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New Zealand school climate strikers call for 'can-do Kiwi attitude' to combat crisis

Elle Hunt in Auckland
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo</span>
Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

School climate strikes have resumed in New Zealand, with young people calling on the government to turn the “can-do Kiwi attitude” that beat Covid-19 towards tackling the climate emergency.

A group of about 200 taking part in the School Strike 4 Climate NZ gathered outside parliament on Tuesday afternoon to present a group of politicians with a list of demands for “transformative action” on the climate crisis within the government’s first 100 days.

These included taking steps towards a 100% renewable energy economy, cutting down on agricultural emissions, compulsory climate education, and financial support for Pacific island nations threatened by rising sea levels.

Related: New Zealand declares a climate change emergency

Green party co-leaders James Shaw, who is also the minister for climate change, and Marama Davidson, welcomed the protesters and gave their backing to the 100 Days 4 Action campaign.

“This year is the year we’ve got to move from talking about doing something about climate change – to actually doing something,” said Shaw. “If the pandemic crisis taught us anything, it is that good science and good government gets you the best outcomes in the shortest possible period of time.”

Ethan Reille, a spokesperson for School Strike 4 Climate from Ōamaru, said the government’s containment of Covid put it in the “extremely privileged position” of being able to act on climate.

“We know that our response must include the team of five million, the same way that we have done in regards to the pandemic. Why can’t we direct such a can-do Kiwi attitude towards this crisis? Why can’t we unite behind climate change the same way that we united behind Covid-19?”

One of the biggest cheers from the crowd went to a school striker from a small farming town in the Waitaki region, who said: “I’m young, I’m queer, I’m Māori – but this is the fight I choose, because this is the fight that will affect all of us.”

Tens of thousands of New Zealanders nationwide went on strike for the cause in 2019 but last year’s action was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Shaw told the crowd that recapturing that momentum was this year’s challenge: “We’re going to need all of you, again, to keep the pressure on … We’ve got to rebuild that and make it stronger than it’s ever been before.”

The sentiment was echoed by Labour MPs Angela Roberts and Gaurav Sharma, who reiterated the Labour government’s commitment to climate action – but the crowd did not seem convinced.

“Why is Labour building more highways then?” shouted one crowd member. Another was holding a placard that read: “Labour: Do something for once.”

The environment minister David Parker was not present among the cross-party group of MPs.

Green Party MP Chlöe Swarbrick cut a more pessimistic figure than her colleagues, emphasising “just how frustrating it is … [to] feel like I’m saying the same things that we’ve been saying for three years”.

She said a “complete, systemic redesign” of New Zealand’s economic system was needed to address climate crisis as well as the housing crisis and other injustices and inequalities.

“Politics is not just something that happens every three years … We keep building those motorways because it makes sense inside of the economic system that we presently have.”

Last year was New Zealand’s seventh-hottest year on record, with a nationwide average temperature of 13.24C. In early December, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, declared a climate change emergency and committed to a carbon-neutral government by 2025.

The Climate Change Commission – tasked with setting out New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions reductions target and how to achieve it – is due to present its draft report to the government and for public consultation on Monday.