Through the Covid-19 pandemic and cost of living crisis, climate change has remained high on the list of issues for many in the Whanganui electorate.
Finn Williams asked candidates for the electorate what they think the climate change issues facing Whanganui are, and what they plan to do about it.
Labour candidate and incumbent Whanganui MP Steph Lewis says people she talks to on the campaign trail are worried about whether enough has been done to address climate change.
With the district’s history of flooding, she was concerned an increase in severe weather events would result in more serious flooding.
Sea levels rising had also been an issue raised to her with regard to Castlecliff and the Whanganui Airport.
She said flood-prone areas in Auckland had begun discussions of a managed retreat, and this could be an option for the district.
“Is that a conversation we need to have in parts of Whanganui? And it’s a tough conversation to have,” Lewis said.
Work had been started on building resilience by the current Government, she said, through policies like the National Resilience Plan, the Adaptation Fund and the Climate Emergency Response Fund.
“We can use it to build more resiliency, for example, into State Highway 4.”
If re-elected, she would advocate the resiliency plan to include key strategic points within the Whanganui electorate.
Gross emissions have gone down in recent years, which she said was the right direction.
“Every initiative that we’ve put in place that’s seeing that reduction in emissions, National and Act are proposing to remove,” Lewis said.
National candidate Carl Bates said people had differing opinions on how to tackle climate change.
“It’s an election - there’s an array of opinions, and there’s always going to be people who have a different opinion to us,” Bates said.
“The difference is that National understands how to get things done and understands how to have an economy that enables things to get done.”
The main issue for him was the lack of renewable energy sources within the electorate.
National plan to ensure renewable energy projects, aside from hydroelectric, gain resource consent within a year.
“At the moment it takes up to about eight years to [gain] consent for a renewable energy project, and we don’t think that’s right. We think we need to get those consents done quickly.”
He said the offshore wind farm in South Taranaki, currently in the feasibility phase, is proof there is great potential in the electorate to develop further renewable energy infrastructure.
Another concern he had was around the current Government driving the country’s carbon-efficient farming offshore.
Labour has proposed to price farming emissions by the end of 2025 or otherwise bring them under the Emissions Trading Scheme by 2026, while National want to price farming emissions by 2030 at the latest.
“We would be focused on ensuring that we can support farmers to have an effective transition and keep that production here in New Zealand, where we both need the food and we need the economic activity,” Bates said.
Green candidate Marion Sanson said other parties had lacked focus on climate change.
“The initiatives come from me, and other parties haven’t been very focused on it at all.
“People seem perhaps a little surprised that I’m making it so central, but I think I’m beginning to see that awareness growing,” Sanson said.
The recent spate of extreme weather events and knowledge of how it could affect the cost of living had been the trigger for the growing concern.
Increased rain combined with rising sea levels would also make our coastal areas more dangerous to live in.
She suggested a managed retreat from the coast, but said it should be started as soon as possible.
Sanson wanted to restore native bush in areas of the district’s hill country where it had been cut down for farming and forestry and to see an expansion of Jobs for Nature, which has so far created over 12,000 jobs.
Animal Justice Party candidate Sandra Kyle said both people and animals were suffering because of changing weather patterns.
“Science tells us [climate change] is largely man-made, and it could get a lot worse if we don’t take action,” she said.
Included in the party’s policies to respond to climate change was a ‘just transition’ to assist farming conversion away from animals to crops.
“Given the role animal agriculture plays in contributing to global warming, our livestock emissions sit at around 50 per cent - they will impact positively on NZ’s role in cutting domestic emissions.”
As climate change affects wildlife, the party are also developing policies on marine life protection, as well as wildlife and habitat protection.
The party will work with any parties and tangata whenua to forge a sustainable path for Aotearoa.
Act candidate Craig Dredge and NZ First candidate William Arnold were contacted for comment.
Finn Williams is a multimedia journalist for the Whanganui Chronicle. He joined the Chronicle in early 2022 and regularly covers stories about business, events and emergencies. He also enjoys writing opinion columns on whatever interests him.