Ardern disputes Greta Thunberg's criticism of New Zealand climate policy

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Prime minister says New Zealand is doing more than activist suggests after Thunberg tweets about ‘so-called climate emergency declaration’

new zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern said Greta Thunberg’s reference to the country’s policies were ‘not the totality of our plans on climate change’. Photograph: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern said Greta Thunberg’s reference to the country’s policies were ‘not the totality of our plans on climate change’. Photograph: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
in Auckland

Last modified on Fri 18 Dec 2020 07.26 EST

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has responded to criticism of New Zealand’s climate policies by Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunberg, saying New Zealand is doing more than she might realise.

Thunberg retweeted a story critical of the government when it came to climate change and referred to New Zealand’s “so-called climate emergency declaration”. She took a line from the piece which said: “In other words, the government has just committed to reducing less than 1 percent of the country’s emissions by 2025.”

Ardern said she hadn’t seen the tweet but that it had been described to her as a “reference to our public service carbon neutral goal of 2025”.

“I would, of course, give the context there that, if that was the sum ambition of any government, then that would be worthy of criticism.

“It is not our sum ambition. And it is not the totality of our plans on climate change,” she said. “But again, I think that it’s actually for us just to get on with the business of fulfilling our obligations and expectations.”

The 1% figure came from a Newsroom story, which Thunberg, 17, shared with her 4.4 million followers. It is not clear whether Thunberg thought a 1% reduction was the only emissions-cutting action New Zealand was taking, however the tweet caused a stir, with climate change minister James Shaw saying the government was working as quickly as possible and Thunberg was essentially pointing out what was already known.

“That we have a long way to go to narrow the gap between what our emissions are right now, and what they need to be in the future,” he said

Last week, Ardern declared a climate emergency, and said the government sector will be required to buy only electric or hybrid vehicles, that the fleet will be reduced over time by 20% and all 200 coal-fired boilers used in the public service’s buildings will be phased out.

An accompanying motion tabled in parliament sets up a Climate Change Commission tasked with putting the country on a path to net zero emissions by 2050, making New Zealand one of few countries to have a zero-emissions goal enshrined in law.

On Monday, Ardern said she was not going to pass judgment on whether Thunberg should have done more research, before her tweet.

“But equally I think it’s only a good thing [that] there are people out there continuing to urge ambition in action.”