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New Zealand has been dishonoured with the infamous ‘Fossil of the Day’ award at COP28 for the newly formed government’s decision to overturn the existing world-leading ban on new oil and gas exploration. 

Since July, New Zealand’s official negotiating position has been to advocate for the global phase-out of fossil fuels. However, the new government intends to abandon this stance, by reopening New Zealand’s extensive waters to oil and gas exploration. 

The nomination was put forward a coalition of New Zealand NGOs at the COP28 including Forest & Bird’s Bianca Ranson. A Forest & Bird advocate and New Zealand Climate Action Network delegate, Ms Ranson stated: “New Zealand has an opportunity to position ourselves as global leaders in fighting climate change and phasing out fossil fuels. This ill-informed decision is a devastating U-turn that undermines years of iwi, community and NGO struggle, and puts New Zealand and our Pacific neighbours at risk.” 

New Zealand’s decision was taken despite the United Nations warning that the world is on track to produce around 110% more fossil fuels in 2030 than are needed to limit warming to 1.5°C. 

The new Climate Change Minister Simon Watts stated he is not expecting any criticism at COP28 for the decision. However, most recently, Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. has already publicly criticised the New Zealand government for the intentions to reopen oil and gas exploration describing it as “tragic”. 

Ranson stated that: “The decade long campaign to ban oil and gas exploration in New Zealand’s oceans was driven by New Zealanders who wanted to draw a firm line in the sand on climate change and wanted our country to be courageous in gearing up for a different future. The new direction of this government is a giant leap backwards. It sticks out like a sore thumb alongside other countries’ commitments here at COP28. This decision goes against the long history and proud story of Aotearoa New Zealand enjoying recognition on the global stage for climate leadership. For the Prime Minister to say he is deeply committed to tackling climate change while trying to justify this U-turn is undermining our credibility on the international stage.”

Pacific nations are among the most impacted by climate change. “As tangata moana [Ocean people], and as a Pacific Island nation, Aotearoa New Zealand has a responsibility to make sure decisions are also in the best interests of our Pacific neighbours who are at immediate risk of sea level inundation," Ranson warned.  

“Ahead of the minister’s arrival to COP28 the message is clear: expect criticism, do not embarrass Aotearoa New Zealand and follow through with the government’s official negotiating position of phasing out new fossil fuels. Do the right thing that New Zealanders and the international community expect. We have no time to waste in securing a liveable future,” Ranson concluded.

The Fossil of the Day award is presented by the Climate Action Network to countries who are “doing the most to achieve the least” in terms of the progress on climate change.

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