Talking climate with Gareth Hughes

This is post number two of four. Yesterday, I posted a summary of my talk with James. The day before, Kevin. Tomorrow, Vernon’s will go up (Update – up now) – as will the Adopt a Negotiator piece summarising all four that I did these interviews for.


Climate change is my passion. It’s the most important environmental issue facing our planet. – Gareth

Gareth lives and breathes climate campaigning. He’s a former Rainbow Warrior crew member. In 2009, he coordinated Greenpeace New Zealand’s huge ‘Sign On‘ campaign, which mobilised over 230,000 New Zealanders (and the odd comedian).

Climate activism is something he has ‘dedicated years of [his] life to’. This practical campaigning on climate is a ‘core theme of [his] Parliamentary career’. It’s his ‘point of difference’.

Unsurprisingly, then, he thinks the Party could have pushed climate change harder in the 2013 election. ‘We should have‘, he says, ‘campaigned stronger on climate change’, not just in 2013, but in the preceding three years. By ‘building a national constituency’ around it, the Party could make it an election winning issue.

He continues to give climate issues maximum focus and attention, playing a key role in the Party’s current climate campaigning. This year, he wants New Zealand to commit to cutting at least 30-40% off our emissions in the period just after 2020.

Our mission is to make it an issue of national concern and support the Government into taking on our real fair share. – Gareth

So, he probably wants Russel’s climate portfolio too then? Not so fast, says Gareth, maybe not. It’s more important for a Co-Leader to be known for his leadership on an issue than for what portfolio he has. He’s more concerned about building the whole caucus’s climate campaigning than taking a portfolio for himself.

I’d like to see the whole team step up. We should all be climate campaigners. – Gareth

But has he read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything

I’ve flicked through it. Haven’t started reading it properly. – Gareth

Unsurprisingly, as two climate campaigners, we start talking about climate communications. We agree that we can’t gloss over the real impacts. Gareth says we need to be ‘honest, upfront about the dangers’ but we cannot lapse into ‘doom and gloom‘. Gareth suggests comparing climate change to World War Two. It needs a national movement, where we all collectively pull our weight building a better world. I tell him he reminds me of David Roberts from Grist/Vox.

But Gareth adds one more point: New Zealand came out of World War Two richer, economically better off. Mobilising to face climate change and lead the transition to a renewable, sustainable economy will benefit New Zealand too.

But how?

We need to pull all the levers at our disposal. – Gareth

He rattles off a range of policies and campaign tactics. We need ‘more choices on transport‘, ‘greater energy independence‘ and, ultimately, a zero carbon economy. A genuine carbon price will help us get there. But to get there we need need leadership in Parliament, community leadership, and individual leadership. Gareth stresses that he practices what he preaches, going vegetarian for ecological reasons, replacing polluting travel with Skype meetings wherever possible (and calculating the carbon saved), and – even as an MP – riding the bus whenever he can instead of taking a cab or driving.

Gareth lives it. Climate action and climate justice drive him. His proudest achievement in life is not being elected to Parliament, but leading the biggest climate march up Auckland’s Queen St to date. This December, when the world’s governments meet in Paris to replace the Kyoto Protocol, he’d like to lead an even bigger one.

This is an existential threat. – Gareth