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Mallard: Speech to the Digital Earth Summit

29 August 2006 Speech Notes

Embargoed until:1pm
Environmental sustainability in the digital age

Hon Trevor Mallard Speech to the Digital Earth Summit on Sustainability, Aotea Centre, Auckland

Thank-you for the invitation to speak to you today.

I'd like to make some broad comments about our government's economic transformation agenda. Economic transformation is essentially about working with business and industry to further transform New Zealand into an economy which is high income, innovative and export-led and which provides a unique quality of life for all New Zealanders.

Economic transformation is about building on our work to date, lifting our productivity; getting more output from our inputs by working smarter not harder. Obviously it is a continual process and it won't happen overnight. And it is certainly not a job for government alone.

For New Zealand, our environment, and its sustainability, is key to our economic future.

In fact, the need for a focus on environmental sustainability is one of the five subthemes of our work in economic transformation. It sits alongside the themes of growing more globally competitive firms, building a world class infrastructure, developing innovative and productive workplaces that are supported through education, skills and research, and having an internationally competitive city in Auckland.

Our environment underpins much of our economic and export activities. The statistics speak for themselves - our primary sector accounts for around 67 percent of merchandise exports and tourism is New Zealand’s largest foreign exchange earner.

So beyond our love of our land, there are strong economic reasons for making sure that whatever we do to grow our economy is environmentally sustainable - as we seek to create more wealth for all New Zealanders.
Digital technology can play an important part in this by giving businesses the tools to be more efficient with existing resources and as a result lift productivity.

Ensuring all technology is itself energy efficient is as important as using technology to allocate resources efficiently. There are good examples of this - such as using remote sensing for street and building lighting and heating so that it is turned on only when it's needed.

Digital technology can also help us monitor what is going on with the environment, and help us make sure that there is compliance with the rules that are in place to protect our environment. For example, already many regional councils monitor air quality remotely through electronic ‘air sheds’.

The use of websites and emails allows government and business to engage with the public, reducing paper waste and also allowing information to be made available or collected and distributed more efficiently.

There is already increased use of electronic Resource Management Act plans in planning consultations, and central government publications, policy documents and so forth can also be accessed on-line. Tax returns can also be submitted electronically.

Digital technology can increase business productivity through increased efficiencies as it allows vast amounts of information to be synthesised and provided in a timelier manner.

Enabling businesses to apply more efficient and environmentally friendly business processes in this way can likewise reduce waste and rework in the manufacturing processes.

For instance, geographic information system mapping of land use and land use change is an extremely useful tool for agriculture and forestry and in monitoring and managing our net emissions of greenhouse gases.

In the rural sector, information on soil types, terrain, crop yields are increasingly being fed into computer programmes that can then determine optimal fertiliser application.

These are in turn linked to conventional farm machinery such as tractors or airplanes that utilise global positioning systems to apply the fertilisers and so reduce the amount of fertiliser wasted by ensuring the fertiliser is applied in the desired place.

But the use of digital technology does not stop there. Use of up-to-date meteorological data can also be fed into the process, minimising spray drift as result of changing wind patterns for instance.

Digital technology and its applications can also enable New Zealand to promote world-wide environmentally sustainable practices. It can also give kiwi products a cutting edge in global markets and expand our markets across the world as consumers are increasingly demanding products which have enivironmentally- sound backgrounds.

The application of digital technology can also help in food traceability, allowing end consumers to verify the precise source of the product to confirm its quality and its environmental impact.

The growth of digital technologies will decrease some of our need to travel as the world continues to shrink. However, our desire and need, to travel and engage with others, particularly for New Zealand given our distance from the rest of the world, will remain a challenge.

At the same time though, services can be provided from New Zealand to clients anywhere in the world. This provides a real opportunity for New Zealand to grow our export service sector and continuously add value.

Environmental sustainability recognises that we need to be more astute both about protecting our natural resources and the significant economic opportunities provided by productivity gains that make an efficient use of resources and therefore give us a market advantage.

Digital technologies can help us make that bridge more efficiently than otherwise and open up new opportunities to capitalise on the market advantages that result from environmental sustainability.


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