Seven out of 10 Kiwis are keen for New Zealand's economic recovery from Covid-19 to be a green one, a new snapshot shows.
The Massey University-led survey, which polled more than 1000 Kiwis during lockdown, explored the links people see between the environment, climate change and the spread of Covid-19.
"The World Health Organisation and top health experts say that climate change increases our risks to infectious disease emergence and transmission," said Dr Jagadish Thaker, who carried out the work with fellow School of Communication lecturer Dr Vishnu Menon.
"The purpose of this research was to find out if the public perceives these links and what kind of government's emergency funding policies they support."
They found 80 per cent of Kiwis believe human impacts on the environment increase the risks of new disease outbreaks such as the coronavirus – and 70 per cent felt large-scale animal factory farms also posed a threat.
Many didn't see, or were split, on the role of agriculture expansion (55 per cent), deforestation (51 per cent), and climate change (between 42 and 53 per cent) in infectious disease emergence and transmission.
"There appears to be a gap in how we see the environment impacts in relation to climate change and health," Thaker said.
"Either we don't see the these issues as related or that 'climate change' may not have gained popular currency in relation to its health impacts."
About eight in 10 felt we could not protect our health without protecting the environment.
More than half also believed actions to protect plant and animal species and to slash pollution caused by fossil fuels would shield us from future outbreaks.
The global economic costs because of the Covid-19 pandemic was estimated to reach $9 trillion in the next few years. New Zealand has committed up to $62.1b in fiscal support.
"Without addressing the root causes of the rise in pandemics — environmental degradation and climate change — our policies are only stop-gap measures until the next outbreak," Thaker said.
Most emerging infectious diseases - and almost all recent pandemics such as Sars, Mers, West Nile, H1N1 and Ebola - originated in animals.
Human impact on the environment has been repeatedly singled out as a major driver for increasing the risks of animal to human transmission of viruses.
Recently, Oxford University researchers pinpointed five Covid-19 fiscal recovery policies with high potential of co-benefits for the economic recovery and climate action.
They were clean physical infrastructure, building efficiency retrofits, investment in education and training, natural capital investment and clean research and development.
The Massey survey found most Kiwis backed a clean and green Covid-19 economic recovery plan, and felt industries such as the airlines, electric utility and agriculture sector that received emergency Government funding should be required to reduce their carbon and water pollution.
Similarly, most supported emergency funding to improve public transport and rail infrastructure (75 per cent), develop clean energy technologies (73 per cent), forest restoration (72 per cent), tax credits to improve energy efficiency in houses (70 per cent), training for jobs in renewable energy industries (65 per cent), among others.
Most New Zealanders said they were likely to shift to more environmentally friendly behaviours in next 12 months, even if it cost more, or proved inconvenient.
That included slashing food waste, buying energy efficient appliances and switching transport modes, even if it meant more travel time.
Kiwis were more divided about reducing consumption of meat - more than half disagreed that they were likely do so.
Three in 10 said they'd engage in civil and political action on climate change, including donating to a climate change organisation (42 per cent), contacting Government officials (41 per cent), engaging in non-violent civil disobedience (35 per cent), and hosting neighbourhood meetings (26 per cent).
"There is substantial public will and confidence to make New Zealand a global leader on climate action," Thaker said.
"There has been a shift in political will too - the Zero Carbon Act. But we need to do more, for our health and wellbeing, and for our Pacific neighbours, who are at higher risk of climate change."
The survey comes after an IAG poll released last week found nearly half of Kiwis were worried economic recovery could delay action on climate change - and 86 per cent thought climate change should be part of New Zealand's bounce-back.
Climate Change Minister James Shaw noted the results showed a big jump in the number of people pleased with the Government's progress to date, but acknowledged they wanted it to go further and faster.
"The results do also confirm what we have been saying for a long time: that our recovery from the global pandemic needs to prioritise action that helps solve the climate crisis," Shaw said at the time.
"People recognise that we have a once-in-a-century opportunity to change, to plan our recovery, create a climate-friendly economy that works for everyone."
Yesterday, the Government announced it was investing more than $100m – allocated from the $3b earmarked for infrastructure projects in the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund - for six regions to shield themselves against the effects of climate change.
But environmentalists have sounded worry that many of the Government's fast-tracked "shovel-ready" major projects to stimulate the economy don't factor in climate change, with fears some could help raise emissions rather than slash them.