Audrey Young: National response to climate emergency rings hollow

It was just as well that National did not put up leader Judith Collins to respond to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the debate to declare a climate emergency because its response rang hollow.

National received the wording of the declaration in advance.

But it literally did not get the memo from Ardern or Climate Change Minister James Shaw spelling out the specific measures the Government will now demand of the public sector to become carbon neutral by 2025.

The memo wasn’t sent because announcements were saved for the Prime Minister’s speech.

Stuart Smith, National’s new climate change spokesman, assumed the motion to declare a climate emergency would be just that – a hollow motion only.

He prepared a speech to follow Ardern in which he condemned the move as having no substance.

Simon Bridges, who said Paula Bennett had robbed him of the Climate Change portfoliothat he had really wanted, followed in a similar vein, saying actions spoke louder than words.

In fact, in a smart move the Government set out some actions and a goal to have a carbon-neutral public sector by 2025.

It will mean 200 or so coal-fired boilers in the state sector, in schools and hospitals, will be phased out.

As well, any of the 16,000 vehicles in the public fleet that will need replacing from now on will need to be electric, unless there is a very good reason why not. It will mean green standards for new public buildings.

Ardern and Shaw issued a press statement setting out the “directions” the Government has given to various Crown entities.

They will have to measure their emissions – with the expertise of the Ministry for the Environment – set reduction targets and report annually on them.

Any state entity with a coal-boiler after 2025 will have to pay for their emission – although how much and to whom is not yet clear. The off-sets have not yet been designed.

In the spirit of James Shaw’s famous bipartisanship over climate change, it would have been kinder to have let the Opposition know in advance what was being planned instead of making them look like ninnies. But it is politics.

National would almost certainly have supported the measures for action, but in the end, it would have made no difference to its opposition to a declaration of an emergency.

Its constituency ranges between those that take climate change seriously and those that think there is too much fuss about it.

It does not represent the people who were wedded to declaring it an emergency.

The actions to decarbonise the public sector are not necessarily what one might regard as emergency measures.

But at least the Government plans to do to itself what it is preaching to others.

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