The Commissioner for the Environment has urged cross-party agreement for action on climate change linked to a binding act of Parliament. LAUREL STOWELL spoke to three Whanganui election candidates for their take on the weather.

New Zealand used to be a world leader in terms of climate change issues, but is now an apathetic bystander.

So says the Labour candidate for Whanganui, Steph Lewis.

"I would like us to reclaim the world leader status."


She and Green candidate Nicola Patrick want more action to reduce New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions.

National Party candidate Harete Hipango said her party does, too. She said the target the Government had set to reduce emissions was ambitious but could be achieved using the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), more tree planting and accessing high quality international carbon credits.

Between 1990 and 2014, New Zealand's total emissions increased 23 per cent - yet the country is committed to reducing emissions by 30 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.

"Climate pollution is going up, not down," Ms Patrick said.

The National Party has just overhauled the ETS, its main tool for reducing emissions, but Ms Patrick said the changes were "tinkering" and would make little difference.

However, Ms Hipango said the changes would make it more fit for purpose and provide some certainty to business. Decisions about free allocation and forestry would be made in 2018.

Ms Patrick supports the ETS in theory, but said it had not been implemented well and should be scrapped and replaced with a carbon tax. Money from the tax could then be used to encourage change toward low emissions.

Scrapping the ETS and starting a carbon tax instead would create uncertainty for businesses, Ms Hipango said.

Ms Lewis said Labour did not support paying overseas countries to offset our carbon emissions - a scheme which National supports.

"We want to make sure we are working to reduce them here, ourselves."

Last month the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, released her report on climate change and said New Zealand needed policies that were long-term and had cross-party agreement.

She suggested an act of Parliament binding on all parties and setting emissions targets. She also wants an expert advisory group to oversee the act's implementation.

Ms Patrick said those were brilliant, simple and obvious ideas, and the Green Party supported them.

Ms Lewis said Labour wanted something similar - an independent climate change commissioner who would work across parties.

She would like to see more research and development on climate change matters, and said some could be done in the regions and lead to low emission/high value businesses and highly skilled jobs.

Having watched her father struggle to carve out a farm in the Omahina Valley, near Waverley, Ms Lewis would not want agriculture put into the ETS "overnight".

"There needs to be a genuine collaboration, discussion and consultation process."

But Ms Patrick said agriculture needed to be in the mix.

"We've already seen the impact of more severe storms and droughts. We need to address climate for the success of our agriculture industry."

The National Party is already working with other parties on climate change, Ms Hipango said, adding that Dr Wright's recommendations were interesting.

"The Government will consider them, but right now we're focusing on action and results."

NOTE: This article was written before Act Party candidate Alan Davidson announced he was standing in Whanganui.