How good we must have looked in Paris, Berlin and London this week. By "we" I mean Jacinda Ardern, of course. But all those who saw her would have been given a new image of New Zealand, a little place where anything is possible, where a young woman can waltz into the prime ministership speaking to a younger generation, talking the language of radical environmental change and look at her, she's having a baby into the bargain.

I'm trying to forget how she came to power, suppress for the moment my fears for the economic growth we've had for five years, and just relish the way she is presenting us to the world. She seems to be up there with Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau as "leaders" of the moment.

"World leaders" was the Evening Standard description of her and Trudeau this week, when London's mayor, Sadiq Khan, invited them to a youth function to mark Britain's centenary of women's suffrage. Time magazine have put her up there too.

Macron certainly is a leading figure. His election last year turned back the tide of small-minded, anti-immigrant nationalism that was threatening to take over Europe just as it had Britain and America in the votes for Brexit and Donald Trump.


Ardern has told America's NBC television she was "infuriated" at the Wall St Journal's headline last September that called her, "New Zealand's Justin Trudeau - except she's more like Trump on immigration."

Said she, "We are a party who were at that time campaigning to double our refugee quota. We are a nation built on immigration. The suggestion in any way that New Zealand wasn't an open, outward-facing country — the suggestion that I was leading something counter to that value — made me extremely angry."

I don't remember the refugee quota featuring in the election campaign. I do remember a lot of angst about foreigners buying houses and immigrants taking jobs. But no matter. To hear it is important to her that New Zealand remains an open, outward-facing country is music to my ears, as it will be to her generation.

Voters under 40 have not turned against globalisation, it was mainly older folk, taking fright at terrorism and TV images of people streaming into Europe, who produced majorities for Brexit and Trump. So more power to the young. Climate change is their global mission, it seems.

My generation struggles to believe in climate change, even those who have always said they believe in it, haven't elected governments to do much about it. Helen Clark's didn't do much about it. The reason may be that we remember "the coming ice age". Baby boomers had been waiting for the big chill when news of "global warming" came through. Warming sounded much better.

But last week when Ardern, flanked by a smiling James Shaw and grim Shane Jones, announced they would issue no new permits for offshore oil and gas exploration, it struck me, this generation is serious about climate change. It really believes in it and it is going to stake our economy on a non-carbon future.

It's high risk because it will pay off only if it is done globally.

At last year's election Ardern called it "this generation's nuclear moment". On radio recently she shied away from the analogy, perhaps because it has occurred to her our declaration of nuclear pacifism was one of those moments New Zealand thought it was leading the world and the world didn't follow. Nuclear-free NZ turned out to be isolationist, not global.


It is one thing to sit proud and alone while others maintain the nuclear deterrent, quite another to find ourselves alone on the moral high ground with a zero carbon economy. This time we really need to know what we are doing.

Last week Labour and Greens did not realise they had just red-flagged New Zealand to oil and gas investment. Labour thought it was a safe compromise because existing permits, which the Greens wanted to cancel, would last another 30 years.

Existing permits, they said, cover areas of seabed that together are as large as the North Island, which sounds huge unless you realise that our exclusive economic zone is an undersea continent 20 times larger than our dry land. Who knows what mineral wealth we have out there?

If the Government had given more warning of its oil and gas decision it might have learned existing permits are of less value if prospectors cannot follow where the drilling results might point. Global prospectors getting this investment signal, are not coming back here.

So now we really need Macron, Trudeau, Ardern and every leaders of their generation to convince all countries to take the cure. Good luck to them.

This column will take a break for the next two weeks.