The Act Party’s climate change spokesman says there is no climate emergency, which drew gasps from the audience during a pre-election debate last night.
Simon Court, who is also the party’s spokesman for transport, energy and resources, and environment, was speaking during an event hosted by the Environmental Defence Society at the law firm Bell Gully in Auckland.
The about 100-strong crowd largely included environmental stakeholders and leaders in green business – while nearly 700 people watched online.
Society chair and moderator Gary Taylor opened by asking the panellists for a one-word answer on whether a climate emergency is occurring.
Court answered, “not because politicians said there is” in an apparent reference to former Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern declaring a climate emergency in the House in 2020.
When pushed by Taylor, Court clarified that meant “no”.
Greens co-leader and Climate Change Minister James Shaw paused amusingly when asked, which triggered a ripple of laughter in the room, before delivering his response.
“I think you only need to ask the people still displaced from their homes in Tāmaki Makaurau, Te Tai Tokerau, Tairāwhiti and the Hawke’s Bay,” he said.
“Also, in Libya, Greece, Canada – you name it – the number of countries currently under water or on fire is extraordinary. The Libyan floods yesterday killed at least 2000 people, as a result of rainfall. We’re seeing this on an almost weekly basis now.
“It’s obvious there’s a climate emergency.”
Shaw and Court butted heads several times during the debate, with Shaw referring to his fellow panellist as a “clown show” when discussing resource management laws.
National’s environment spokesman, and the incumbent MP for the weather-battered Coromandel, Scott Simpson said the party didn’t support Parliament’s Special Debate on using the term either, but admitted there is a “climate issue”.
Labour’s spokesman and Environment Minister David Parker answered with an “undoubted yes”, while Te Pāti Māori president John Tamihere gave a strong nod – eliciting more laughter from the crowd.
Act is also campaigning on reforming legislation to restrict the right of objecting to building projects to only neighbours who are directly affected – something both Labour and the Greens argue will have devastating implications for the environment and conservation.
Parker said the idea someone could theoretically bulldoze the last habitat of an endangered species like the Tuatara, just because they’re the landowner, was alarming.
Shaw said it demonstrates why “it’s critically important we keep Act in its box.”
Court fired back, “we’ll let the voters decide that.”
Demelza Jackson is an Auckland-based reporter specialising in the climate crisis and policy response, environmental sciences and conservation. She joined Newstalk ZB in 2019.