Jacinda Ardern has put her debut as a global climate change warrior ahead of making credible plans to transition New Zealand away from a reliance on fossil fuels towards clean energy.

The Ardern Government's ban on new oil and gas exploration was clearly timed to build up her international reputation one week ahead of her meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.

This was a carefully planned international mission. Op Eds in major European newspapers. Interviews. Speeches. Profiles. And of course her meetings with "Macron, Merkel, May and Ma'am."

It's a pity that the planning that has gone into what will inevitably be a successful sortie has not been applied in New Zealand where it also matters.


Ardern told a French university audience she wanted to be "on the right side of history" when it came to tackling climate change. It's notable she did not directly repeat to her French audience her claim that this was "her generation's nuclear free moment".

That would have been diplomatically difficult given that France tried to stamp out New Zealand's initiatives to make the South Pacific nuclear free by blowing up the Rainbow Warrior in an act of state sponsored terrorism.

When it comes to virtue signalling, Macron has led the way on climate change.

In December 2017, the French parliament passed legislation banning the exploration and production of oil and gas by 2040 both within the country and its overseas territories. Existing drilling permits would not be renewed and no new exploration licences would be granted.

France was the first country to bring in such a ban.

But now New Zealand has followed suit joining other "leaders in the global climate change movement".

Trouble is Macron's move was essentially meaningless as France imports 99 per cent of its oil and gas from other countries. The French Environment Minister passed off the move as showing "current generations can take care of future generations". But the biggest impact on French emissions will in fact come from a decision to make illegal the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles in France in 2040 - a step the UK has also taken.

A similar ban on imported petrol and diesel fuelled vehicles from 2040 would have been more elegant than the rushed solution the Ardern Government promoted last week. It would have set a deadline to deal with one of the most crushing issues contributing to NZ's emissions profile.


The brutal truth is the Ardern Government's oil and gas exploration ban will have major effects both on the New Zealand economy and our energy security as a nation.

In an environment where climate change is predicted to make weather patterns more volatile and unpredictable, it is foolish to remove fuel options which may be needed for instance in a dry year or for that matter if NZ experiences many dry years in a row.

New Zealand already has significant renewable energy through hydro schemes, wind farms and geothermal power. But that is not sufficient to guarantee energy security for the nation.

New Zealand's current gas reserves are down to 11 years' supply. That's the fuel that powers many of our kitchens, barbecues, and heating in our homes.

Not to mention the industrial uses.

The upshot is that unless new gas fields are found and made productive New Zealand will have to either make a costly switch to electricity - with its attendant risks - or import more gas and coal from offshore.

What will also stick in Taranaki's craw is the absurd way Regional Development Minister Shane Jones tried to soften the blow by announcing $20 million of new spending (including $150,000 towards new energy initiatives) which is predominantly towards restoring a cathedral and upgrading walking tracks.

These jobs will not replace the high-value employment that Taranaki currently enjoys through the oil and gas industry.

It's notable that France is hardly squeamish when it comes to energy options.

The French electricity sector is dominated by nuclear power stations which account for close to 75 per cent of total production.

Macron has pledged to bring this down and cap it at 50 per cent by 2025.

Trouble is that reaching this target is proving to be a tall order.

It's now been suggested the deadline will have to shift out to 2030-33 and France will have to explore more power options to fuel its growth.

These uncertainties underline why Ardern's announcement of an oil and gas exploration ban is so short-sighted.

New Zealand is rich in natural resources.

A more measured approach which allows for a transition to more use of renewable and clean energy - combined with ensuring the nation's energy security - will help build confidence.