Written by the Dominion Post, 21st Jun 2012:
OPINION: Kiwis understandably place great importance on this nation’s rich natural environment.
The free and easy access to pristine, uncrowded beaches, picture postcard mountain ranges, rambling forests and swimmable lakes and rivers is a unique blessing.
The environment is also vital to our economy and continued prosperity. New Zealand trades heavily on its pure, green image. It is an essential part of the branding for the primary products that underpin our national wealth and the major drawcard for the millions of tourists who pump nearly $10 billion into the economy each year.
That image is under increasing scrutiny as the world grapples with climate change and consumers become more sensitive to environmental issues. At the same time, the global quest for new technologies that help reduce greenhouse gasses offers significant opportunities.
A report by business group Pure Advantage this month highlighted the economic potential of “green growth” and warned that New Zealand risked being left behind in a market already estimated to be worth $6 trillion. It also noted the danger of New Zealand letting its 100% Pure brand slip. It cited research showing that a 5 per cent drop in our reputation for being clean and green, and a consequent decrease in international demand for our products and tourist numbers, would cost the economy more than 22,000 jobs and $610 million a year.
Given New Zealand’s rapid decline from first to 14th place on Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index, the fact our carbon emissions per person are the fifth highest in the developed world, and that leading international news organisations, including the BBC last year, are already questioning our environmental credentials, that is a warning well worth heeding.
The risk of missing out on the green growth market was further highlighted in this newspaper by British High Commission First Secretary Tony Clemson on Monday.
He noted that South Korea’s government, for example, is spending 2 per cent of gross domestic product a year on low-carbon investment, including measures to position that country’s main exports as the world’s greenest, while Britain is carving out a place as a world leader in designing and installing offshore wind power.
Prime Minister John Key was not impressed with such public frankness from a foreign diplomat, describing it as “bad manners”. A hasty clarification issued by British High Commissioner Vicki Treadell also noted areas in which New Zealand is acting to combat climate change, including developing an emissions trading scheme and playing a leading role in developing a global fund to help mitigate emissions from agriculture.