For democracy to get the job done, the response to our biggest challenges must be bigger than politics. Much, much bigger.
The challenge of navigating the climate crisis is one example. As a nation we’ve finally made a proper start, and in a bigger-than-politics kind of way. The Zero Carbon Act earned the support of 119 out of 120 MPs when it was made law in 2019. We’ve since made considerable gains, cutting climate pollution in each of the last three years.
With a new government under construction, this emerging track record and momentum will be tested. This is why it’s worth each of us writing to incoming prime minister Christopher Luxon now, wishing him and his emerging coalition every success in delivering the climate leadership our nation needs, and reminding him we’re holding him to account.
So what might the change in government mean for climate action? Good question. The good news is that the National Party remains committed to delivering on New Zealand’s climate targets. This is where it also gets interesting. While promising to achieve the targets, they’ve proposed a wholesale policy change. A change that risks derailing the very actions that are helping cut climate pollution year on year.
Here’s a quick summary of what National promised on the campaign trail: defund central government’s entire climate change work programme, restart fossil fuel exploration and expand extraction, further delay agricultural emissions pricing, cancel the successful clean car discount, raid the Climate Emergency Response Fund, and cancel support for industries that are switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Dealing with the climate crisis is tough enough without cancelling what’s working, just for the sake of political point-scoring. With the campaign finished, Luxon would be wise to revisit what is working and take a fresh, evidence-based approach rather than forcing change for change’s sake. He’s got plenty of creative scope, the National Party has yet to release their long-promised climate change policy. Which means he’s free to write one up.
While the National Party never got around to publishing a climate policy, they did float a few proposals. Most notably, to double renewable energy generation. That’s a good start. And especially good for Palmerston North. We’ve already got a strong renewables sector, with real potential to expand and diversify.
One thing is for sure, even if Luxon does the smart thing and keeps proven climate policies in the mix, he’ll have his hands full delivering real climate leadership.
Act leader David Seymour is in my view soft on climate and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters recently made incorrect claims about climate science, putting them both on a collision course with reality.
The litmus of Luxon’s climate leadership will be in accelerating Aotearoa’s track record in cutting climate pollution. Fortunately, he will inherit momentum built in recent years. He’ll also benefit from people’s increasing desire for sustainable lifestyles and low emissions tech, all of which are more affordable and popular than ever.
While the political settings in Wellington are important, and the new Government must be held to account, we needn’t let it overshadow our local climate actions. We’re free to continue improving our sustainability game at the individual and community level; putting Palmerston North on the strongest possible footing. More on that soon.
The climate crisis is bigger than politics, whether we like it or not. We need to do our best to help every government succeed in delivering practical climate action, by doing our part and by demanding accountability. It’s the kind of thing our children and grandchildren will thank us for, as we build our best possible future here in the mighty Manawatū.
Brent Barrett is an environmental advocate, Green city councillor and scientist. The views expressed here are his own.