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Responding to the climate emergency


The New Zealand Government has joined many of its international peers in declaring a climate emergency, and backed it up in Parliament yesterday by announcing plans to make the entire public sector carbon neutral by 2025.

Soon after this made global headlines briefly — we are, after all, the 33rd country to do so — the United Nations chief was urging humanity to “make peace with nature”. In a passionate speech to mark the beginning of a month of UN-led climate action, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the fight against climate change as the top priority of the 21st Century.

Major reports on the global climate and fossil fuel production are set to be released and a summit will be held on December 12, the 5th anniversary of the Paris climate agreement where the nations of the world commited to pursue efforts to limit the average increase in global temperatures to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels.

Guterres began with a litany of the many ways in which nature was reacting, with “growing force and fury”, to humanity’s mishandling of the environment. And while the impacts of responding to a pandemic had temporarily slowed emissions of harmful greenhouse gases, fossil fuel use was predicted to continue on an upward path.

The global response needed to be a transformation of the world economy, Guterres said, flicking the “green switch” and building a sustainable system driven by renewable energy, green jobs and a resilient future. There were encouraging signs on this front, he said, with several developed countries committing to carbon neutrality by 2050. The UN chief called on all countries, cities and businesses to make this commitment, and for all individuals to do their part too. He also urged countries to factor the cost of carbon-based pollution into the price of fossil fuels, and to invest far more in adapting to the changing climate.

Here in little old New Zealand where sceptics of climate action fall back on our tiny contribution to global emissions and inability to halt climate change on our own, the National and Act parties placed themselves on the wrong side of history yesterday by opposing the declaration. They were left flat-footed by the Government’s surprise announcement of actions to make the public sector carbon neutral at pace, ruining the claim this declaration was just more hot air, but their prepared speeches already rang hollow in the face of the greatest challenge humanity faces.