WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – The coronavirus pandemic has shown humans to be very good at responding to an immediate crisis, New Zealand Climate Change Minister James Shaw said. But when it comes to dealing with a slower threat like climate change, he says, we are “terribly bad.”
Shaw spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday ahead of a key climate summit that begins in Glasgow, Scotland on October 31. Many environmentalists say the UN summit, known as COP26, represents the world’s last chance to avert a climate catastrophe.
Shaw said that in Glasgow he intends to announce a more ambitious target for New Zealand’s emissions reductions over the next decade, and he hopes many other countries are aiming higher as well. .
He said a top priority will be to ensure that the pledge made by the richest countries to provide $ 100 billion a year to help the poorest countries switch to cleaner energy is kept.
“The developed world has so far failed to keep that promise,” Shaw said.
This has led to a breakdown in trust and the unraveling of the consensus reached with the 2015 Paris Agreement, he said. It also gives authoritarian regimes an excuse to disrupt international cooperation, he added.
Shaw said the pandemic has accelerated the transition to cleaner energy in some countries. But in many developing countries, it has slowed improvements, he said, as they were simply struggling to cope with the huge financial and social impacts of the disease.
Shaw said he doubts some of the positive environmental changes people made during the pandemic – like working more from home and driving less – will last.
“I think those are possibilities, but I also think human beings tend to go back to type,” Shaw said. “I know when we’re in the middle of this, it feels like the world has fundamentally changed.”
The New Zealand government has pledged the country will become carbon neutral by 2050. But it has also been criticized for talking a lot about climate change and not acting fast enough. Greenhouse gas emissions in the country of 5 million people hit an all-time high just before the pandemic struck.
Shaw said lawmakers have passed many new bills in recent years that will have a positive impact over time, including a ban on new offshore oil and gas exploration, stricter emissions standards for cars, a subsidy program for electric vehicles and the creation of a climate change commission.
“Is that enough? No. And the point is, it will never be enough,” Shaw said. “We know that every year we will have to keep taking new and other actions against climate change because it This is a multigenerational battle over the next 30 years and beyond. It will involve every part of our economy, every part of our society. “
Climate scientist James Renwick said he believes New Zealand and other countries need to step up their actions.
“Countries around the world have been talking about this issue for many years, but we still haven’t really seen the action, and the time is extremely short now,” said Renwick, professor at Victoria University of Wellington. “We need to see the reduction in emissions begin immediately, in 2022, and we need to reduce emissions very quickly over the next decade. “
Almost half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture – think millions of cows burping methane – in an economy that relies on the export of food. Many environmentalists say farmers are essentially getting a free pass from lawmakers.
Shaw said farmers will be subject to new emissions rules that take effect by 2025, and many are finding innovative ways to reduce their carbon footprint.
He said an important part of his trip to Glasgow will be standing alongside colleagues from low-lying Pacific islands who are already feeling the significant effects of climate change through more severe cyclones and rising sea levels. the sea.
He said the Cook Islands, for example, spend around a quarter of their national budget on climate change mitigation.
Shaw acknowledges the irony that thousands of people around the world are burning tons of fossil fuels to get to Glasgow for the talks.
“Unfortunately, this is the only way for us to practically get there and be proactive in participating,” Shaw said.
Renwick said he didn’t mind that aspect too much.
“We all live in the world we live in, one that has been created over the last century or more,” Renwick said. “I think it’s like that. You have to burn some fossil fuel to figure out how to stop doing this. “