New Zealand has declared a “climate emergency” and promised to make its public sector carbon neutral by 2025. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told legislators that the climate emergency declaration was “an acknowledgement of the next generation – an acknowledgement of the burden that they will carry if we do not get this right and do not take action now”.

The declaration comes without any newly assigned statutory powers or money, making it purely symbolic. But Ardern and other lawmakers promised to back up the declaration with ongoing action. The declaration states that climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity and promises a commitment to minimise global warming. It says climate change will have a devastating impact on New Zealand through flooding, wildfires, sea-level rise and water availability. Ardern said climate change was an important consideration in rebuilding the economy from the downturn caused by the coronavirus, and it was important to “build it back in a sustainable way, with a focus on carbon neutrality.”

Speaking to parliament after its introduction she said, “ We’ve always considered climate change to be a huge threat to our region, and it is something we must take immediate action on.” Ardern who returned to power last month delivering the biggest election victory for her centre-left Labour Party also added, “Unfortunately, we were unable to progress a motion around a climate emergency in parliament in the last term, but now we’re able to.” After an hour-long debate in the parliament, a majority of the members voted in favour of Ardern’s declaration. However, opposition parties have criticised the move and called it a publicity stunt, with the National Party leader, Judith Collins, calling it “virtue signaling”. The critics also said that the move needs to be backed by greater actions to reduce emissions.

In her last term, Ardern’s government passed a Zero Carbon Bill, which sets the framework for net zero emissions by 2050, with cross-party support in parliament. If a climate emergency is passed, New Zealand would join countries like Canada, France and Britain that have taken the same course to focus efforts on tackling climate change. Japanese lawmakers recently declared a climate emergency and committed to a firm timetable for net-zero emissions.