Environment Ministry CEO flying to Wellington once a week

CEO of the Ministry for the Environment James Palmer travels between Hawke’s Bay and Wellington about once a week. Photo / Warren Buckland.

The CEO of the Ministry for the Environment has come under fire for flying to Wellington once a week while the ministry advises New Zealanders to reduce the number of flights they’re taking to reduce emissions.

The Herald can reveal that the newly appointed Ministry for the Environment chief executive and secretary James Palmer is regularly traveling by air for his role in which he advises Government on environmental policy.

Documents released under the Official Information Act show Palmer travels between Hawke’s Bay and Wellington about once a week at his personal expense, mostly by air and sometimes by electric vehicle.

Ministry for the Environment (MfE) said Palmer stands by his regular air travel as he offsets the emissions he’s creating.


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“It is not the ministry’s position that New Zealanders should stop air travel. Many New Zealanders with national roles travel regularly.

“Mr Palmer carefully weighed this before accepting his leadership role at the Ministry. He considers the emissions from his personal travel to be an acceptable impact, after being offset through native afforestation credits, to enable him to apply his skills and experience to the national challenges of climate change, resource management and freshwater reforms.”

The carbon footprint of a roundtrip from Napier to Wellington produces 70kg of CO2 emissions over the distance of 540km according to Air New Zealand’s calculator.

Palmer’s travel emissions are not included in the company emissions listed on the Ministry for the Environment’s website because he pays for them himself.


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Palmer has been appointed for five years, from March 1 2023, and is unable to move to Wellington fulltime because of “family commitments and responsibilities”.

ACT list MP for climate change Simon Court slated Palmer as a hypocrite.

“If bureaucrats are going to lecture Kiwis, they should lead by example. Instead, they tell us what to do while flying and driving around the country.

“This is next-level hypocrisy.”

MfE was criticised earlier this year for spending $913,000 on flights over 11 months while advising the public to “walk, cycle or take public transport wherever possible” on its website.

It also spent a further $97,225 on taxis, shuttles and Ubers, with only $251 being spent on public transport.

New Zealand’s aviation emissions are under the spotlight after a new paper published yesterday highlighted that New Zealand has particularly high aviation emissions and has been on a very rapid growth path that is incompatible with the Paris Agreement on climate change.

None of our current efforts against carbon emissions are strong enough given Aotearoa’s ranking as fourth-worst in the world for domestic aviation emissions, according to the paper.

350 Aotearoa climate campaigner Adam Currie said MfE is not doing what is needed to cut climate pollution.

“The real issue here is not one man’s flights – it’s MfE’s utter failure to boldly address the climate crisis with the depth and urgency required.


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“MfE needs to be pulling all the meaningful levers it has on climate, hard.”

The ministry’s website acknowledges its main source of emissions is air travel and said it has prioritised this as a focus area for organisational emissions reductions.

The ministry has spent $1685.22 excluding GST on flights for Palmer as of May 1 – not including Palmer’s personal travel from Hawke’s Bay to Wellington for work.

Climate Change Minister David Parker would not comment.


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