New Zealand has banned all new permits for offshore oil and gas exploration, the government has announced.
The change in direction, which faced furious opposition by industry groups, was hailed as an example of “bold global leadership” by environmental campaigners.
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said it would help “protect future generations from climate change” and promised nobody would be losing their job as a result.
“Unless we make decisions today that will essentially take effect in 30 or more years’ time, we run the risk of acting too late and causing abrupt shocks to communities and our country,” she said at a press conference on Thursday.
The move, however, will not affect existing permits for exploration or extraction, meaning the industry will likely be operational for several more decades.
Ms Ardern, who is the world’s youngest female head of government, has pledged to go green by reducing the country’s net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.
Her government plans to plant 100 million trees each year and ensure the electricity grid runs entirely from renewable energy.
James Shaw, the New Zealand Green Party’s co-leader and climate change minister, praised the move as “the nuclear-free moment of our generation” – a reference to a 1984 ban on nuclear-armed ships entering New Zealand’s waters.
Greenpeace New Zealand’s executive director, Russel Norman, said: “The tide has turned irreversibly against big oil in New Zealand.
“Today’s announcement is significant internationally too. By ending new oil and gas exploration in our waters, the fourth largest exclusive economic zone on the planet is out of bounds for new fossil fuel exploitation. New Zealand has stood up to one of the most powerful industries in the world.
“Bold global leadership on the greatest challenge of our time has never been more urgent and Ardern has stepped up to that climate challenge.”
Voters last year elected a liberal coalition government, headed by Ms Ardern, following nine years of conservative leadership that favoured expanding the oil industry.
The oil and gas industry is relatively small in New Zealand, employing about 11,000 people and accounting for about 1 per cent of the overall economy. It is dwarfed in importance by farming and tourism.
But the industry is important to the Taranaki region, where most of the activity is centered. New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom told Radio New Zealand the move was a “kick in the guts for the future of the Taranaki economy”.
Opposition MP Jonathan Young described the move as “economic vandalism”. “This decision is devoid of any rationale. It certainly has nothing to do with climate change,” he said. “These changes will simply shift production elsewhere in the world, not reduce emissions.”
The Petroleum Exploration and Production Association branded it a “lose-lose” for New Zealand’s economy.
The idea of an expansion in offshore drilling has proved contentious in New Zealand, particularly after problems elsewhere such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The announcement does not apply to onshore exploration permits. The government said those would continue for the next three years and be reviewed after that.
Additional reporting by AP