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Source: Kiwis in Climate

The National Party’s policy to lift the ban on future offshore oil and gas exploration will hurt New Zealand’s economy and environment, explains an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and delivered to Climate Change Minister Simon Watts at COP28 on Saturday.

Signed by more than 300 scientists, business leaders, lawyers and climate and sustainability professionals, the letter urges the Prime Minister not to re-open New Zealand’s ocean territory to oil and gas exploration.

The letter was prepared by Kiwis in Climate, a network of professionals who are dedicated to creating a prosperous, low-carbon future for Aotearoa and follows warnings from the Climate Minister of Vanuatu, Greenpeace and the Green Party to leave the ban in place.

Signatories of the letter include musician Neil Finn, CEO of Les Mills Phillip Mills, CEO of Net Zero Lawyers Alliance Georgina Beasley, anthropologist Dame Anne Salmond and climate scientists Professor James Renwick and Dr Luke Harrington.

The ban on oil and gas exploration in New Zealand waters was introduced in 2019 and celebrated as an important step in the fight against climate change.

However, both Act and the National Party campaigned on lifting the ban if elected to government and the proposal is included in the coalition agreement for the two parties.  

The open letter includes an analysis that found New Zealand already has access to a sufficient supply of natural gas that will meet demand until renewable energy is scaled up to meet demand.

The letter also explains that it’s highly unlikely lifting the ban will attract investment from offshore oil and gas companies. A combination of geographic isolation and decreasing global demand for fossil fuels means New Zealand is now a comparatively high-risk and unattractive location for oil and gas exploration.

Lifting the ban could damage New Zealand’s economy, the letter explains, as countries and businesses are increasingly considering the environmental credentials and emission reductions of the nations they trade with.

On the global stage, New Zealand is already being criticised for the proposal to lift the ban. Germany, Palau and Vanuatu have all denounced the policy and at COP28, New Zealand was singled out for the first ‘Fossil of the Day’ award, a dubious recognition of the country doing the most regressive things for global progress on climate change.

The letter explains that calling for more oil and gas exploration when the world is moving away from fossil fuels could damage New Zealand’s green reputation and jeopardise future trading opportunities.

This year is expected to be the hottest ever recorded, with countries around the world experiencing unprecedented storms, heatwaves, droughts and wildfires.

Pointing to Cyclone Gabrielle, which caused more than $13 billion in damages and led to the tragic loss of 11 lives, the letter highlights that New Zealand will also experience even more severe weather disasters if the world does not rapidly move away from fossil fuels and reduce emissions to net zero.

In September, the International Energy Agency again stated that to keep global warming to 1.5°C by 2050, no new gas and oil fields can be developed.

According to the Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific project that assesses government climate action, New Zealand’s overall actions and policies are rated as “highly insufficient.”

On Saturday 9 December, the letter was delivered to Climate Change Minister Simon Watts  at COP28 by a representative of Kiwis in Climate and followed up with a conversation to discuss the concerns outlined in the letter.

Nick Morrison, Founding Director at Go Well Consulting and Kiwis in Climate convener, said:

“Fossil fuels are a dying industry. Globally, demand for oil and gas is decreasing as countries scale-up clean, renewable energy systems.

“Lifting the ban on future gas and oil exploration will make New Zealand look more and more like a country that doesn’t care about climate change, smearing our green reputation and damaging future trading opportunities.

“Kiwis in Climate strongly encourages the government to leave the ban in place and focus on the National Party’s election pledges to double renewable energy generation, increase EV infrastructure and introduce offshore wind to New Zealand.”

Professor James Renwick, Climate Scientist, Victoria University of Wellington

“To take action on climate change before it overwhelms us, we need to act immediately and stop emitting greenhouse gases as fast as possible.

“Any move that prolongs the fossil fuel era wastes time we no longer have. New Zealand could lead the world in the 21st century by committing fully to our zero-carbon future, instead of looking back to our polluting past.”

Dr Luke Harrington, Senior Lecturer in Climate Change, University of Waikato, said:

“For a climate scientist, any proposal to increase gas and oil extraction is a backwards step. On a rapidly heating planet, we simply can’t afford to go looking for more fossil fuels.

“Record-shattering events like the Auckland Anniversary floods provide a window into the future of climate change in New Zealand.

“With every fraction of a degree of warming from the burning of fossil fuels, we will experience even heavier downpours and increasing risks from heatwaves, drought and wildfire.

“Climate change makes life a little more dangerous and much more expensive for everyone in New Zealand.”

David Tong, Global Industry Campaign Manager at Oil Change International, said:

“The government’s plan to reopen offshore oil exploration contradicts climate science and risks international humiliation. It will compromise our relationships with key trading partners and our Pacific neighbours. Already, three governments have taken the extraordinary step of criticising the decision in New Zealand media. There has never been more momentum for phasing out all fossil fuels than now, at COP28, and it’s absurd for the new government to try to swim against this tide. In particular, it will mean that New Zealand is the first country to be kicked out of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance and compromise our eight years of active involvement in the High Ambition Coalition.

“This is particularly significant because the science is clear: there is no room for new oil, gas, and coal expansion for 1.5ºC. The IPCC and IEA have both made this clear. A 2021 peer reviewed study building on Oil Change International analysis confirmed that not only is there no room for new fossil fuel expansion, but that as much of 60% of the fossil fuels in developed, operating fields and mines must stay in the ground. The last National government signed the Paris Agreement, and now this new government is acting to undercut its ultimate objective.”


Formed in 2018, Kiwis in Climate connects and supports New Zealanders around the world who work in climate and sustainability-related fields. By sharing expertise, opportunities and ideas, the network aims to cultivate science-backed solutions to help tackle climate change.

In October 2021, Kiwis in Climate sent an open letter to New Zealand Rugby CEO Mark Robinson asking him to reconsider the All Blacks’ sponsorship deal with British petro-chemical giant Ineos which was signed by more than 100 people, including two former All Blacks and musician Neil Finn.