New Zealand aims to go green with electricity, tree planting

New Zealand's Prime Minister-designate Jacinda Ardern
Updated 24 October 2017

New Zealand aims to go green with electricity, tree planting

WELLINGTON: New Zealand’s incoming government is hoping to make the nation greener by planting 100 million trees each year, ensuring the electricity grid runs entirely from renewable energy, and spending more money on cycle ways and rail transport.
Jacinda Ardern, who takes over as prime minister this week, on Tuesday outlined agreements her Labour Party reached with other political parties joining them in the new government.
In addition to the environmental initiatives, Ardern also outlined plans to raise the minimum wage, stop foreigners from buying existing homes, and possibly change how New Zealand’s Reserve Bank operates.
The 37-year-old will be New Zealand’s youngest leader in more than 150 years and hopes to take the country on a more liberal path following nine years of rule by the conservative National Party.
“I don’t need to be influenced on climate change,” she said. “It will sit at the heart of what this government does.”
Ardern’s plan is for New Zealand to reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by the year 2050.
Some of the targets will require only incremental changes. New Zealand already generates about 85 percent of its electricity from renewable sources including hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. Ardern plans to increase that to 100 percent by 2035, in part by investigating whether solar panels can be used atop schools.
She said the country will need to double the amount of trees it plants each year, a goal she said was “absolutely achievable” by using land that was marginal for farming animals. Her plans also call for the government’s vehicle fleet to be green within a decade.
Not everybody is happy with the plans. Many farmers are worried they will be required to pay more if they are absorbed into an emissions trading scheme.
“There is concern that if this should happen, New Zealand will become less competitive with other food-producing nations,” said Katie Milne, the president of advocacy group Federated Farmers.
The government also plans to raise the minimum wage to 20 New Zealand dollars ($14) per hour over the next few years, a 27 percent increase over its current level. And Ardern said a review of the way the Reserve Bank operates would take into account factors such as employment levels and price stability. Currently the bank primarily considers inflation when setting interest rates.
Ardern also outlined a plan to spend 1 billion New Zealand dollars ($693 million) a year on the country’s smaller towns and regions to improve rail and other infrastructure.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find a region that hasn’t experienced neglect,” she said.
Ardern said she had spoken to President Donald Trump for about five minutes on Monday after he called to congratulate her on her election win. She said Trump told her the election had received quite a bit of coverage in Washington D.C. and on the East Coast, and that she had talked to him about New Zealand’s important role in the Asia-Pacific region.
“Our relationship with the US is incredibly important,” Ardern said when asked about Trump. “That has not changed and it will not change.”


UK PM Johnson’s support plunges over Cummings scandal

Updated 4 min 11 sec ago

UK PM Johnson’s support plunges over Cummings scandal

  • Cummings, one of the architects of the 2016 Brexit campaign, drove his wife and young son on a 264-mile (425-kilometer) trip from London to Durham
  • The polls add to a sense of growing revolt over the government’s handling of Cummings, with nearly 40 Tory MPs demanding he lose his job

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saw his public support suffer the sharpest fall for a Conservative leader in a decade Wednesday as he prepared to be grilled by lawmakers over his handling of the Dominic Cummings scandal.
Johnson has stuck by Cummings despite a public and political backlash over his top aide’s travels to visit family despite the government’s strict rules to curb the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Cummings affair seems to have really cut through to the public and is taking a rapid toll on support for the government in general and the prime minister in particular,” Tim Bale, Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London, told AFP.
“The danger is that it triggers and reinforces a long-held concern among British voters that the Conservative Party cares more about its rich friends than about ordinary folk.”
A YouGov poll for The Times newspaper showed the Conservative lead over the main opposition Labour party shrink by nine points in a week.
The survey put the Tories on 44 percent — down four points — and Labour on 38 percent, up five points over the past seven days.
The last Tory leader to see his lead fall by the same amount was David Cameron during the 2010 general election campaign.
A poll in the Daily Mail newspaper showed Johnson’s approval rating had plummeted from 19 percent to minus one percent in just a few days — despite leading his party to a comprehensive general election victory just six months ago.
Cummings, one of the architects of the 2016 Brexit campaign, drove his wife and young son on a 264-mile (425-kilometer) trip from London to Durham, northeast England, during the strictest phase of Britain’s coronavirus lockdown.
His wife had by then developed COVID-19 symptoms, and Cummings himself came down with the virus a few days later.
Cummings has also admitted taking a 60-mile round trip to a local beauty spot — as he explained, to test his eyesight — before driving back to London.
Although some have suggested the support and criticism of Cummings is split along pro- and anti-Brexit lines, Bale says public disquiet goes further.
“An awful lot of Leavers think the whole thing stinks — something that should worry the government, big-time.”
The polls add to a sense of growing revolt over the government’s handling of Cummings, with nearly 40 Tory MPs demanding he lose his job, while one junior minister has quit in protest.
Among those to add his criticism of Cummings overnight was former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who came second to Johnson in last year’s Conservative leadership contest
Hunt, in a letter to a constituent, said that Cummings had broken the government’s own rules and that there were “clearly mistakes,” the Guardian reported.
However, cabinet minister Robert Jenrick, the housing, communities and local government secretary, backed Johnson’s top adviser on Wednesday.
“I think, is the time for us all to move on,” he told the BBC, adding that Cummings had not broken any government guidelines.
He added that anyone could drive across the country to seek childcare in the same way that Cummings did, but said there would be no review of fines imposed on those who have done that before now, contradicting suggestions on Tuesday from Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Britain is one of the worst-hit countries by the pandemic, with more than 46,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 by mid-May, according to official statistics released Tuesday.
Johnson’s government, whose tally only includes deaths confirmed by a positive test, has counted 37,048 fatalities.