Politics

Covid 19 Delta outbreak: James Shaw to attend climate talks in Glasgow

Climate Change Minister James Shaw will attend climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland in person this November.

At this stage he will still attend the conference from November 7-12, as planned

Shaw will be only the second minister to venture beyond New Zealand’s borders since they were effectively shut at the beginning of the pandemic. He will go into MIQ on his return.

The trip comes amid concerns expressed by officials that New Zealand’s diplomatic efforts could be hamstrung because ministers are unable to attend international events in person.

As the rest of the world returns to in-person meetings, there is a concern that digital meetings or officials-only delegations are not a suitable substitute for in-person ministerial attendance.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs paper released under the Official Information Act warned that officials were concerned that the lack of ministerial representation at international fora could limit our ability to influence policy and help our allies.

The paper set out options for the now-postponed Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Rwanda this year.

Officials noted the visit presented health challenges, but also warned that only sending officials would constrain our ability to participate in the leaders-only forum.

“An officials-led delegation would be limited in its ability to participate and influence key policy outcomes,” officials warned,

Officials went on to say that New Zealand’s international partners would be disappointed by an officials-only delegation because this would cut them off from the influence of an ally.

“Other partners … may also be disappointed by an officials-only delegation from New Zealand as they lose a key partner on issues of concern to them,” the paper said.

Other leaders, like Australia’s Scott Morrison and his Trade Minister Dan Tehan have both travelled abroad.

The COP26 talks in Glasgow will be some of the most important climate change talks in recent years. Countries are being urged to come together to up their Paris climate change commitments and to ban coal.

Trade Minister Damien O’Connor has travelled to the UK and Europe and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had hoped to go to Australia and the United Nations in New York. The first trip was canned – the second now looks extremely unlikely to go ahead as Ardern has her hands full fighting the Delta outbreak in Auckland.

The Government is still working on just how it reopens to the rest of the world.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told Parliament on Tuesday night the Government’s plans to reopen to the world based on the risk posed by individual countries had been changing.

“It would be fair to say that Delta has actually changed some of the thinking about that even in the last few weeks,” Hipkins said.

“We were looking at a situation where you could stratify countries based on risk, and I think in the Delta environment, we actually have to consider whether, in fact, that’s an appropriate thing to do, recognising that all countries, all people coming into the country at this point, have a degree of risk associated with them,” he said.

But Hipkins told the Covid-19 press conference on Wednesday that the Government was forging ahead with a pilot to allow some business travellers to quarantine at home.

“Certainly we are still forging ahead with that trial between now and the end of the year.

“We said in the beginning that it will be in the final quarter of the year – there may be some movement that is required because of the current outbreak so I wouldn’t put a specific timeframe on it at this point.”

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