Secretary-General’s remarks at press encounter with James Shaw, New Zealand Minister for Climate Change Auckland 13 May 2019
Today I had the opportunity to meet with New Zealand youth that are really in the front line of climate action. They very clearly recognize that we face a climate emergency and that we need to reverse the present trend which climate change is running faster than what we are.
I mentioned a few minutes ago that here from the Pacific we must send a very clear message to Governments around the world because political will is not yet able to accompany the pace of climate change and the message from the Pacific to Governments around the world is that indeed it is important to move taxes from salaries to carbon, to tax pollution and not people, that subsidies for fossil fuels must end, tax payers money cannot be used to boost hurricanes to expand drought and heatwaves, to bleach corals or to melt glaciers and that we need to stop the construction of coal power plants from 2020 onwards because we need a green economy not a grey economy in the world.
It was very reassuring to see that here in New Zealand there is a strong commitment of the Government in order to reach carbon neutrality in 2050 as the scientific community is asking as a way to guarantee a that at the end of the century we will not have more than 1.5 degrees of warming and at the same time a strong commitment to support the people that might be impacted by climate action.
I believe that today for instance renewable energy is much more profitable, is much cheaper, than fossil fuel energy, but if you are a coal miner you also need an answer to your anxiety – that is why the government of New Zealand is totally committed to address the concerns of those in agriculture or in industry that might be impacted by climate action to make sure there is a just transition, to make sure that everybody will be taken care of, to make sure that nobody will be left behind because that is the only way to mobilize the public opinions everywhere in the world in favour of climate action to make sure that we are going to defeat climate change .
So I am very grateful for the leadership provided by the government of New Zealand and very reassured to see the dynamism of the youth of New Zealand that has been a lesson for me.
Question: You talked about a political tax and I was wondering in terms of New Zealand are you specifically calling on the New Zealand Government to adopt a tax on pollution?
SG: New Zealand has a plan, as legislation introduced. There are different ways to get the objective, the objective very clear, it is to make sure that the end of the century we only have an increase of temperature of 1.5 degrees. What for that is necessary is reach carbon neutrality in 2050. There are different instruments, depending on the structure of the economy to do it. Carbon pricing is one of the instruments and there is carbon pricing included in the case of New Zealand.
Now one of the forms of these carbon pricing there are several is through tax. But what I recommended is not to tax carbon and do nothing else. If those that want to tax carbon they should at the same time reduce the tax on salaries, to support jobs at the same time that they charge carbon. We need to make sure when we adopt measures that increase costs that we reduce costs in other aspects of the economy.
What is very important is not to say let’s increase tax on carbon what I say is that shift taxes on jobs, taxes on salaries, reducing them and eventually increasing the taxation on carbon. But there are other mechanisms to do it as you know there are systems of markets that are already working in the European Union, in India and China, there are different mechanisms. But one of them is of course to shift taxing from the income coming from salaries to carbon.
Question: Mr. Guterres, how is your carbon bill here in New Zealand that you refer to it has been criticised there is not containing and mechanisms for it to be enforced and I was wondering if this is a concern that you have with countries around the world that perhaps there is not enough actual enforcement and too much talk.
SG: Well I think it is very important to have legislation and I think that in a democratic country there are different ways to guarantee enforcement and one of them is the accountability of governments towards their own population. New Zealand is a country with a strong democratic tradition, so I am not worried about lack of accountability in New Zealand.
Question: Mr. Guterres today eight Torres Strait Islanders are launching a, are putting a legal case before the United Nations against the Australian Government under human rights legislation for not protecting their climate change concerns, do you think this is a good thing and do you think this is the way forward for many Pacific countries to deal with the inaction?
SG: Any people that feel that their human rights are violated have instruments namely like the High Commission for Human Rights or the Human Rights Council to present their cases. I don’t make any comment on any specific case – but of course the human rights legislation is an instrument that is at service for those that feel that their human rights have been violated.
Question: Secretary-General do you hope that a change of government in Australia this weekend will lead to a nation more committed to tackling climate change?
SG: One of the things that I have learnt that is that no Secretary-General should make any comments on the elections in any country.
Question: Did you have a chance to have a chat with any of our school kids and were you particularly impressed by any initiatives or any of their passions?
SG: Oh yes, I must confess I found the school kids extremely committed and very interesting because not only committed to climate action but committed to make sure that climate action is able to address other challenges namely grievances of indigenous people or problems with people with disability.
And I think that this vision, which is a comprehensive vision, is very much linked to our concept of leaving no-one behind. We cannot only be focused on one thing we need to look at the whole of the problems of society and try to find comprehensive solutions for the problems of societies at national level and for a fair globalization at a global level and that I must say was very impressed by the open mind of the students that I met here because they were not looking into specific aspects of climate change, they were looking into how to integrate climate change in a much broader perspective for peace and justice in the world.
Question: Mr. Guterres have you given our government any specific advice to what New Zealand could be doing to combat climate change here in New Zealand?
SG: Move ahead.
What I would like to underline is the very strong commitment of the Government of New Zealand to support small island Pacific states and to build resilience because we know that unfortunately all our efforts about mitigation about reduction of emissions are not being followed in many other countries not everybody is doing what New Zealand is doing so we need to support the Pacific Island States in relation to adaptation, we need to build New Zealand to support them on that and New Zealand has a very strong commitment to that objective and I am very grateful for that.