You asked us to make the climate emergency, housing, health, and justice reform key election issues. Today, we share the second of the top five election questions, chosen by you – our readers – for the political leaders vying for your votes. 

Amidst all the debate about the world’s path out of the Covid-19 pandemic, one phrase keeps rising to the surface: a “green recovery”.

Countries trying to rebuild their economies in the wake of lockdowns or, even worse, the illness and death caused by the virus, may be tempted to go straight back to business as usual.

But some politicians and experts argue we should instead grasp the opportunity to reshape our business sectors and way of life to better account for the environmental impact of our actions, while still creating vital jobs and economic stimulus.

It’s what American economist Joseph Stiglitz has called “double duty” – a term Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern used several times during the first leaders’ debate with National leader Judith Collins.

But how do all our party leaders feel about the idea? That was the theme of the second-most popular question as voted on by you – you can find it, and your politicians’ answers, below:

“How would your party prioritise the environment and future sustainability in the response to Covid-19?”

National leader Judith Collins: We are in the worst recession in living memory. National’s primary focus is on creating jobs and growing the economy. 

National is the party of practical environmentalism. We will establish two new national parks, support eco-sanctuaries like Zealandia through the Covid crisis and work to progress the Kermadec Marine Sanctuary. 

We will increase EV uptake with innovative measures like allowing EVs to drive in bus lanes.

Through the GFC, with efficient and predictable regulation, National increased the share of renewable electricity from 65 to 85 per cent. We believe new technology is the key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Moves like the oil and gas ban undermine business confidence to invest and reduce the number of technology options available for New Zealand to transition to a zero emissions future.


Green Party co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson: The post-Covid economic plan must address the current crisis, and the crises of climate and biodiversity. With the Greens in Government, the job creation centrepiece of Budget 2020 was the $1.3 billion Jobs for Nature package. 

Our Clean Energy Plan would create thousands of jobs installing solar on the roofs of all suitable state-owned homes, as well as on privately-owned homes for which the owners could access half price grants. Solar is the most job-rich renewable energy option so this creates jobs, but also helps us transition to 100 percent renewable energy.


Māori Party co-leaders John Tamihere and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer: The post Covid-19 economic recovery presents opportunities to transition to a low-carbon economy that sees the economic and social value of protecting Papatūānuku through acknowledging and supporting the kaitiaki leadership of tangata whenua. Rather than the current Government’s legislation to weaken environmental protections, Māori rights and public participation in the RMA to fast-track so called “shovel-ready” projects, we would put in place a $1bn Pūngao Auaha fund to drive renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology in the Māori economy. We must take this opportunity to get our people into well-paid work while meeting our environmental responsibilities.


ACT leader David Seymour: The Government has offered up bold environmental policies, but they’re more symbolic than effective. We need to take positive, practical steps towards a better environment by providing the freedom to innovate.

Since the last Labour government announced a goal of zero waste, annual waste dumped in landfills has increased by a million tonnes per year. European countries have managed to reduce waste to landfill even with growing populations. They’ve solved landfill crises with modern clean burning technology, and waste to energy.

We’ve not kept up with technological advances. ACT will remove regulations which favour landfills over modern waste reduction technology.


Labour leader Jacinda Ardern: Labour’s Covid-19 response explicitly recognises the need to do things differently. While many of our economic indicators were strong pre-Covid, we have an opportunity to strengthen our investment to address environmental challenges.

For instance, our $1 billion Environmental Jobs package will create thousands of jobs that also support habitat protection, pest control and biodiversity on public lands.

To return our waterways to health, we’re investing in jobs for riparian and wetland planting, removing sediment, and preventing run-off, while we’re also moving to a zero-waste circular economy.

We’ve set out an ambitious programme to decarbonise our economy by banning future offshore oil and gas exploration permits and investing in energy efficiency, as well as committing to a 100 percent renewable electricity grid by 2030.

We will grow our economy sustainably to pay back debt, making good on our promise to future generations that we will tackle climate change and leave them a legacy to build from.


TOP leader Geoff Simmons: TOP’s approach is for polluters to pay, and to reward sustainable businesses, focusing on growing the value not volume of export products. Following Covid-19, TOP would help businesses and households improve their energy efficiency, reducing carbon emissions. TOP would also ensure that the infrastructure spend up post-Covid goes on projects with the best return on investment, including reducing carbon emissions. The big opportunity here is re-engineering our cities, simultaneously reducing costs of housing and transport, and lowering emissions. TOP will return the GST on development to Local Authorities, giving them $2.5b per year to build and maintain this infrastructure.


Newsroom’s political reporter Farah Hancock, who covers the environment, biodiversity and science, gives her assessment of the leaders’ answers:

One of the common themes during the first Covid-19 lockdown when lives were turned upside-down was a re-examination of what returning to ‘normal’ meant, and whether the old normal was what should be aimed for. Voters keen to see Covid-19 spark any radical change in thinking about a sustainable New Zealand emerging from the pandemic may be disappointed with some of the answers given to this question. Many have a slant toward energy, with our biggest industries of agriculture and tourism, not getting much of a mention. The topic of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture was tackled in yesterday’s question to the leaders

Labour and the Greens point to the $1.1 billion green jobs package as evidence of their commitment to sustainability. Largely aimed at tackling existing issues such as removing wilding pines, restoring wetlands, riparian planting and eradicating pests, it’s more of a fix-it fund than a vision for the future. It’s been welcomed by environmental groups who believe the investment is sorely needed and could have flow-on benefit for tourism post Covid-19. However, the funding is relatively short-term and while it’s likely to help many people struggling with unemployment due to the pandemic, the battle against wilding pines and predators won’t be won in three years. 

Both National and ACT tend toward making space for innovative solutions. ACT wants a ban on waste-to-energy projects lifted, reducing the amount of waste going to landfill. Technology in this area is moving quickly and representatives from a range of parties who took part in a recent waste debate appear open to exploring this for some forms of waste. National also hints innovation is an answer to greenhouse gas emissions, but offers no examples of what these might be.

*Covering the health of our environment and moves towards greater sustainability is a critical part of Newsroom’s work. That’s why we launched a GreenRoom section last year, giving added profile to our environmental journalism and displaying the range of content we produce on climate change risks and policies, conservation, biosecurity, water quality and sea-level rise on an ongoing basis.

Here are some stories that you may like to read about our environmental challenges and successes, as well as the path to a green recovery from Covid-19:

‘Don’t squander this chance for transformation’, Rod Oram“Our need for transformational policies has never been greater, and neither has the opportunity. Will the Government start rolling out strategic, transformational initiatives or will we remain shackled to the status quo, asks Rod Oram.”


‘Jacinda Ardern on true transformation, and Covid-19’s silver lining’, Sam Sachdeva“A little over 24 hours before Jacinda Ardern learnt of new Covid-19 community cases, she sat down with Newsroom to discuss what real transformation looks like, how to improve our pandemic planning, and making the most of the Covid crisis.”


‘Trading coronavirus for the climate crisis’, Marc Daalder“In responding to the Covid-19 crisis, the Government appears to have completely forgotten about the climate crisis.”


‘Nature is showing us the way’, Rod Oram: “We must learn Covid-19’s lessons for our relationship with the planet and help nature restore the living systems on which human life utterly depends, writes Rod Oram.”


*Some party leaders’ answers have been edited for length. New Zealand First and the New Conservatives were invited to take part, but did not provide a response.

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