Climate Change Minister James Shaw is heading to a conference in Europe tomorrow to highlight the plight of low-lying Pacific nations, as well as to show the world that New Zealand can now stand tall in the battle to reduce emissions.

Shaw is already working on allowing Pacific people to migrate to New Zealand if climate change forces them to flee their homes.

Shaw and Pacific Peoples Minister Aupito William Sio are attending the COP23 climate change meeting in Bonn, Germany, and also heading to Rome, Italy, for a meeting between the Pacific Island Forum leaders and Pope Francis.

COP23 will be lead by Fiji, and focus on the threat rising seas pose to low-lying nations such as Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Fiji and Vanuatu.

Advertisement

Shaw said it was also a chance for New Zealand to show its change of direction on climate change.

"It is the first opportunity for the new Government of Jacinda Ardern and us to stand up on the world stage and to say, 'there is a significant change in New Zealand's policy and we aim to lift our ambition massively and go from being something of a follower to one of the world's leading countries in the fight against climate change'.

"We aim to be a carbon neutral economy by 2050 - that would put us in the leading pack of the top 10 countries."

He said New Zealand has copped fair criticism in the past for "not really doing anything to reduce our domestic emissions, and in particular using international carbon credits to pay other people to reduce their emissions so we don't have to. I think that criticism was valid."

The conference aims to develop rules to implement the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global temperatures from rising 2C above pre-industrial levels, and limit the rise to 1.5C.

Shaw said the visit to the Pope was also significant.

"He's hosting a meeting of Pacific Island leaders on their way to Bonn to lift the profile of the immediacy and the urgency of the challenges that the Pacific Island states face."

Meanwhile, Shaw said discussions had begun to allow Pacific peoples fleeing climate change to migrate to New Zealand. He was not sure yet if they would count towards New Zealand's annual refugee intake as "they're not covered by the UN convention".

"Well before you get into the technical conversations, or even whether it's a specific visa category, the first principle is that people who are displaced by rising seas are going to need some way of migrating with dignity.

"It's not urgent because the number of people displaced internationally from rising seas is low, but we know we've got to get ahead of the problem."

He hoped global action on climate change would minimise the number of those displaced by climate change.

"They don't want to lose their country, and we don't want them to lose their country either. [But] we know that there is internal displacement. And that is going to lead in the not-too-distant future to external displacement. We do want to get ahead of it."

He hoped to make significant progress this parliamentary term.