New Zealand's government expects moving away from using fossil fuels will take several decades so the economy and affected industries have time to adjust, the Minister of Energy, Megan Woods, told the country's main annual oil and gas conference in Wellington.
Speaking to an audience that required police intervention to run a gauntlet of protesters outside the capital's TSB Events Centre, Woods's speech was anxiously awaited after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last week announced the government is considering discontinuing the previous government's annual Block Offer programme, which invites bids for new onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration.
Woods quickly dispelled any hopes a decision on Block Offers was imminent, saying it was weeks away, but stressed the government was committed to "a long-term transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy".
"These are 10- and 20- and 30-year timelines we are talking about," she said. No existing oil and gas production permits would be affected, with some forecast to continue production until 2046.
Instead, the government was determined to lay out a plan for "just transition" to an economy with net zero carbon emissions by 2050, achieved in way that did not repeat the socially and economically wrenching economic reforms of the 1980s Labour government.
"I will not be part of a government that allows something like that to happen again. I don't want New Zealand to be the country that rips the rug out from under businesses, communities and individuals because we didn't have a plan to deal with the future.
"If we have the courage to think long term now we can avoid that.
"I don't want to see an abrupt transition that leaves industries stagnant, communities without a future and individuals without hope. What I want to see is a clear, transparent and well-managed pathway to a new economy", and "support communities that currently rely on fossil fuel extraction", Woods said.
Woods also acknowledged the oil and gas industry's acceptance that the global economy will move away from fossil fuel dependence in coming decades, and the role that natural gas would continue to play for years to come in guaranteeing a secure supply of electricity.
"No one is talking about shutting off our supply of fuels we need to keep our country and economy running strongly," she said. "This government is well aware of the huge importance of peaking to ensure security of electricity supply.
"We know we have 10 years or so of natural gas consented for drilling, and potentially many more years that could be discovered under existing exploration permits."
Planning now had to include identifying new industries and workforce planning, said Woods, who outlined a tripartite approach involving the government, industry, and trade unions, including "how to connect the transition to a low-carbon future to the resurgence of our regions".
"Our job in the twenty-first century is to ensure that our industries and workforce currently employed in high-emission industries are not consigned to the scrap heap as we respond to the shocks of unplanned and urgent economic upheaval."
Led by the soon-to-be-created Climate Commission, the government would lay out "a step-by-step plan to take us right through until 2050", which would give the oil and gas industry the "certainty and stability" it said was paramount for its own planning.