Dec. 2 (UPI) — New Zealand declared a climate emergency on Wednesday as it launched a plan to make its public sector carbon neutral by 2025.
The motion to declare the emergency was introduced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and was passed 76-43 by Parliament in recognition of New Zealanders who have been calling “for action to protect the environment and reduce the impact of human activity on the climate,” the document read.
Ardern told lawmakers that the motion was based on scientists’ warnings that immediate action is necessary in order to avoid a disastrous 1.5 degree Celsius rise in global temperature — which she said would cause a risk to human health, livelihood and civil unrest among other negative consequences.
“This is a declaration grounded in a deep sense of responsibility, a responsibility that we all must feel,” she said.
With the passing of the motion, New Zealand becomes the 33rd country to declare a climate change emergency.
The New Zealand motion recognizes “the devastating impact that volatile and extreme weather will have on New Zealand and the wellbeing of New Zealanders, on our primary industries, water availability and public health through flooding, sea level rise and wildfire damage” while calling for policies to “seize the economic opportunities that a clean, green reputation provides.”
The motion also calls for the government to make “significant progress” to meet the goals set out by the United Nations’ Paris Agreement of 2016 and the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019, which aims for New Zealand to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“This declaration is an acknowledgement of the next generation, of the burden they will carry if we do not get this right and if we do not take action now,” Ardern said, adding that she is often struck when speaking to youth about how personal the climate crisis is to them.
“It is up to us that we demonstrate there is a pathway, there’s a plan for action and there’s a reason for hope,” she said.
The country also launched an initiative to make its public sector carbon neutral by 2025, which is backed by about $ 141.4 million to fund the replacement of public sector coal boilers and support the purchase of electric or hybrid vehicles.
The initiative requires all departments and ministries to set gross emissions reduction targets and to introduce plans on how they will meet those goals.
“This policy, alongside today’s declaration of a climate emergency, serves as a message to the public sector to get our own house in order,” Ardern said in a statement on the initiative. “It’s also a call to action for the private sector.”
However, opposition lawmakers described the declaration as symbolic.
Stuart Smith of the New Zealand National, which unanimously voted against the declaration, called it “nothing but virtue signaling.”
“Declaring a climate emergency is nothing but a hollow, symbolic gesture. It is not worth making if there’s no intention to act in the best interests of New Zealanders,” he told lawmakers.
Simon Court of the ACT Party, which also voted in opposition to the declaration, called the motion “a triumph of politics over practical solutions, slogans over substances.”
“To declare a climate emergency is nothing but a stunt, it’s not a solution,” he said.
The New Zealand Ministry for the Environment said in a report in April that gross emissions in the country grew by 24% between 1990 and 2018, mainly due to increases in methane from dairy cattle and carbon dioxide from road transport.
The report said the agriculture and energy sectors were the largest contributors to emissions in 2018 at 48% and 41%, respectively.