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Sustaining the environment in a growing economy

Sustaining the environment in a growing economy

By Marian Hobbs

Too many people assume that economic growth equals damage to the environment. It doesn't have to. You can have a healthy economy and a healthy environment - and that is what this government is aiming for.

I will be releasing a programme of action for sustainable development in New Zealand soon. The focus will be on the practical application of the sustainable development approach to certain key issues, including: freshwater quality and allocation, energy use, sustainable cities, and youth development.

They are all complex issues requiring innovative approaches, collaboration across government and with other sectors and, most importantly, that we need to address now.

Imagine a future where people grow up in a peaceful, safe society; where they enjoy good health and a stimulating education. It is a future where there is as good a standard of living as we currently enjoy in New Zealand, if not better.
People will have many job opportunities, because of a growing economy underpinned by a land with its rivers, lakes and air, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean that is as healthy as it is now, if not better.

That vision is called sustainable development and we need to see it in the context of our changing population. Over the next 50 years we will continue to have a small population that will be older, more ethnically diverse and more mobile. Our labour market will be affected by the increasing average age of the workforce and an increasingly global market for labour and technology. These trends mean that our young people will be of paramount importance to the economic and social well being of New Zealand.

Our future prosperity will be determined by how well we use our human, physical, natural and social assets while benefiting from a small population. If we are to make a difference for the future then we have to take a long-term view. We are going to have to better integrate social, environmental, cultural and economic aspects into our policy making. Instead of risking these becoming an add-on at the end of the process, we are going to integrate them from the start.

In practice you will see ministers contributing to issues outside their immediate portfolio areas. A sustainable development approach will require us to take a broader view on issues and to look for linkages to add value for the outcomes. The approach is consistent with a number of initiatives already underway to ensure we are achieving greater co-ordination across issues.

Our freshwater resources are under increasing pressure from a changing agricultural landscape, and demands for clean water for our cities, towns and industry.

Clean abundant water has been a key element of economic prosperity, human health, environmental values and cultural identity. We must ensure adequate, clean fresh water is available for all, and that is allocated sustainably, efficiently and equitably.

I recently launched the Canterbury Strategic Water Study that helps us to understand better the region's needs. The aim of the study was to draw together information on the total supply of fresh water in Canterbury, the current and future demand for water, and to identify the water bodies that are under the most pressure for out-of-stream use.

The study represents a significant step in helping the whole community understand the issues. An educated community is an empowered community.

Sustainable development is an approach to decision-making rather than an end in itself. The full environmental, social, cultural and economic opportunities and consequences of decisions affecting current and future generations must be considered.

In August I attended the World Summit on Sustainable Development, in South Africa. The summit centred on progressing key issues for developing countries including access to clean water and renewable energy.

The government is committed to ensuring New Zealand is at the forefront of international efforts to be economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. Our programme of action builds on our international commitments but focuses on a sustainable development approach. It will set out where the government is headed and include a set of principles to guide policy development and action for the priority areas.

Sustainable development is about people. It is an approach that will help us to find solutions that provide the best results for the environment, the economy and our increasingly diverse society. Everyone has a role to play and the best results will depend on collaborative action. Our success in the modern world depends on it, as does the well being of future generations.

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