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NZ’s silence in Pacific climate change talk disappoints local lobby groups

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A church damaged by Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu. Image: Helen Manson/Tearfund

New Zealand recently set a new climate change target to reduce CO2 emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 – less than what was promised five years ago at Copenhagen. Critics say “that’s shameful”, reports Asia-Pacific Journalism.

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Georgina Harris

New Zealand’s lack of Pacific climate change talk in a United Nations Security Council debate in New York last month has disappointed local non-government organisations.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully gave a statement at the New Zealand-sponsored open debate on July 31 that discussed peace and security challenges facing small island developing states (SIDS).

The debate, opened by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, was New Zealand’s final intitiative of its month-long presidency of the Security Council.

More than 70 countries were reported to have attended the event .

Instead of focusing on climate change action, McCully, who chaired the debate, spoke about economic security challenges; focusing on SIDS limited resource bases and the movement from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

It was the first time that small island states have been heard in such a prominent body within the United Nations, a fact McCully noted in his statement,

“We called for this debate in order to give the council the opportunity it rarely has to hear what security looks like to small developing states. And to give small island developing states, which constitute about a fifth of the UN membership, a chance to have their voice heard.”

Special briefs
Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and Jean-Paul Adam, the Seychelles Finance Minister, spoke as special “briefs”. Other representatives from small island developing states also spoke.

The island speakers thanked New Zealand for the chance to bring their voices to the world stage, speaking about issues as diverse as drug trafficking and sustainable fisheries and as expected, climate change.

Oxfam New Zealand’s executive director Rachael Le Mesurier said her organisation had two responses to the statement made by New Zealand.

She said they welcomed the debate and the New Zealand government’s commitment to SIDS, calling it a “supportive and helpful intiative”.

However, Oxfam was concerned about the New Zealand government’s lack of commitment to bringing down carbon emissions, especially when the UN was gearing up for the Paris Climate Change Conference in December.

New Zealand recently set a new climate change target to reduce CO2 emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

“New Zealand could do so much more in actual concrete action and we’ve very clear that promising 30 percent below 2005 levels is actually less than what they promised five years ago at Copenhagen and that’s shameful”.

People groundwork
Oxfam New Zealand does groundwork with people and communities in a number of countries in the Pacific and has seen first-hand the devastating effects of climate change on SIDS.

“What is clear is that for the Pacific nations themselves the highest priorty is climate change.

“It’s not enough to let people have a space to talk. What we actually need is action.”

350Aotearoa is the New Zealand branch of 350.org, a ‘global climate movement’.

National director Niamh O’Flynn found it “quite interesting” that climate change wasn’t specifically talked at at length, especially when it was a security issue itself.

“It would have been a good opportunity [to speak about climate change] as a specific security concern for our region.”

O’Flynn said she believed what the New Zealand government said on a international stage and did back home were separate.

“I don’t imagine they’re going to be committing to anything particularly useful in Paris.

She said the best action moving forward for the New Zealand government was to take real climate change action.

“Do tangible things now that cut our green house gases and stop dragging our feet at international negotiations, and stop being a block at these negotiations”.

Current action

Both Oxfam and 350 Aotearoa have been part of a Pacific Leaders Climate Tour that finished in Wellington earlier this month after sessions in Christchurch and Auckland.

The free public sessions were organised in conjunction with TEAR fund and Auckland Diocesan Climate Change Group.

Church leaders from the Pacific spoke directly to New Zealand church leaders to encourage them to advocate for climate change action within their congregations.

The groups brought over Rev Lusama, the secretary-general of the Christian Christian church of Tuvalu and Starling Konainao of the Solomon Islands.

TEAR fund education advocacy manager Dr Murray Sheard called the Wellington events “amazing” with more than 30 attendees in the morning.

O’Flynn stressed the importance of these sessions for the local New Zealand community.

“People can hear first-hand how climate change is affecting the Pacific and to give space to Pacific voices because it really does have to be with their leadership we support them rather than telling them how it should be.”

Georgina Harris is a postgraduate student journalist at AUT University.

New Zealand’s statement