James Shaw’s limited delegation to the Glasgow climate summit has been the target of bad faith attacks weaponising the frustrations of New Zealanders stuck overseas, Marc Daalder writes

Comment: James Shaw’s forthcoming trip to the famed resort town of Glasgow is not likely to be much of a vacation.

The United Kingdom’s rainiest city is playing host this November to the most important climate summit since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. As Climate Change Minister, James Shaw will attend alongside a coterie of nine Wellington-based diplomats and policy experts.

The news coincided with the debut of the new managed isolation and quarantine allocation system, which saw more than 25,000 people queue up for 3000 hotel rooms spread over the next four months. This has predictably sparked a torrent of bad faith attacks on Shaw for daring to do his job if it might mean a handful of New Zealanders desperate to come home from overseas remain locked out of the country.

National, ACT and the Taxpayer’s Union have all piled in on Shaw for taking the place of deserving New Zealanders.

That criticism is likely to intensify now that the Prime Minister has said Shaw and his entourage are likely to receive spots from a set-aside allocation for government business.

But where was the criticism of the other users of those rooms, which swelled from 300 special slots to 500 in August? In October alone, 70 staff and athletes were scheduled to come in for a mountain biking festival in Rotorua. More than 400 rooms have been set aside for business people and bureaucrats travelling to a six-month business expo in Dubai.

While ACT has had a go at the Government for some of these decisions, National has been largely silent.

And has everyone forgotten about the Wiggles, which National demanded be let in after their tour manager forgot to book MIQ?

I’m one of the 25,000 people who logged onto the MIQ website on Monday morning in hopes of securing a room. My spot in the queue was 22,846.

I don’t care that James Shaw is travelling to Glasgow and might use up 10 rooms. I’m far more frustrated that the Black Caps can seemingly come and go at will, with twice as many people on the roster alone, not counting support staff and coaches.

Shaw’s trip is one of the few things I can imagine exemptions being justified for.

Let’s imagine the alternative for a moment, in which he doesn’t fly to Glasgow.

There is no virtual option for COP26. That means New Zealand would be entirely excluded from the most important climate conference in more than half a decade.

This is about more than just a bad look.

International rules, policies and approaches to agricultural greenhouse gas emissions will be debated at COP26. New Zealand’s farmers should have an advocate at the table – and surely National would agree with that?

The Opposition is also fond of decrying each new climate policy from the Government by saying we could just buy international carbon credits for cheaper instead. How that carbon market will work is one of the main subjects of discussion at COP26 and Shaw has been a co-chair of the group discussing it for the past two summits.

Then there’s the basic fact that the world is warming rapidly, that human activity (read: burning carbon) is to blame and that the impacts of that warming will be devastating for human civilisation. New Zealand has an important role to play in both reducing our own emissions and encouraging other countries to play their part. We have carefully built a reputation for climate leadership on the global stage – skipping COP26 would erase much of that hard work.

And it is hard work. Contrary to the suggestion that Shaw will be holidaying in Europe, the COP summits involve two straight weeks of at least 16-hour days. Ask anyone who has attended COP, in any capacity, and they’ll tell you diplomats regularly go days on just a few hours of sleep while haggling over some critically important but deeply technical aspect of international climate policy.

Agitating against Shaw’s trip, ostensibly on behalf of the tens of thousands of New Zealanders desperate for a spot in MIQ, is nakedly political misuse of the real-life hurt people are experiencing.

People have been trapped in or out of the country, wanting to see loved ones who have been diagnosed with cancer, or who are sick or dying of other ailments, for months. They have been unable to attend funerals and weddings, unable to meet newborn family members or farewell passing ones.

That grief and hardship is real, but it has been weaponised to target Shaw for political means when useful, while ignored when dozens of mountain bikers are given special exemptions to enter the country or when hundreds of spots are reserved for a Dubai business conference.

This article has been updated to note that the ACT Party has criticised some of the Government’s special MIQ allocations.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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