New Zealand’s warning to world after devastating cyclone: ‘It will get worse’

As Australia cracks down on climate protesters, New Zealand warns the world must stop making excuses for inaction.

In the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle, New Zealand’s climate change minister is both ‘‘sad and angry” about the “lost decades” of global inaction to cut emissions.

The extent of destruction caused by Cyclone Gabrielle is still unknown, with some areas disconnected by phone and road. Rescue crews searching for missing people have recovered a body after a landslide brought down a house in Muriwai, west of Auckland, while two other bodies were recovered in the Hawke's Bay area. Over 10,500 individuals have been displaced and hundreds of people have been rescued from rooftops.

Animal lovers clambered to help rescue a horse seen stranded on top of a building in flooded Hawke's Bay, but the animal was later found dead. "I can't stop crying," one person wrote after the story was shared to social media on Tuesday.

Left - an aerial shot of a horse on a roof with a red circle around it. Right - a person carrying a sheep through flood waters.
A horse died on the roof of a building and sheep were rescued after Cyclone Gabrielle struck New Zealand. Source: New Zealand Equestrian Scene/1 News

Elsewhere in Hawke's Bay, sheep were rescued by passing Good Samaritans who saw a flock of around 150 dying in the corner of a paddock.

Climate change minister says excuses for inaction must stop

Speaking passionately to parliament, climate change minister James Shaw said the impacts of climate change are “here now”. “If we do not act, it will get worse,” he warned.

Left - three people walking down a path that's been impacted by the storms. Cut tree limbs can be seen to the right. Right - clifftop houses in New Zealand.
The extent of damage caused by Cyclone Gabrielle is still unknown. Source: Getty/Reuters

“The severity of it, of course, made worse by the fact that our global temperatures have already increased by 1.1 degrees. We need to stop making excuses for inaction,” he added.

New Zealand declares now is the time to talk about the climate crisis

While the situation is continuing to evolve, Mr Shaw said it was not the time to shy away from talking about climate change.

“There will be people who say, you know — just as the National Rifle Association in the United States does about shootings over there it's 'too soon' to talk about these things, but we are standing in it right now. This is a climate change-related event,” he said.

His speech is the polar opposite to responses from Australia’s leaders during the 2019/2020 Black Summer bushfires.

As the nation burned, politicians including then Nationals leader Michael McCormack and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian dismissed the need to talk about climate change, while NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro was even more forthright, adding that anyone who raised the subject during the catastrophe was a “bloody disgrace”.

Since Black Summer, natural disasters have occurred more frequently and have become more severe, because of climate change, and scientists have had to create new terminology to describe these events.

Australia works to silence climate protesters

The United Nations has repeatedly warned rich countries to stop investing in new oil, gas and coal projects. Despite this Australia has continued to back new fossil fuel projects, including Santos’s Narrabri gas project and Woodside’s expansion on the Burrup Peninsula.

As protests grow, Australian state governments have increased penalties to stop activists taking action against the fossil fuel and logging industries.

A police officer in Sydney shouting at protesters and looking aggressive.
State governments have cracked down on protesters. Source: AAP

Legislation backed by both the NSW government and Labor allows courts to hit non-violent protesters with fines of $22,000 and two years in prison. Victoria’s Labor government increased penalties to stop peaceful anti-logging action, and Tasmania’s Liberals appear determined to do the same.

While the nation has committed to stronger carbon emissions targets under Labor, many Pacific leaders remain concerned for their future as the sea level rises because of climate change.

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