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Global warming gloom - clouds have green linings

Despite global warming gloom, every cloud has a green lining

By Paul Harper

Current economic and political mindsets need to change in the face of future environmental challenges, according to the head of the United Nations environmental programme.

Executive director Dr Achim Steiner held a lecture entitled “Are we glimpsing the emergence of a green global economy” at the Maidment Theatre last Wednesday, as part of the World Environment Day celebrations.

Dr Steiner spoke of the need for businesses and governments to rethink the way economies are run.

“The way we are running our economies is essentially running down the very base upon which we have built our economies.

“I believe for far too long we have allowed economists to decide how we use the resource base.”

Although he was concerned about the future, Dr Steiner spoke optimistically about the opportunity for change.

“It is a fantastic opportunity that, on the back of a century of lying and sometimes simply ignorant foot-printing of the planet, we have brought ourselves to a point where we now have to think in a transformational sense.

“We have in the environmental domain today the challenge, and also the opportunity, of creating a regulatory framework that allows the international system to evolve, and in which environmental management factors are becoming every more important.”

Addressing the audience of mainly university students, he said in light of peak oil and the depletion of fossil fuels, attention needed to turn to renewable energy sources, which he considered to be an economically viable alternative.

“The fact of the matter is that the renewable energy technology market last year was (worth) more than US$160 billion.”

Dr Steiner used his home country of Germany as an example of how the use of renewable energy can be rapidly increased, through incentives for the industry and the public.

He says this encouraged the growth of a technology market, a venture capital market and a whole industry to emerge around wind power.

“This enabled Germany to move from being a non-producer of wind power in less than seven years to being the world’s largest generator of wind power electricity, and this is no small economy.”

He says this “energy transformation” cost households on average only two euros a year.

Dr Steiner also has a warning for New Zealand, highlighting its geographic isolation as a problem.

“How will New Zealand fare in a world that has put a price on carbon, when everything you produce you have to ship a very long way to somewhere else or, in the case of tourism, when people have to travel a very long way to get here?

“New Zealand, beautiful as it is, is not central to the global economy. If the carbon footprint of each product that it sells in the international market is not going to be competitive with other producers, consumers will simply buy their products from somewhere else.”

He says this is an example of how in addressing an “environment dilemma”, we should not think only of the environment impact, but also of the likely effect it will have on our economy.

He appealed to the audience to take it upon themselves to change the way we think about the environment’s relationship with the economy.

“It starts here with you, in this university and then in every professional pathway that you take out of your career at the university, because it has to be each one of us to begin the next the step. But we need a sense of the challenge, but also the opportunity.”


Paul Harper is a Journalism Student at AUT.

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