New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins’ decision to “reprioritise” future transport budgets — away from walking, cycling and public transport — in order to pay for Cyclone Gabrielle road reconstruction is short-sighted amid the climate crisis, says Greenpeace.
“Robbing money from climate mitigation initiatives like walking and cycling, which reduce emissions, in order to fix up climate-related storm damage makes no sense,” said Greenpeace campaigner Christine Rose in a statement.
“This shouldn’t be an either-or situation. Yes, we need to get access back for cyclone-hit areas.
“But why would you finance that by cancelling plans for a transport system that cuts climate emissions that otherwise intensify the storms?”
Transport Minister Michael Wood had announced plans to prioritise climate change in the Government Policy Statement review, which sets the high level direction for spending over the next five years.
However, less than a day later, after Monday’s Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Hipkins stepped away from this commitment.
Hipkins argued that the response to Cyclone Gabrielle required reprioritisation to repair bridges and roads rather than to support public transport, walking and cycling.
Transport is New Zealand’s second biggest climate polluter after the agriculture industry.
“Cyclone Gabrielle was a tragic reminder that the climate crisis is here,” Rose said.
“The government must pull all the stops to prevent storms like this from getting worse in future. And that means putting a brake on climate pollution.
“This is the time the government should instead be accelerating climate solutions like clean transport options. By distancing himself from [former Prime Minister] Jacinda Ardern’s commitment to climate change, Hipkins is aligning himself with reactionary pro-road lobbies.”
The Greenpeace statement said damage to roads, bridges and infrastructure showed how vulnerable the transport network was to climate change. Building more roads was not a long-term solution.
“It’s time to reinvent our transport system so it prioritises people and freight, not cars, and mitigates climate change as well as adapting to the new climate reality,” Rose said.
She said that if Hipkins claimed there was no money to pay for reconstruction — perhaps he should consider the fact that the biggest climate polluter, Fonterra — was paying nothing for its methane emissions.
“If the government doesn’t take the lead during the climate crisis, to allocate spending for climate solutions, then it’s the wrong government for our times.”
Hipkins said that while Cabinet had not considered a final transport policy statement yet, with weather having so much adverse impact on the country over the last month it was essential there needed to be “a weighting” on what the transport priorities needed to be.
He disagreed there was an irony to changing the policy at this time in response to weather disasters that were being blamed on climate change.
The government has hit the brakes on making emissions reductions its top transport priority, saying Cyclone Gabrielle has changed everything.
Under a policy to make emissions reduction the “overarching focus” of its next three-yearly transport plan, the government wanted to reallocate some of the money normally spent on road maintenance — that tallies nearly $2 billion a year — towards bus and bike lanes.
But now the focus has switched to an emergency style plan to repair roads devastated in Cyclone Gabrielle and other recent storms.
Both National and the Greens have criticised the government’s reversal.
National has called it a “chaotic backpedal” while the Green Party has urged the government not to defer climate change spending.