Election Series: Back the Plan for a Zero Carbon Act


Akuch Kon eats wild leaves in Rumading, a village in South Sudan’s Lol State where more than 5,000 people, displaced by drought and conflict, remain in limbo. Photo: Act Alliance/Paul Jeffrey

Apocalypses are not confined to the Scriptures. Every day there are news reports of dramatic catastrophes – a car driven into an unsuspecting crowd, a huge landslide claiming hundreds of lives and the belongings of many more, and reports of record temperatures and life threatening droughts. In each of these stories, there is a message for those seeking to understand the deeper mysteries of faith.  For me I cannot get past the idea that these events are tied up with how we choose to live on earth.

In faith statements this is often referred to as our responsibility to “care for God’s creation” – something that tends to be treated as an add-on rather than a core matter of faith. We may well enjoy spring flower festivals and singing “All things bright and beautiful”, but is that enough?

In my work at Christian World Service I am constantly confronted by stories of people striving to survive in circumstances that I can only imagine. The reports of people living on only wild leaves in South Sudan, losing livestock because there is no food or water across East Africa, or facing torrential rain and landslides in Nepal, Bangladesh and India are sometimes overwhelming. I know these people are only a few of those facing the violence of hunger and disaster: many more people are trying to live on few resources in countries more vulnerable to the changing climate. I wonder where next.

In election season that is an easy question to answer. It has to be Aotearoa New Zealand – we are one of a number of countries that have made no substantive commitment to address climate change – in fact our emissions are going up. New Zealand signed up to the Paris Agreement in 2015, agreeing to cut carbon emissions by 11 percent on 1990 levels by 2030 and that’s as far as we got. There is still a window where we can take sufficient action to avoid dangerous levels of climate change.

Recognising the urgency, CWS is advocating for a Zero Carbon Act along with thirteen other aid agencies. Such legislation would require any future Government to produce policy plans to facilitate a move to zero carbon, and establish an independent Climate Commission to provide expert advice. Taking urgent action to combat climate change is a commitment New Zealand made internationally, in Paris and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Zero Carbon Act is not a new idea. In her report: Stepping Stones to Paris and Beyond, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright,  recommended the UK Climate Change Act 2008 as a model. She reports at least nine other countries have passed climate change laws and twelve states in Australia, Canada and the USA have adopted similar measures.

To put in place an achievable plan to cut emissions to zero by 2050 will require a cross-party agreement. The Back the Plan: Back to Zero campaign needs more support to show the urgent need for action. You can sign our online petition here.

CWS encourages people to ask questions of political candidates like: Will you back the plan to put in place meaningful legislation on climate change? What would you do as an MP to ensure New Zealand cuts our net carbon emissions by 57.7 million tonnes of CO2 a year as agreed in Paris or better?

Climate change is already undoing decades of progress on development. Record droughts in east Africa have pushed millions of people, who last year had gardens and livestock, into hunger. Landslides have taken out homes built by new settlers on treeless hillsides in Sierra Leone and Nepal. The Pacific Ocean is eroding the islands that are our homes and livelihoods.

When I look up from my computer I see the picture of Akuch about to eat a few of the wild leaves that are the hunger food of starving South Sudanese people. She left her home because of drought and fighting earlier this year. In her open mouth I see the promise found in Jesus’ words: “When I was hungry, you fed me.”

We have contributed to a hotter climate. Droughts and disasters are a message from creation: our future is bound up with that of others – we cannot protect ourselves and ignore our neighbour or the planet our home.

Gillian Southey is the Communications Coordinator for Christian World Service.  She has previously held positions in education and campaigns.