New Zealand Bans New Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration
"The whole world is going in this direction," Ardern said. "We all signed up to the Paris agreement that said we're moving towards carbon-neutrality, and now we need to act on it."
The ban only affects future permits for offshore oil and gas exploration and will not affect the existing 22. This could allow exploration to feasibly continue in a 38,000-square-mile area until the existing permits expire, which could be "as far out as 2030," the government acknowledged. Permits for onshore oil and gas exploration will also continue.
The energy industry and the opposition party were alarmed by the announcement. New Zealand Oil & Gas told Reuters they were not warned about the new policy.
"We note that the announcement is a sudden change of policy, which has not been consulted on and appears to conflict with the government's pre-election promises," the company said.
The center-right National Party condemned the ban, calling it "economic vandalism" and claiming that it made no environmental sense.
Ardern noted, "Nothing will change overnight. These existing permits have very long lead times. We'll be seeing oil and gas exploration for a number of years to come. And the jobs—the four-and-a-half thousand jobs in this industry—will continue too."
"But we're putting a line in the sand and saying, now it's our job to plan for the future," Ardern said. "We will make sure we've got that transition plan in place, and what the future of clean, green, carbon-neutral New Zealand looks like."
The 37-year-old prime minister, who was elected in October, campaigned on an ambitious environmental agenda. Her government has pledged to power the country's grid with 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 and becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
Jacinda Ardern at the swearing of new cabinet in October. Wikimedia Commons
Greenpeace New Zealand celebrated the announcement. Executive Director Russel Norman praised Ardern for personally accepting a 50,000-strong Greenpeace petition to oppose oil and gas exploration.
"Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Coalition Government have taken an historic step and delivered a huge win for the climate, spurred on by the tens of thousands of people and environmental NGOs like Greenpeace who have fought for years to end new oil and gas exploration," he said in a statement.
"While we will continue to demand a complete end to fossil fuel exploration on land and sea as well as the revoking of existing permits, this has been one of Greenpeace New Zealand's longest running campaigns and today marks a great success for so many people," Norman continued.
He added, "Greenpeace also supports the Prime Minister's commitment to a just transition to a clean energy future, which can provide jobs and a big boost to our economy."