A Sit Down with James Shaw — Salient Magazine


Finn Blackwell | He/Him

Salient sat down with Minister for Climate Change, Green Party Co-Leader, and Wellington Central General Electorate Candidate, James Shaw, to talk carbon neutrality, Wellington’s Golden Mile, and native birds.

Climate and Environment

Salient first asked Shaw to explain what it meant to be carbon neutral by 2050.  “Because CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere, even the smallest amount adds to the stock of what’s already there.”

“What we do to draw CO2 out of the atmosphere is plant more trees. Your tree planting nets off against the amount of pollution that you’ve got, meaning you’re net-zero, or carbon neutral.”

Shaw commented that, should he be re-elected, the top three policies to be pushed were massive rollouts of rooftop solar panels, battery, and EV chargers. The Greens also intend to help companies like Fonterra transition from coal to renewable energy, as well as work on reducing emission from the agricultural sector.

Shaw mentioned that there were new policies releasing soon that he couldn’t talk about. However, he stated that the Greens planned a lot of work around the marine environment and protecting biodiversity in forests and mountains.

The Zero-Carbon Act has been a major win for the Green Party, yet it did not come without sacrifice. Shaw commented that one of the concessions made to get the bill to parliament “the most obvious one we had was an emissions reduction target for biogenic methane which was set at a lower rate than other gasses”

Election Run-up

When asked how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the goals of the Green Party, Shaw stated that “If anything, it’s actually made us more ambitious.”

“What we’re saying is, given that we’re bringing forward next to 20 years worth of discretionary expenditure, what we should be doing is putting every dollar that we can of that stimulus money to work on reducing our emissions, adapting to the effects of climate change, protecting biodiversity, reducing inequality, fixing our housing market, those sort of things.”

While discussing more general matters, Shaw elaborated the framework the Greens propose for a Universal Allowance. “What we’ve done with guaranteed minimum income, we’ve said ‘well actually, rather than have all these different categories of benefits, that actually there is just a guaranteed payment that you get if you’re unemployed or a single parent or whatever your circumstances are.”

“The framework is that once you’re a registered student, you’d get $325 a week”.

Looking to the upcoming general election, Shaw discussed the importance of the cannabis referendum. “I know it’s necessarily not people’s top priority,” he remarked, “but it has wide-reaching impacts on health, inequality, incarceration, and prison rates.”

“The approach saying is actually, if you look at the evidence, having a legal regulated market, like we do for alcohol and tobacco, means that we can reduce harm right across Aotearoa New Zealand.” 

“If you want to take a harm reduction approach, the evidence strongly says you should vote in favour of legalisation.”


Swapping from national to local politics, Shaw commented on Wellington City Council’s plan for the Golden Mile, saying “I’m in favour of the most pedestrianised option, and the reason for that is, when you look at what has transformed cities around the world, it’s that full pedestrianisation where they really turn over the street to a human-centric approach. 

“You get way more foot traffic, so retail outlets go gang-busters, you get much more street life, you have cafes, restaurants, and bars opening out onto the street in ways that they don’t when there’s this wall of steel that pulls through them”

“I think it would be transformational for the city to have a main concourse through the CBD, which is a pedestrian concourse, I think it would be awesome”.

Good ol’ fashioned yarns

A confidential source told Salient that Shaw had a tattoo, we investigated further. “It’s Tā Moko. At the heart of it is Papatūānuku and the binding together of people through this flax weave.”

“The rest of the symbology is to do with people in my family and where I hail from in the western Bay of Plenty.”

He also wished to note that he did not take off his shirt at this point in the interview.

With the rise of electric vehicles across the country, Salient had one pressing question for the Green Party leader: Flamingo Scooters or Onzo Bikes? “I’m going to go with bikes because they’ll carry people over longer distances, that’s kind of a transport nerd way of answering the question but yes.”

Alongside the General Election, the New Zealand Bird of the Year awards are due to occur at some point, with the winner of last year (the Hoiho) coming up against formidable opponents. Shaw commented that his vote was going to the Pīwakawaka (Fantail). “It was the bird that Annabel and I associate with our wedding” he added.

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