Climate change response an opportunity for more equitable society
03 Feb 2021
As the Climate Change Commission advocates significant change to the New Zealand economy, the Public Service Association argues this presents both a challenge and an opportunity to build a more equitable society.
The union strongly endorses the Commission’s call for an Equitable Transitions Strategy to minimise negative impacts on Māori, Pasefika, Disabled and working class communities.
"In an unequal society, the impact of climate change will not be felt equally. The Commission predicts significant increases in travel and vehicle costs for many households, not all of whom can easily afford an electric vehicle," says PSA National Secretary Erin Polaczuk.
"The PSA is campaigning to expand universal basic services for all New Zealanders, which we believe is the fairest and most effective way to respond to this crisis. The government should commit to funding free public transport, with decarbonised bus and rail services available across the country."
Achieving carbon neutrality means transforming the way goods and services are both produced and consumed, and the PSA argues this requires an approach based on partnership, democratic buy-in and popular participation.
Many New Zealanders are wary of economic reform. Governments in the 1980s and 1990s rapidly implemented policies that hurt working families and their communities.
The PSA urges the government to reassure New Zealanders those bitter experiences will not be repeated, and instead prepare for a Just Transition that shifts the burden away from ordinary people and makes the corporations responsible pay for the crisis they caused.
"Workers must be central to the decision-making process when their workplaces transform. For example, health professionals are preparing for changed disease patterns and more extreme weather events, which requires re-skilling and detailed planning," says Ms Polaczuk.
"The expertise of essential frontline workers must be heard, and listened to, at the highest levels. Disabled and elderly clients must shape the systems they rely on for support. Pasefika communities must inform our response to rising sea levels. If New Zealanders feel alienated by changes dictated from on high, there may be a backlash down the road."
The union recommends increased cooperation between central and local government, with more clarity about how councils will be supported to achieve their carbon reduction targets.
Government agencies must continue to show leadership by shifting to sustainable energy suppliers, expanding the use of electric vehicles and achieving a ‘green standard’ in public sector workplaces.
See also: Public servants welcome govt commitment to climate action
The Public Service Association welcomes the government’s declaration of a climate emergency, and supports the goal of achieving carbon neutrality in the public service itself by 2025.
Requiring agencies to buy electric vehicles and achieve a ‘green standard’ in government buildings is a significant and positive step, and the PSA argues this should lead toward further policies that help all New Zealanders reduce their emissions.
As part of its campaign for universal basic services (the Aotearoa Wellbeing Commitment) the PSA argues free public transport would allow New Zealanders to reduce their carbon footprints.
"With today’s motion to Parliament, the government acknowledges a climate emergency that already exists," says PSA National Secretary Erin Polaczuk.
"By committing to reduce emissions and achieve carbon neutrality in public sector agencies and SOEs, the government ensures this declaration is more than symbolic."
The PSA recently held its biennial congress, where the Prime Minister heard an impassioned speech from the floor by a Pasefika woman delegate about the urgent need to save her homeland from rising sea levels.
Alongside the wider New Zealand and international labour movement the PSA is committed to the fight for green jobs, clean energy and a Just Transition for workers in polluting industries.
"The PSA takes climate change very seriously, because for thousands of our members it is an imminent threat to their families and their homelands. Through our Pasefika Network and our Eco Network, the need for rapid reduction of carbon emissions is kept firmly at the top of our union’s priority list," says Ms Polaczuk.
"We are thrilled to see the Prime Minister taking concrete steps to address this emergency. PSA members will do whatever we can to support and implement policies that protect the environment."