Climate Change Minister's speech to Pacific Climate Conference

Tēnā koutou katoa.

Ko James Shaw tōku ingoa.

Ko ahau te Minita mō ngā Take Āhuarangi, me te kaiārahi o Te Rōpū Kākāriki.

Tihei mauri ora.

I thank you for the invitation to attend this second Pacific Climate Change Conference and thank our hosts, Victoria University and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, for organising this important event here in Wellington.

I also want to warmly acknowledge conference attendees and speakers, and to extend a warm greeting to Prime Minister Tuila’epa of Samoa, who will be speaking shortly.

Talofa lava, Palemia.

As I greet you, Prime Minister, can I also offer my sympathies to you and Samoa as your people, and our friends and neighbours in Tonga and Fiji have to deal with the devastation of a tropical cyclone - yet again. 

Cyclone Gita is just the latest reminder of the vulnerability we face here in the South Pacific from the ravages of extreme weather events which are being fueled by climate change and warming oceans.

But these unwanted reminders seem to be coming more frequently and with more force, don’t they?

In fact, when I was meeting with experts at New Zealand’s Met Service on Monday, they were telling me how these events, which used to be years apart, are now becoming much more common and, much more powerful.

Take Cyclone Winston two years ago.

Officially it was a Category 5 cyclone, but the Met-Service experts tell me it had much stronger winds than the 230 kilometres-an-hour Category 5 winds.

It’s just that the International Cyclone Rankings don’t go higher than Category 5.

They might need to. 

The effects of climate change, which were predicted some 20 or 30 years ago, are now here.

And where experts were once reluctant to link any single weather event to climate change, they’re now beginning to think that every extreme weather event is linked to the effects of climate change in some way.

To put it another way, as a Met Service scientist said to me on Monday, it seems like we are always talking about new weather records these days, whether it is the warmest temperatures, or the coldest temperatures on record, or the strongest wind gusts, or the heaviest rainfall ever recorded.

And she believed that, due to climate change, these record breaking events will continue to happen.

The peoples of such low-lying nations as Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and Kiribati – nearly 180,000 people across those three nations – know what these more frequent weather records feel like.

For them it carries the threat of being displaced from their homes and their homelands.

I, and the New Zealand Government acknowledge that threat to our friends in vulnerable Pacific nations.

And it drives my determination to see us do everything we can to help them stay in their own countries.

Therefore; firstly, we must do our bit here in New Zealand to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in ways that will help meet the Paris Agreement target of limiting temperatures increases  to 1 and a half degrees celsius. .

Secondly, work we do in support of our Pacific friends must be geared towards the kind of support which will help them to be resilient:

  • support for their domestic economies,
  • support for education and health care,
  • and support which will directly relate to climate change adaptation. I’m talking about work on infrastructure such as water supplies and housing, clean, renewable energy supplies.
  • and, where practical, help build buffers to rising seas.

I know my colleague, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, Winston Peters, stands committed to those goals as well.

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

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

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

Increasing ocean acidification is driven by carbon dioxide absorbed into the oceans, changing the chemistry of the seawater.

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

So, to conclude, let me re-emphasise that 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  1 and a half degrees Celsius. .

That is why I will be striving to introduce a Zero Carbon Bill to Parliament by the end of the year.

That legislation will see an independent Climate Change Commission of experts help guide New Zealand towards a  low emissions resilient economy and net zero target by 2050.

New Zealand must show leadership on climate change.

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.

Thank you.