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Five major policies needed on state of environment

Business Council: Five major policies needed to address state of environment issues

Business leaders say the country needs to focus on five major policy areas to address the major issues raised in the latest official State of the Environment Report released today.

The New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development – whose 66 member companies' annual sales equate to more than 34% of gross domestic product – says the report is a welcome stock take – and helps define the priority issues the country needs to address.

"Most of the report's findings are not a surprise. It's a welcome stock take because so much of our economy and quality of life is under pinned by our environment," Business Council Chief Executive Peter Neilson says.

"It shows we can make progress. Importantly it shows we can enjoy major economic growth – 56% between 1990 and 2005, while in part uncoupling this from energy demand, up 37% in the same period.

"It also shows that concerted international action can have results, like the agreement to phase out CFCs, resulting in rising ozone levels and lower UV ones.

"But there are areas of concern, like decreasing water and air quality in our major centres, where up to 53% of the population can at times suffer poor quality air."

Mr Neilson says the report gives the country a chance to develop a national list of priorities to be addressed during the next five to 20 years.

These include:

• Cash incentives to replace high emission gas guzzlers in the nation's vehicle fleet, which the report confirms sees New Zealanders driving larger, older vehicles traveling more than twice as far each year than in 1980. It is exacting a major toll on air quality and health

• New ways to allocate and manage fresh water, which will be fully technically allocated in most major catchments by 2012. "No water equals no business".

• A concerted effort to improve the housing stock, by upgrading 300,000 unhealthy uninsulated homes and a pan-industry effort to usher in wider use of sustainable practices in commercial and domestic buildings. This will help address the massive role housing plays in energy use.

• Introducing user pays for the environment, through measures like emissions trading and levies on solid waste going to landfill, currently planned.

Mr Neilson says the report also presents and opportunity for the Government to form a Sustainable Development Commission, involving the Government, local and regional government, business and others, to agree priorities and how to bring them in.

"One commentator said today the link between all sectors to agree on action is the missing part of the triangle. In parallel, the public also needs to be regularly polled on its views on water and air quality trends and other priorities. The Business Council intends doing some work in this area.

"The good news about addressing issues raised by the new report is that many of solutions are available. We need to focus now on achieving both economic growth – and environmental improvement. That will deliver rising standards of living and an improved quality of life. It's entirely achievable."


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