Jacinda Ardern: The world has moved on in terms of fossil fuels

Author
Lucy Bennett, NZ Herald,
Section
Politics,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 20 March 2018, 5:57a.m.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has given the strongest signal yet that the days of oil and gas exploration in New Zealand are numbered.

Ardern said the world had moved on from fossil fuels.

The Government is at a critical point in its decision-making over the future of its oil and gas exploration permits.

In a surprise appearance that stunned observers, Ardern appeared on Parliament's forecourt on Monday to accept a 45,000-strong Greenpeace petition calling for an end to oil and gas exploration.

She asked the climate change activists for more time.

"I ask now for a bit more time. We're working hard on this issue and we know it's something that we can't afford to spend much time on but we are actively considering it now," she said.

Ardern turned up to accept the petition, along with Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods and the Climate Change Minister and Green Party co-leader James Shaw, while a Crown car waited to take her to a state lunch for Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

Ardern said she was meant to be at the lunch but it was important to stand in front of the petitioners and "do what governments should do and be held to account on the toughest decisions that we face as a nation".

In the lead-up to the election, Ardern said climate change was the "nuclear-free moment" of her generation.

Opposition leader and former Energy Minister Simon Bridges called Ardern's surprise appearance a "quickly invented publicity stunt by the Prime Minister to distract from her week from hell".

Bridges said it was high on symbolism - " … leaving a foreign leader waiting and actively considering the end of new oil and gas exploration".

Neither Woods nor Shaw would be drawn on what the future held for oil and gas exploration in New Zealand but Woods said it was vitally important that "this is a just transition".

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, with Climate Change Minister James Shaw, speaking after receiving the End Oil petition from Greenpeace NZ at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, with Climate Change Minister James Shaw, speaking after receiving the End Oil petition from Greenpeace NZ at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

 

"We need to make sure that there are good plans in place for people in regions … we don't want any transition to be one that leaves people and communities left on the wayside."

Shaw said it was an "incredibly complex issue and we are trying to weigh up a number of different things … that is why [Ardern] is asking for time to do a good job of making that decision".

Ardern later said the Government was actively considering how it would deal with future block offers - where oil companies tender for the right to explore parts of New Zealand.

"Every Government comes to that point around this time of year where they'll consider what will be included in a block offer and what won't and where it will apply, so … that's the process and the stage that we're at at the moment but we're looking at future block offers."

Ardern said the Government was actively considering how it would manage block offers in future, including looking at environmental and economic impacts.

She would say whether current permits would be affected but it is understood they will be excluded.

Cameron Madgwick, chief executive of industry body Petroleum Exploration & Production NZ, agreed the world was moving towards lower-emissions fuels.

But he said the Crown, on behalf of the New Zealand people, had an obligation to monetise its petroleum resources.

"It would seem logical that if you own a resource on behalf of your country, that you'd have some method by which you could allocate rights to access it. That's what the block offer is about and we'd be keen to see that continue."

ACT Leader David Seymour said in a statement that any ban on oil and gas exploration would put 11,000 jobs at risk and could harm the environment.

The oil and gas industry created thousands of jobs, contributed $2.5 billion to the New Zealand economy and $500 million to the Government in royalties each year, he said.

"Not only would a ban on exploration make us poorer as a country, it would drive production of oil and gas overseas which will harm the environment."

Shares in local energy explorer and producer NZX-listed New Zealand Oil & Gas dropped half a cent, or 0.8 per cent, to 63.5c on Monday.

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