Greenpeace says the decision by Prime Minister Chris Hipkins to reprioritise future transport budgets, away from walking, cycling and public transport, in order to pay for Cyclone Gabrielle road reconstruction, is short-sighted in the time of the climate crisis.

“Robbing money from climate mitigation initiatives like walking and cycling, which reduce emissions, in order to fix up climate-related storm damage makes no sense,” says Greenpeace campaigner Christine Rose.

“This shouldn’t be an either-or situation. Yes, we need to get access back for cyclone-hit areas. But why would you finance that by cancelling plans for a transport system that cuts climate emissions that otherwise intensify the storms?”

The Labour Government’s Transport Minister Michael Wood yesterday announced plans to prioritise climate change in the Government Policy Statement review, which sets the high level direction for spending over the next five years.

However, less than a day later, after Monday’s Cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister stepped away from this commitment.

Mr Hipkins argued that the response to Cyclone Gabrielle required reprioritisation to repair bridges and roads rather than to support public transport, walking and cycling.

Transport is New Zealand’s second biggest climate polluter after the agriculture industry.

“Cyclone Gabrielle was a tragic reminder that the climate crisis is here. The Government must pull all the stops to prevent storms like this from getting worse in future. And that means putting a brake on climate pollution.

“This is the time the Government should instead be accelerating climate solutions like clean transport options. By distancing himself from Jacinda Ardern’s commitment to climate change, Hipkins is aligning himself with reactionary pro-road lobbies,” says Rose.

Greenpeace says damage to roads, bridges and infrastructure shows how vulnerable the transport network is to climate change. Building more roads isn’t a long-term solution.

“It’s time to reinvent our transport system so it prioritises people and freight, not cars, and mitigates climate change as well as adapting to the new climate reality,” says Rose. 

Rose says if Mr Hipkins claims there’s no money to pay for reconstruction – perhaps he should consider the fact that the biggest climate polluter, Fonterra – is paying nothing for its methane emissions.

“If the Government doesn’t take the lead during the climate crisis, to allocate spending for climate solutions, then it’s the wrong government for our times.”