Green co-leader and climate change minister James Shaw has admonished parliament for the lack of action on climate change. But what has James Shaw been doing for the past five years of this Labour Government? 

AS THE tragic consequences of Cyclone Gabrielle unfolded, climate change minister James Shaw stood up in Parliament on Tuesday to bemoan the lack of substantial government action on fighting climate change:

'As I stand here today, I struggle to find words to express what I am thinking and feeling about this particular crisis...I don’t think I’ve ever felt as sad or as angry about the lost decades that we spent bickering and arguing about whether climate change was real or not, whether it was caused by humans or not, whether it was bad or not, whether we should do something about it or not, because it is clearly here now, and if we do not act, it will get worse.”

He told parliament that the country was entering a ‘period of consequences’ for inaction over climate change.

But James Shaw isn't an innocent member of the public, watching helplessly from the sidelines. He's not even a powerless backbench MP. He's the co-leader of the Green Party and the Labour Government's climate change minister. While Shaw might be now trying to backpedal away from the inadequacies of the Labour Government's climate change policies and deny that he can also be held responsible, he is condemned by his own words and his own actions (or lack of).

These days James Shaw doesn't like to talk to environmental groups where he is in danger of receiving a less than warm reception. He much prefers the much more friendly meetings of the corporate sector which views him as someone who is prepared to be 'pragmatic' and 'conciliatory'.

Shaw, a man still committed to his disastrous 'environmentally friendly capitalism', has gone out his way to keep the business sector happy. That has meant that he has been more than prepared to protect the interests of agriculture - by far the country's biggest polluter. Agriculture has been left out of the emissions trading scheme until 2025 and it has been given permission to continue to produce high levels of methane. The Zero Carbon Act only requires a ten percent reduction of methane by 2025 and its only been tentatively proposed that there should be a 24-47 percent reduction in methane by 2050.

These patently inadequate targets have all received the blessing of James Shaw - the same James Shaw who lectured parliament that 'We need to stop making excuses for inaction. We cannot put our heads in the sand when the beach is flooding. We must act now.'

While former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern might have declared a climate change emergency in 2020, it hasn't translated into substantial action. While the country’s share of global greenhouse gas emissions is small, its gross emissions per person are high and it is one of the world’s worst performers on emission increases. Since 1990, New Zealand’s gross emissions have increased by 21 per cent, and agriculture is the largest emissions contributor, at 50% of gross emissions. These are the government's own figures. 

Last year Greenpeace NZ commented that 'Climate Minister James Shaw must stop giving special treatment to the industrial dairy sector, and instead put the climate first.'

On Wednesday Greenpeace NZ CEO Russel Norman responded critically to Shaw's parliamentary speech. Norman, a former Green Party co-leader, tweeted:

'After 5 years as Climate Minister in a government that has refused to tackle NZ’s biggest climate polluter- agribusiness, James Shaw decries climate crisis ‘lost decades’ in wake of Cyclone Gabrielle. This must be satire surely?'

Norman's tweet drew a sharp response from Green MP Julie Ann Genter who also attempted to distance James Shaw and the Green Party from the Government's dismal record on climate change. She tweeted: 'There is no Labour Green Govt, it's a Labour Govt'.

Russel Norman's reply was swift and not lacking an undercurrent of derision: 'Well you have two Ministers in the Government, who are coleaders of the party, whose presence was approved by a special party meeting, but you resist the characterisation that it is in any way a Labour Green government?'

As the country heads to a general election in October, the political consequences of Cyclone Gabrielle are only just beginning to emerge. One of the main lessons that should be drawn - but won't be by the political establishment - is that the centrist 'pragmatism' that dominates parliament is ill-equipped to tackle the worsening climate crisis unfolding both in New Zealand and throughout the world.


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