Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has asked for a "bit more time" before announcing whether oil and gas exploration in New Zealand will end.

In a surprise appearance, Ardern accepted a Greenpeace petition signed by more than 45,000 people at Parliament today calling for an end oil and gas exploration.

Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods was to have accepted the petition on behalf of the Government.

But Ardern arrived with Woods, and the Climate Change Minister, and Green Party co-leader James Shaw.


Ardern told around 40 people gathered on the front lawn she was meant to be at a state lunch for an international guest [Indonesian President Joko Widodo] but it was important to stand in front of them and "do what governments should do and be held to account on the toughest decisions that we face as a nation but also as a world".

Ardern gave no clear indication of the Government's decision on an exploration ban.

"We know that this is something that we need to make a decision on and we do it in light of both environmental impacts but also something that we as a Government have talked about for some time now and that is the issue of just transitions."

She said the things the Government had to weigh up was how to take the people with it in every sphere - socially, economically, in terms of their employment and their futures.

"I ask now for a bit more time. We're working hard on this issue and we know it's something that we can't afford to spend much time on but we are actively considering it now.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, with Climate Change Minister James Shaw, speaking after receiving the petition from Greenpeace NZ at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, with Climate Change Minister James Shaw, speaking after receiving the petition from Greenpeace NZ at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"We are considering it with all of those issues in mind and with this Government's pledge that we will be carbon-neutral by 2050, that is not in question."

In the lead-up to the election, Ardern said that climate change was the "nuclear-free moment" of her generation.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate campaigner Kate Simcock said the Prime Minister had to now turn those words into tangible action.


"The world can't afford to burn even existing fossil fuel reserves, let alone seek out new oil and gas if we want to avoid catastrophic warming," Simcock said.

"Searching for new oil or gas is senseless, and we're asking the Jacinda Ardern Government to put an end to it."

Last week, an open letter signed by more than 60 individuals and associations including scientists, health professionals, iwi leaders, unions, businesspeople, journalists, poets, actors and musicians was launched to encourage Ardern and her Government to turn "passion into action" on climate change.

Neither Woods nor Shaw would be drawn on what the future held for oil and gas exploration in New Zealand.

When asked whether the Government would end oil and gas permits, Woods said: "We're doing that piece of work at the moment and we'll have more to say on that very soon."

Woods said the Government hoped to be able to say something in coming weeks but said it was vitally important that "this is a just transition".

"We need to make sure that there are good plans in place for people in regions that we don't want any transition to be one that leaves people and communities left on the wayside.

"This Government has set some clear goals for New Zealand and that's 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2035 and to be carbon-neutral by 2050. We're conscious within those processes that we need to be making sure we're planning for this to be a just transition."

Shaw said the decision was being worked through and it was an "incredibly complex issue and we are trying to weigh up a number of different things … that is why she is asking for time to do a good job of making that decision".

Asked if it was a bottom line for the Green Party, Shaw said "that should be blindingly obvious".

ACT Leader David Seymour said in a statement that any ban on oil and gas exploration would put 11,000 jobs at risk and could harm the environment.

The oil and gas industry created thousands of jobs, contributed $2.5 billion to the New Zealand economy and $500 million to the Government in royalties each year, he said.

"Not only would a ban on exploration make us poorer as a country, it would drive production of oil and gas overseas which will harm the environment.

"Natural gas has about half the emissions of coal, and New Zealand-produced oil has lower emissions than oil produced overseas.

"This ban would force New Zealand households and firms to buy higher-cost and dirtier energy from foreign sources."