New Zealand Bans Future Offshore Oil And Gas Exploration


Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s announcement on Thursday, April 12, brings New Zealand closer to its goal: a carbon-neutral economy by 2050.  Ardern, as quoted in The New Zealand Herald, stated that: “We’re protecting industry and protecting future generations from climate change. This is a responsible step, which provides certainty for businesses and communities that rely on fossil fuels.” The ban, which is effective immediately, does not mean that there will be no more drilling; there are 22 existing permits, which cover 100,000sq km of ocean. Nevertheless, the Labour-Coalition Government’s landmark ban does mark a vital development in the move towards sustainability and Arden’s aim of a fossil-fuel free New Zealand by 2035 and carbon-neutral economy by 2050.

After receiving extensive criticism from representatives in the energy sector and political opponents, Ardern has justified her move as a way to prevent “abrupt shocks to communities and our country” that would occur if New Zealand acts too late. The opposition claim that the ban is “economic vandalism” that makes “no environmental sense,” according to The Guardian. For instance, ACT leader David Seymour, as quoted in The New Zealand Herald, argued that this ban puts 11,000 jobs at risk, could harm the environment, and risks the $2.5 billion the industry contributes to the New Zealand economy, including $500 million to the Government in royalties each year. Similarly, the National Party’s energy and resources spokesman, Jonathan Young, stated in The Guardian: “This decision is devoid of any rationale…These changes will simply shift production elsewhere in the world, not reduce emissions.”

On the other hand, environmental agencies and coalition members are praising the ban. Greenpeace’s Russel Norman has described it as a “historic step” and “a huge win,” according to The New Zealand Herald. Also quoted in the NZ Herald, WWF-New Zealand chief executive, Livia Esterhazy, said the move was welcome news for critically endangered Maui dolphins: “They live only off the west coast of the North Island, and over 30 percent of their habitat is already open for oil exploration.” While Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones stated: “The block offer does not affect any jobs that are already there. New Zealand First’s support is predicated by its commitment to protect the rights of existing permit holders.” Therefore, they support Ardern’s assertion that she and Labour are “striking the right balance for New Zealand – we’re protecting existing industry, and protecting future generations from climate change.”

This ban follows from two key events: Ardern’s personal acceptance of a 50,000-strong Greenpeace petition calling for an end to offshore oil and gas exploration last month, and last weeks announcement of a $20 million investment in Taranaki regional initiatives, with the purpose of laying the groundwork for a transition to lower-carbon industries. At the time of the former, the National leader Simon Bridges, a former Energy Minister, accused Ardern of performing a “political stunt.” However, these actions substantiates the Prime Minister’s commitment to attacking climate change the same way David Lange concluded the nuclear-free movement banning nuclear ships in 1984, according to The Spin Off.

Altogether, New Zealand’s choice to “turn the tide irreversibly against big oil,” as Greenpeace chief executive Russell Norman termed it, is historically in line with Greenpeace and Amnesty International’s demand that fossil fuels are phased out by 2050. The international significance is vast; as Climate Change Minister James Shaw pointed out in The New Zealand Herald, it shows New Zealand’s “Pacific Island neighbours who are facing the brunt of climate change would now know that New Zealand ‘has their back.'” However, the fact the fourth-largest exclusive economic zone on the planet is out of bounds for new fossil fuel exploitation brings us globally closer to fighting what Savio Carvalho, Senior Advisor on International Development and Human Rights, identified as “one of the greatest human rights challenges of our time,” since it is feared that “as many as 600 million more people could go hungry by 2080,” according to Amnesty International. Therefore, the significance of this ban should not be undermined; New Zealand can adapt to the economic challenges in the process of creating an unprecedented economically and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050.

Charlotte Devenish

History student at the University of Edinburgh, currently on exchange at the University of Auckland.