TODAY |

Covid-19 pandemic 'terrible' for the environment – Climate Change Minister

Despite calls the Covid-19 pandemic has been beneficial to the environment, Climate Change Minister James Shaw says the reality is that it could instead have a "terrible" impact.

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Green party co-leader James Shaw told Q+A that there's a risk NZ loses focus on the long term challenge of climate change while dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. Source: Q+A

The lockdown has had a dramatic effect on New Zealand's air quality, with initial results of air quality monitoring from NIWA showing a big drop in traffic pollution in Auckland. In addition, in New Zealand’s major cities noise complaints have dropped sharply, with many people now noticing the sounds of bird calls.

However, Mr Shaw told TVNZ1's Q+A this morning the impact of Covid-19 on the environment in the long run will be "terrible". 

"It means people’s attention is not on those long term challenges, it’s on the things that are in front of us. It runs the risk of making mistakes in other crisis where we just went back to the same old polluting economy. 

"The great risk is we take our eye off the ball of the long term while we’re dealing with the short term challenge."

He said the Covid-19 crisis means there's less money to go towards the environment.

"Our children and possibly our grandchildren are going to be paying back the debt we’re racking up to get through this crisis."

Mr Shaw said that showed the need to adequately tackle climate change. 

"If we fail to avert a climate crisis, they are also going to be hit with a double whammy and also paying the cost of that, also for many, many decades.

"In our view, we’ve got a responsibility to use the money we’re borrowing from our kids now, to ensure they don’t also have to pay for the cost of adapting to climate costs in the future."

He also said creating new jobs would be essential in the coming months, highlighting the need for employment in construction. 

"Construction for housing employs more people per dollar spent than horizontal infrastructure (such as) roads and water.

"If you want to focus on things that create employment but also a really long term challenge New Zealand has, then we would be prioritising investing on the construction of housing."

When questioned by Q+A host Jack Tame on the Government's housing track record on KiwiBuild, Mr Shaw said there was "absolutely" not enough housing construction. 

"We need to dramatically scale it up and I think now is a time where we have an opportunity to do exactly that."