New Zealand is stopping all new offshore oil and gas exploration to fight climate change.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the move, saying: “(We are) taking an important step to address climate change and create a clean, green and sustainable future for New Zealand.”
The Labour Party leader, who came to power vowing to reduce the country’s net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, said existing exploration permits would not be affected.
There are currently 31 oil and gas exploration permits, 22 of them offshore.
New Zealand’s oil and gas industry brings in about NZ$2.5bn (£1.3bn) a year and it employs some 11,000 people.
Its 1% contribution to the economy is small compared to sectors such as agriculture and tourism, but it is extremely important to the North Island’s Taranaki region, where most of the industry is based.
There is also the potential for vast gas fields off the South Island, with the most promising existing permit being the Barque Prospect, estimated to contain 5 trillion cubic metres of oil and gas.
Ms Ardern said she had been inspired by a recent visit to the Pacific islands of Samoa and Tonga, where she saw the impact of climate change.
“(New Zealand has) been a world leader on critical issues… by being nuclear free, the first to support women to vote,” she said.
“Now we could be a world leader in becoming carbon neutral.
“We owe this to future generations.”
Environmental group WWF New Zealand welcomed the move, describing it as a “huge step forward” and a “landmark moment”.
But Jonathan Young, energy spokesman for the opposition National Party, said it was “economic vandalism”.
He said: “This decision is devoid of any rationale. It certainly has nothing to do with climate change.
“These changes will simply shift production elsewhere in the world, not reduce emissions.”
Neil Holdom, mayor of Taranaki’s main city New Plymouth, told Radio NZ that it was a “kick in the guts” for the region.
Petroleum Exploration and Production NZ chief executive Cameron Madgwick told TV3: “We now join the elite club of Belize, Costa Rica and France that have banned exploration.
“I don’t think that’s really the way the world’s going,”
But Ms Ardern said: “Transitions have to start somewhere and unless we make decisions today that will essentially take place in 30 years’ time, we risk abrupt shocks.”
The news comes two weeks after the Netherlands said it would rapidly cut production at Europe’s largest gas field to cut fossil fuel use.