate summit that starts in Glasgow, Scotland, on October 31.

Many environmentalists say the UN summit, known as COP26, represents the world's final chance to avert climate catastrophe.

Shaw said he intends to announce a more ambitious target for New Zealand's emissions reductions over the coming decade at COP26, and hopes many other countries also aim higher.

A top priority, he says, will be to ensure a promise made by wealthier nations to provide $US100 billion ($A135 billion) a year to help poorer countries switch to cleaner energy is fulfilled.

"The developed world so far has not delivered on that promise," Shaw told The Associated Press.

Shaw said the pandemic has accelerated the transition to cleaner energy in some countries, but in many developing nations it has slowed improvements, as they struggle to cope with the massive financial and social impacts from COVID-19.

New Zealand's government has promised the country will become carbon-neutral by 2050, but it has faced criticism for not taking action quickly enough.

Greenhouse gas emissions in the nation of five million reached an all-time high just before the pandemic hit.

Many bills passed in recent years will have a positive impact over time, the minister said, including a ban on new offshore oil and gas exploration, tougher emissions standards for cars, a subsidy scheme for electric vehicles, and the establishment of a climate change commission.

"Is it enough? No. And the thing is, it never will be enough," he said.

"We know that every single year, we are going to have to continue to take new and further actions on climate change because this is a multi-generational battle over the course of the next 30 years and beyond.

"It's going to involve every part of our economy, every part of our society."

Climate scientist James Renwick said New Zealand and other nations need to bring more urgency to their actions.

"The countries of the world have talked about this issue for many years, but we still haven't really seen the action, and time has got extremely short now," said Renwick, a professor at the Victoria University of Wellington.

"We've got to see emissions reduction starting immediately, 2022, and we have to get emissions down really fast in the next decade."

Almost half of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture in an economy that relies on exporting food. Many environmentalists say farmers are essentially getting a free pass from politicians.

Shaw said farmers will be subject to new emissions rules that will come into effect by 2025, and that many are already finding innovative ways to reduce their carbon footprint.

An important part of his trip to Glasgow will be to stand alongside colleagues from low-lying Pacific islands who are already feeling extensive effects from climate change through more severe cyclones and rising sea levels, he said.

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