The head of the UN, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, has challenged the Government to slap a tax on pollution by shifting taxes "from salaries to carbon".

Speaking at a breakfast with high school leaders in Auckland, Guterres said he wanted to convey a message.

"Shift taxes from salaries, to carbon. We must tax pollution, not people," he said.

This means reducing income tax as a tax on carbon is applied, Guterres said.

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"We need to make sure that when we adopt measures that increase costs, that we reduce costs in other aspects of the economy."

He also called for governments to stop subsidies for fossil fuels – "taxpayers' money should not be used to boost hurricanes, to spread droughts and heat waves… or to melt glaciers".

"Finally, stop the construction of new coal plants by 2020."

His message, he said, was for governments all over the world.

He said it was important that the world creates a "green economy, not a grey economy".

"The grey economy has no future – it's very important that you convince governments that they must act."

He said many governments are afraid to move forward because of the costs of climate action – "forgetting that the costs of inaction are much bigger than any costs of climate action".

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (left) and Climate Change Minister James Shaw (right) speaking to media in Auckland. Photo / Jason Walls
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (left) and Climate Change Minister James Shaw (right) speaking to media in Auckland. Photo / Jason Walls

Nature, he said, does not negotiate.

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A pollution tax was one of the recommendations the Tax Working Group suggested the Government implement in its final report, released in February this year.

Although Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ruled out a capital gains tax, a new tax on pollution is still on the table and is an area officials are still looking into.

Such a tax was endorsed by the likes of Greenpeace, who called on the Government to adopt a pollution tax.

"It's heartening to see substantial proposals for taxing polluters, tackling climate change and protecting water quality," Greenpeace executive director Russel Norman said.

"The Government should accept the recommendations for environmental taxation made by the Tax Working Group, and set the tax rates high enough to ensure they result in changes away from polluting industries such as industrial dairying and fossil fuel use."

Guterres said New Zealand "has a plan" when it comes to climate change action, citing the zero carbon act legislation.

He said there are other ways to help fight climate change, including carbon pricing.
"What I am recommending is not to tax carbon and do nothing else."

He said if carbon is taxed, income tax should also be reduced.

This, Guterres, said would help support jobs.

"We need to make sure that when we adopt measures that increase costs, that we reduce costs in other aspects of the economy."

Climate Change Minister James Shaw, who was also at the event, promised Guterres that New Zealand would play its part in fighting climate change.

He talked up the zero carbon bill, introduced last week, as one way New Zealand was doing this.