At yesterday’s opening of the second Pacific Climate Change Conference, hosted by Victoria University of Wellington and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, New Zealand Climate Change Minister and Green Party Co-Leader James Shaw spoke of his determination “to see us do everything we can” to help “our friends in vulnerable Pacific nations” stay in their own countries in the face of climate change and its effects. 

Speaking as New Zealand started to deal with the aftermath of the previous night’s Cyclone Gita, which hit the country after striking Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, Shaw said the cyclone was “just the latest reminder of the vulnerability we face here in the South Pacific from the ravages of extreme weather events which are being fuelled by climate change and warming oceans”. 

These “unwanted reminders seem to be coming more frequently and with more force, don’t they?” he said. 

Shaw said he and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters were both committed to supporting Pacific nations to be resilient against climate change, including in their domestic economies, education and health care; and in climate change adaptation through infrastructure such as clean, renewable energy, water supplies, housing, and where practical buffers to rising seas. 

New Zealand already has a track record of helping install renewable energy in Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands and Niue, he said. 

“These help not only in reducing the world’s greenhouse emissions but they free up much needed money that would otherwise be spent on expensive diesel stocks to run generators.” 

Shaw also acknowledged the previous government’s commitment in 2015 to sign up to the Pacific Islands Partnership on Ocean Acidification with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme. 

The Partnership is providing important research to better understand the long-term impacts of acidification and the risks it presents for Pacific island nations’ fishing resources, he said. 

But Shaw said “the most significant thing New Zealand can do for our Pacific whanau, in the first instance, is to make sure our greenhouse gas emissions meet the reductions needed to limit temperature increases to one and a half degrees Celsius”. 

That is why he would be striving to introduce a Zero Carbon Bill to Parliament before the end of the year. 

The legislation would include an independent Climate Change Commission of experts to help guide New Zealand toward a low emissions resilient economy and net zero target by 2050. 

“New Zealand must show leadership on climate change,” said Shaw. 

“It’s why I am leading reform of New Zealand’s Emissions Trading Scheme. 

“It’s why I plan to see a board of public sector chief executives established to lead decision-making which will take into account the effects that the decisions and activities of their agencies are likely to have on climate change. 

“And our leadership to address climate change – for both New Zealand and our South Pacific whanau – will mean that when new legislation is drafted in this country in the future it will need to include an assessment of the legislation’s likely impact on the climate. 

“The changes we are witnessing now in the climate, the destruction and disruption people are facing here and across the South Pacific because of the changes in our climate, mean we have to change. 

“But we can embrace that change as the opportunity to develop new jobs, cleaner, cheaper energy supplies, and a more resilient, sustainable future for our children, and their children, and the generations to follow.” 

Future Learning will be featuring reports from each day of the second Pacific Climate Change Conference.

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