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Ardern's plea for climate change action: Be 'on the right side of history'
00:40 am GMT+12, 23/01/2019, New Zealand

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in a panel alongside Sir David Attenborough, has discussed the challenges of tackling climate change and encouraged world leaders to take on kaitiakitanga.

The Safeguarding Our Planet panel in Davos also included former US vice-President Al Gore as an interviewer and panel members Mahindra Group chair Anand Mahindra and Japan's Zero Waste Academy chair Akira Sakano.

Ardern's panel visit is part of her trip around Europe with Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

Environmental threats have dominated the World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report, which surveyed leaders, for the third year in a row.

After last year's heat waves, storms and floods across the globe, extreme weather events top the list of most likely risks and come third for impact in the global risks report.

"Failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation" is in second place on both lists, reflecting respondents' increasing concerns about environmental policy failure," the report stated.

"The results of climate inaction are becoming increasingly clear. The accelerating pace of biodiversity loss is a particular concern."

Ardern also acknowledged the risk by saying: "What greater threat to our wellbeing is there than the current threat of climate change."

While the hottest five years ever had been the past five years, Gore said there was a solution for climate change but posed the question if people were willing to commit to change.

Ardern responded by saying politicians had a short time in power, and the challenge was to embed in that time the infrastructure for long-term change.

She said kaitiakitanga (guardianship of the environment) played an important role in this.

"One of the biggest threats I think that we have ... [are] political cycles.

"This needs to be something that we embed in our national cycles, in our political cycles, and in our actions and it needs to endure beyond us as individuals.

"So if we can do anything, we will be creating legislation which embeds those targets, that ambition we need, and then right through to the basic pragmatic things. Like planting a billion trees over 10 years, creating investment funds, doing each of the things that will set us on a long-term path for guardianship [kaitiakitanga], because that's what we all have to take the responsibility for."

Sir David said he could not imagine a situation more serious. He said things were getting worse faster, and the maddening thing was that we knew how to deal with it, we just needed to do it.

However, Ardern said there was cause to remain optimistic about change for the better.

"Ten years ago, when I first came to parliament I remember standing at a town hall meeting and speaking passionately about the issue of climate change and being roundly booed, including I think by members of my own family," she said.

"But even in that 10-year period, how dramatic the shift has been. No longer do you have the significant questioning of the science that we had perhaps even in that period of time."

She said in the face of resistance towards change, there needed to momentum for it.

"We build a movement with us and I want to acknowledge the work of Sir David - a voice of authority, trust and respect and to all those leaders that use the platform they have - it creates the space for us as politicians to do the right thing."

Gore asked what the prime minister had to say to other world leaders who did not believe in climate risks or were not taking them seriously.

Ardern responded by saying that the best method was to show rather than tell.

"It only takes a trip to the Pacific to see that climate change isn't a hypothetical, and you don't have to know anything about the science or even have an argument about the science to have someone from one of the Pacific Island nations take you to one of the places they used to play as a child on the coast and show you where they used to stand and now where the water rises."

She also said it was about being on the "right side of history".

"Do you want to be a leader that you look back in time and say that you were on the wrong side of the argument when the world was crying out for a solution, said PM Ardern.


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