Jacinda Ardern makes debut on world stage telling APEC 'climate change is the greatest challenge facing this generation'

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is making her debut on the international stage, with applause as she told chief executives at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Vietnam climate change is the greatest challenge facing this generation.

Just over two weeks after being sworn in as Prime Minister, Ms Ardern addressed business chief executives in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang.

1 NEWS political editor Corin Dann was in Da Nang following developments. Source: 1 NEWS

She's addressing APEC'S summit alongside the Vice President of Exxon Mobil on the subject of resource efficiency and sustainable growth.

"Climate change is the greatest challenge facing this generation. It is also the greatest challenge facing the Asia Pacific region," she said.

"We have the largest number of climate vulnerable people in the world. We are already seeing the terrible effects of climate change in our region. It is literally lapping at our feet," Ms Ardern said.

"Our Pacific island neighbours are being challenged by rising sea levels as we speak and face the looming prospect of becoming climate refugees.

"In New Zealand our glaciers have lost nearly a quarter of their ice since 1977 and last year was our warmest on record.  New Zealanders are deeply concerned not only about what is happening to our country but what is happening to our planet," she said.

Climate change is real. It's happening now - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at APEC

"No matter how small we are we have a role to play as we all do," she said, outlining her government's plans to move to a low carbon economy.

Ms Ardern called for fossil fuel subsidies to be phased out and fisheries subsidies to be eliminated.

"Every year governments spend $US500 billion to subsidise fossil fuels, four times the amount we spend on renewable energy. By keeping prices artificially low, fossil fuel subsidies encourage wasteful consumption, disadvantage renewable energy and depress investment in renewable energy. We must phase them out," she said.

She said harmful fisheries subsidies have negative trade, environmental and development impacts.

"Climate change is real. It's happening now," Ms Ardern said. 

"This is not about talking what we do in the future but the action that we have the potential to carry as leaders in the business community and the international environment. 

"My challenge to you all is to join us on that journey and leave a legacy we can all be proud of, " Ms Ardern said.

Ms Ardern arrived in Vietnam last night for the APEC summit which will be attended by the 21 world leaders, with the main meetings taking place on Saturday and Sunday.