New Zealand halts offshore drilling in fight against climate change

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has labelled climate change as her generation's

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has labelled climate change as her generation's"nuclear-free moment

Ending future oil and gas exploration is a huge move, one that was anticipated by many following the Government's rhetoric on climate change, but which still came as a surprise to some.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ahern shocked New Zealand's small oil industry by ruling out any new exploration permits for drilling while the country strives towards a "carbon-neutral" economy.

"New Zealand has taken an historic step and delivered a massive breakthrough for the climate, spurred on by the tens of thousands of people who have fought for years to protect our coasts from new oil and gas exploration", said Greenpeace New Zealand Executive Director, Dr Russel Norman. Her government plans to plant a billion trees over 10 years and wants to achieve 100% renewable electricity generation by 2035 as it seeks to reduce carbon emissions after signing up to the Paris climate accord.

The oil and gas industry accounts for only about 1.4 percent of New Zealand's economy, but the furore underscored the challenge faced by Labour - which has a support arrangement with the Green Party - in winning over the business sector.

"Just as New Zealand did in 1987 when it went nuclear-free and stood up to the powerful U.S. military, this has shown bold global leadership on the greatest challenge of our time - putting people ahead of the interests of oil corporations and the hunt for fossil fuels that are driving risky climate change", he said.

Although welcomed by the previous government, foreign oil companies have met strong resistance from the New Zealand public, Indigenous communities, and environmental NGOs.

However, as Radio NZ notes, the holders of existing exploration permits will keep the right to turn these into production licenses, so theoretically, fossil fuel extraction in eco-friendly New Zealand could continue for another few decades despite transition efforts.

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Norman says today's announcement means, "the tide has turned irreversibly against Big Oil in New Zealand". The government will assist regions such as Taranaki in the transition, including investment in infrastructure and clean energy projects, she said.

One of the country's main energy companies, New Zealand Oil & Gas said it had not been warned of the change.

"It is our chance for New Zealand to play a leading role to help make a better world".

"This decision is devoid of any rationale. It certainly has nothing to do with climate change", Mr Young said. "These changes will simply shift production elsewhere in the world, not reduce emissions", he said. In its announcement however, the government said it wanted to be clear no current jobs would be affected.

In a statement, PEPANZ CEO Cameron Madgwick said the new measures would have a significant impact on the industry, stating that other types of fuel - which he said will be more expensive - will become an issue of energy security in the future.

"It is time to also retire the applications and permits held over the large tracts of our sea that the previous government opened to exploration under its block offers".

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