The government’s declaration of a national emergency on climate change has taken symbolism in politics to new heights. It’s an art form perfected by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the bulk of New Zealanders, it seems, like it.
Look at how she kept New Zealanders free of the Covid-19 virus (albeit with a bit of expert help from Dr Ashley Bloomfield).
A problem with rising house prices? Send a letter to the Reserve Bank governor.
Too many children suffering in poverty? Increase benefits: problem solved.
So too with climate change: First step, make the state sector carbon-free.
The public cheers. Opposition politicians who dismiss it are rubbished as carping critics.
ACT’S David Seymour sees it as a “declaration of post-rational politics” and Audrey Young in the NZ Herald reports the “Nats are left to fume at carbon reduction plan”.
Former Parliamentarian Peter Dunne has a rather different view. He argues the clock has been ticking on what Ardern defined three years ago as this generation’s “nuclear-free moment” . In his weekly dispatch Dunne writes that others are starting to notice this government is not the government of transformation it promised to be back in 2017.
“It has certainly turned emoting and angsting about the various issues facing the country into a veritable art form…At the same time it is becoming increasingly adept at finding others to blame for its failings. First it was the previous government, then it was its former coalition partner and now, the housing crisis is apparently the fault of the New Zealand public!”
Dunne concludes it is now stand-and-deliver time on climate change.
How, then, is Labour likely to perform on (for example) making the state sector carbon free?
Certainly it needs to do better than in 2007 when – as critics have been quick to recall – the then Labour government made the bold commitment:
“The public service will be going carbon neutral”.
Thirteen years later this is to be the primary move as the government determines to deal with the grim effects of a “national emergency”.
The government now “requires” all its agencies and ministries to buy electric vehicles exclusively and will mandate all public service buildings to be up to a “green standard” . This is part of the government’s goal to make the entire public sector carbon- neutral by 2025.
So how much difference will this make to global warming? According to some calculations, it could mean lowering annual emissions by 0.2% — a grand total of 0.0002% of global emissions.
Still, as they say, every little bit helps. And, of course, motor vehicle dealers will be rubbing their hands at the prospect of bidding to supply those 16,000 EVs for the public service fleet.
Yet, if this policy is to be a “priority”, and turns out to be virtually meaningless, there is concern that pressure will be brought to bear on the government by climate activists to do something more drastic and hit – let’s say – the agricultural sector to score a quick goal.