Prime Minister Ardern was the main keynote speaker at the opening ceremony of Climate Week in New York City.
She was joined by the President of Haiti, President of Costa Rica, and President of the Republic of Marshall Islands, among others.
Her speech highlighted the importance of New Zealand's responsibility to our vulnerable Pacific neighbours in the face of climate change, and included an announcement of a siginificant funding boost in aid to the Pacific to help them deal with climate change challenges.
Watch highlights of the speech here and read the full transcript below.
I’d like to begin with a word often used in New Zealand, that you may not – until now – have ever had the opportunity to hear: kaitiakitanga.
It’s Te Reo Māori, a word in the language of indigenous New Zealanders, and in my mind, it captures the sentiment of why we are here.
It means ‘guardianship’. But not just guardianship, but the responsibility of care for the environment in which we live, and the idea that we have a duty of care that eventually hands to the next generation, and the one after.
We all hold this responsibility in our own nations, but the challenge of climate change requires us to look beyond the domestic. Our duty of care is as global as the challenge of climate change.
In the Pacific, we feel that acutely as do countries like Bangladesh where land is literally being lost, and fresh water is being inundated with salt water due to climate change.
There is no doubt that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our generation.
Whether there will be enough food and freshwater. Whether our towns and cities will be free from inundation from rising seas or extreme rainfalls and devastating storms. Whether the biodiversity that lends our planet its richness and its resilience will survive. Whether the growth and economic development that provided an incredible path to lift people out of poverty will be stunted by the widespread, systemic impacts of climate change.
There is no country, no region that does not already feel the impacts of climate change. For New Zealand’s neighbours in the Pacific, who are already losing their soil and freshwater resources to salt from the ocean, these are not hypothetical questions. They are immediate questions of survival.
Although New Zealand accounts for a tiny percentage of global emissions – only 0.16 percent – we recognise the importance of doing our part.
But more importantly we recognise that global challenges require everyone’s attention and action. And we all have responsibility to care for the earth in the face of climate change.
This is not the time to apportion responsibility, this is the time to work across borders and to do everything we can by working together.
We are working internationally and want to do more to share research and ideas, build opportunities together with other nations.
New Zealand is fully committed to the Paris Agreement and we are taking urgent action to transition to a low-carbon and climate resilient economy. Our focus is on doing this in a way that creates new areas of growth and opportunity for our communities.
At home, my Minister for Climate Change is this week preparing a Zero Carbon Bill to legislate an ambitious goal that would be fully aligned with the Paris Agreement’s objective for the world to become carbon neutral in the second half of this century. We have already put in place some of the measures to get us there.
We are reviewing New Zealand’s emission trading scheme, to ensure it helps us deliver a net zero-emissions future.
We have a target of planting 1 billion trees over the next decade.
And we are no longer issuing permits for offshore oil and gas exploration.
It has been encouraging to see the groundswell of support for ambitious climate action in New Zealand. 60 CEOs representing half of all New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions have committed to action. Our largest dairy company and major agricultural producers have declared themselves up for the challenge.
Local governments have long-term plans not only to adapt to climate change but to drive deep emissions reductions. Communities and families are taking up the cause. New Zealanders understand that it is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.
The conversation has shifted dramatically. It was only 10 years ago that I was asked about climate change in a town hall election meeting. When I spoke passionately about our need to respond to this challenge, I was met with a boo that moved across the entire audience.
Now, the debate is no longer whether climate change is a threat, but how we can use our policies, actions and international linkages to drive the move to a low-emissions and inclusive society. We know that the scale of this transformation is huge, and we are determined to leave no-one behind. It will be a ‘just transition’ that works with people who might be affected, and turns this challenge into an opportunity.
In New Zealand’s home region of the Pacific we will work with others to support stronger and more resilient infrastructure, strengthened disaster preparedness, and low-carbon economic growth through both our funding commitments and by bringing good ideas to the table.
To support developing countries respond to the impacts of climate change, New Zealand will spend at least $300 million in climate-related development assistance over the next 4 years, with the majority of this to be spent in the Pacific.
We recognise that climate change poses a security threat to vulnerable nations, including our Pacific neighbours.
We understand that climate change brings new challenges to international legal frameworks.
As climate change causes sea-levels to rise, coastal states face the risk of shrinking maritime zones as their baselines move inward.
New Zealand firmly believes that coastal states’ baselines and maritime boundaries should not have to change because of human-induced sea level rise.
We are beginning work on a strategy to achieve the objective of preserving the current balance of rights and obligations under UNCLOS. Our goal is to find a way, as quickly as possible, to provide certainty to vulnerable coastal states that they will not lose access to their marine resources and current entitlements. We seek your support as we work to ensure that these states maintain their rights over their maritime zones in the face of sea-level rise.
You are all here today because you understand the need for global action to solve this global problem. My government is committed to leadership both at home and abroad.
On the international stage we are pushing for the reform of fossil fuel subsidies; the $460 billion spent each year that works against climate ambition and could be better spent on building resilient societies.
We are leading research and collaboration on climate change and agriculture, including with many of you here today in the Global Research Alliance. At COP24 we hope to see many of you at a New Zealand-led event on sustainable agriculture and climate change. We’re aiming to encourage action to capture the ‘triple win’ – increasing agricultural productivity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and strengthening resilience to climate change impacts.
We are undertaking research in Antarctica to better understand the crucial role it plays in global systems, and the far reaching effects environmental change in Antarctica will have.
We, with the Marshall Islands, Sweden and France are building a Towards Carbon Neutrality Coalition. The 16 countries and 32 cities in the Coalition are developing long-term strategies for deep cuts of emissions in line with the long-term temperature limit goals we all agreed to in the Paris Agreement.
This week President Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands and I are hosting the first high-level meeting of the Coalition. We’re going to launch the Coalition’s new Plan of Action and announce new members.
We are proud to join many of you in ambitious initiatives like the High Ambition Coalition, Powering Past Coal and the One Planet Sovereign Wealth Fund Working Group.
And in the UNFCCC we are strong supporters of the Global Climate Action Agenda, with a special focus on agriculture.
Underpinning all of this action is the Paris Agreement and the critical decisions that will be made in Katowice this December. The rules that are agreed must be robust and credible, so that the Paris Agreement is effective and enduring. The world can only reach the Paris goals if we have clarity and confidence about each other’s commitments and action.
As I have said to my fellow New Zealanders, I refuse to accept that the challenge of climate change is too hard to solve. So, I join you today necessarily hopeful. Hopeful that, if we genuinely commit to finding solutions together, no issue is truly unsolvable.
And hopeful that we, the 193 members states of the United Nations, can work towards solutions that deliver for our people. Peace. Dignity. A good quality of life. A resilient and sustainable future, and fulfilling the responsibility that is kaitiakitanga.