Climate change response an opportunity for more equitable society

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.