After prime minister Jacinda Ardern declared a climate emergency this month, we asked you what New Zealand should prioritise to meet its climate change goals.
The responses varied widely, although there was broad consensus that more needed to be done to reduce emissions from agriculture and transport. Some of you argued for better urban design, while others advocated the introduction of a carbon tax, investment in renewable energy and more sustainable housing, efforts to reduce plastic waste and an increase in the planting of native trees.
Many of you also urged Ardern to exhibit the same leadership she showed during the Covid-19 crisis, to be brave in making decisions and honest with New Zealanders about the changes required to meet her government’s goals.
Here is a selection of your answers:
‘No easy fix’
Like the rest of the world it [NZ’s climate response] needs to do everything. Climate change is complex and there’s no easy fix. The solution is to reduce emissions across the board, and that means moving away from a lifestyle based on individual “success” to one based on collective wellbeing. That means bigger government, with more regulation and a stronger influence on what people and businesses do. It means a fairer distribution of wealth, better education, better public facilities (including transport), more emphasis on quality of life and less on material wealth, less “development” and more “conservation”. To put it simply, less greed and more sharing. It means changing society, and you can’t do that by focusing on one or two things.
David Briggs, 72, Mapua
‘Farmers need time and support to change their practices’
It’s very hard to choose any one priority because we need to do EVERYTHING we can. I do, however, see a big opportunity in the agricultural sector that is being neglected. Farmers need time and support to change their practices. We have one of the top agricultural universities in the world and the government needs to start working with our local experts to solve the problems of agricultural emissions in a fair way that does not make farmers pay the bill. This is a time to be brave and start early, not avoid difficult decisions.
Krista, 40, Auckland
‘Invest in public transport over highways and roads’
The government should invest heavily in New Zealand’s public transport systems which have been underfunded for decades. Public transport should be prioritised over highways and roads. With projects including light rail, busways and cycleways within the country’s cities and intercity high-speed rail connecting them. This should be done to remove the necessity to own a car in New Zealand and allowing for the goal of banning all non-electric car imports by 2030 at the earliest.
Ethan Maxwell-Garner, 19, Auckland
‘Remove our money from those that supply or support fossil fuel industries’
New Zealand should focus on transitioning to lower emissions transport choices, including private vehicles and freight. There should also be more focus on our buildings and construction sector to make our long term infrastructure fit for the future.
For individuals, one of the best things we can do is remove our money from those that supply or support fossil fuel industries. Moving our KiwiSavers and other investments into carbon neutral or carbon negative industries. This divestment should be done across public and civic institutions, with a heavy move by responsible private entities to do the same.
The farming industry needs to be brought on board, but with a strategic plan and adequate support to transition their practices. That may mean more use of offsetting emissions, if they aren’t avoidable.
Jade Kasoof, 27, Auckland
‘Bins are getting bigger and bigger as we waste more’
I would like us to focus on reduction of waste. I think it’s crazy the amount of stuff that gets made as packaging or single use products that is then just thrown in a hole in the ground … We never actually address the fact that manufacturers just don’t seem to care about it … the energy the raw materials etc etc that are all used and then just dumped … yet we focus on farmers or single use plastic bags at the supermarket … but I tell you what, my wheelie bins were never full of “single-use plastic bags” and its only getting worse … bins are getting bigger and bigger as we waste more and more … this consumer economy based on an endless supply of cheap crap is really scary.
Ben Wilden, 41 , Central Otago
‘We need the government to be brave’
I think the government’s recent pledges are good but agriculture must be pressed to make the necessary changes. Some farmers will need financial incentives to change from the dairy and meat industries.
Transport is another high priority – getting rid of diesel vehicles and subsidising public transport further. Housing – all new housing should have solar power and water collection and the renovation of existing homes to follow suit.
We need the government to be brave and lead the way – but also that individuals need to recognise that we must all do our bit to reduce our carbon footprint. We don’t have time to dither – we need to recognise this as a real threat to our very existence.
Bob Gray, 60, Auckland
If the government of NZ has declared a climate emergency then they need to start leading by telling everyone what we need to be doing. They were extremely effective in communicating what we needed to do with Covid. Now they need to do the same with the climate emergency. Treat it as an emergency. What are we all doing to combat this crises. Come on Jacinda – step up, front up like you did with Covid.
Ruth Caisley, 67, Northland
‘Stop allowing fossil-fuel-derived carbon to be offset with trees’
Put a meaningful price on carbon, that reflects the true damage costs: somewhere over $100 / tonne of CO2. Stop subsidising companies with free carbon credits. And stop allowing fossil-fuel-derived carbon to be offset with trees, as they are not equivalent – unless you can guarantee your forest will stand untouched for the next 100 million years! Many companies say they’d love to operate more sustainably, if only the price signals were there.
There’s a reluctance to raise carbon prices, because of the perception that end consumers would have to foot the bill. But why not simply return all the proceeds to consumers via a citizens’ dividend? Most people would end up better off, unless they’re very frequent flyers or own a large boat.
The idea of saving us money by doing nothing is appalling. It’s like ignoring debt with an enormous interest rate. We and our children will pay dearly for it later.
Ben Whitmore, 43, Raglan
‘Native tree planting along our rivers’
New Zealand needs to look towards multiple wins. Where can we get significant other benefits alongside addressing our woeful greenhouse gas emissions? For me, that would mean prioritising native tree planting along our rivers (biodiversity, cleaning rivers, carbon sinks, potentially also recreation), public transport (congestion), and homes (health benefits, lower household heating bills) and so forth. We need to incentivise the right behaviour in farmers so they get financially rewarded rather than lose money.
Greg, 36, New Plymouth
‘Introduce emissions standards on cars’
Bring agriculture into the ETS. Introduce emissions standards on cars (including imported cars), but help fund the poorest to do this so they’re not adversely affected. Raise building standards so all new builds are zero carbon (and have mandatory solar), retrofit ALL state housing to a near-zero standard. Defund roads. Fund more public transport. Plant only native trees: no more pine plantations. No more coal mines by 2027. End use of coal altogether by 2030. Change electricity system to encourage solar, not tax it.
Cindy Baxter, 59, Piha
‘The lowest hanging fruit is unlocking more active transport’
The scale of the climate crisis demands that we use all levers at our disposal within the next few years. But we should start with measures that have a big positive impact beyond the climate. And the lowest hanging fruit is unlocking more active transport. Walking and cycling would dramatically reduce our obesity crisis. The required infrastructure is an order of magnitude cheaper to construct and maintain than roads for cars and trucks. The best way to electrify transport is going towards e-bikes, not electric cars. The shift towards active transport will allow growing our cities and free space on the street for public transport without construct new or wider roads.
Jan Huwald, 35, Thames
‘New Zealanders need to be better equipped to question greenwashing’
The biggest priority may not be any single policy change or action but rather around getting more New Zealanders thinking critically enough to confront comforting rhetoric which fails to address the substantive issues. Better if our political leaders were honest about following through on what is needed to really address climate change rather than token responses for political advantage.
Similarly, New Zealanders need to be better equipped to question greenwashing by companies and indeed recognise our personal dissonances between what we know is for the best and what we do from day to day. As a nation we are going to need to dig deep to live and work in less resource-intensive ways, for instance the current use of petrol and diesel vehicles in New Zealand is likely much higher than really necessary.
Martin Thrupp, 56, Hamilton
‘Our best contribution would be “proof of concept”’
New Zealand’s emissions are tiny, but our ethical obligations to reduce emissions are the same as for any other developed country. Therefore, our best contribution would be “proof of concept” – demonstrating that reducing emissions is actually possible.
By this, I don’t necessarily mean advanced technologies, but the intelligent planning, policies and partnership approaches that make real change happen. For example, regulations and incentives to swap plastic packaging with compostable alternatives, build with wood instead of steel and concrete, phase out all fossil use, and keep all remaining coal in the ground. We need to demonstrate though that emission reductions can be enduring, successful and – most of all – politically popular.
Why after all impose pain and cost if we can achieve the same results through innovative win-wins, circular economies, and synergies with other social and environmental aims? In this respect, the very best thing we could do is pay farmers to give a certain proportion of their land back to nature. Long after climate change is solved, it will be the loss of our fellow living creatures – whose home this is as well – that we will mourn the deepest.
Anonymous, 47, Wellington
‘Support for iwi-led environmental initiatives.’
Investment in regions – green energy, sustainable jobs, not so much reliance on primary industries. Support for iwi-led environmental initiatives.
In urban environments, more connected transport systems and cycleways/paths. Increased car share. Better waste management. Legislating for community aspect of new build apartment blocks so they don’t become silos. Increased spend for urban nature conservation.
Louise, 36, Hokianga/Auckland
‘NZ response to Covid-19 is an example of what can be done’
We need an all-government, business and community response to what is a very serious problem. There is no value in singling out groups that omit the most, especially so as we continue to rely on them for our economic well-being.
There needs to be real leadership shown, not petty politics or self interested positions and everyone in the country needs to step up and make a difference. We feel pretty insulated as we watch fires and floods happen around the world except they are now starting to happen on here.
NZ response to Covid-19 is an example of what can be done when politicians and citizens follow the science.
Steve Hart, 58, Wairarapa