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Helen Clark Berlin Speech: Sustainable Development

Tuesday 27 November 2007
Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Address at
7th Annual Conference of the
German Council for Sustainable Development
Berlin Congress Centre



Tuesday 27 November 2007

Thank you for the invitation to address you today on New Zealand’s sustainability journey.

New Zealand enjoys a priceless reputation as a nation with a pristine environment, which is clean and green, nuclear free, and, as our tourism promotions proclaim, one hundred per cent pure.

This reputation has been not only a source of great pride to us, but it is also critical to our present and future wellbeing.

I say that because we in New Zealand seek to sustain our high living standards through the export of goods and services in a world which is increasingly concerned about the carbon footprint of what it consumes.

In that world, we are the most geographically remote western country, transporting goods over vast distances to markets, and encouraging people to visit our long haul destination for the experience of a life time.

For us to remain a viable and prosperous nation in the 21st century, we must be sustainable – or we will face long term disadvantage to our key sectors in our key markets.

For us, sustainability and prosperity will go hand in hand.

These considerations, along with great concern about the impact of climate change on our planet, were very much on the mind of my government when we moved to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in 2002.

Perhaps at that time, we were a little ahead of public opinion in New Zealand, where there was still a tendency by many to focus on the costs of becoming more sustainable, rather than on the opportunities and on the importance of being part of the solution to a global problem.

It didn’t help either that neither of our two largest trading partners, Australia and the United States, was prepared to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

But in recent years, public opinion in general and opinion in business in New Zealand, as in so many countries, has fundamentally changed.

The strength of the scientific consensus about the damage we human beings collectively are doing to our planet can no longer be ignored.

This concern now ranges from how to prevent the loss of precious biodiversity to how to prevent catastrophic economic impacts as well.

Inaction on climate change is no longer an option. A collective effort on an unprecedented scale is required, and every nation must contribute to that.

To the small atoll nations of the South Pacific which would not survive rising sea levels, to other nations threatened by desertification or by more frequent and devastating cyclones, it matters not whether the damaging greenhouse gas emissions come from the developed or the developing world – they just want action, from all of us.

We owe it to them, as we owe it to future generations of all countries, to make the very best efforts we can to tackle the climate change challenge. We are all in this together.

Sustainability has become the defining issue of the 21st century. We will all be judged by how we measure up to it – by whether we are part of the problem by refusing to act or part of the solution by taking action to become more sustainable.

That is why I am determined that New Zealand will front foot this challenge.

That is why I have issued a challenge to New Zealand – that we could become the world’s first truly sustainable nation, and that we could even aspire to be a carbon neutral nation.

I believe that in time our quest for sustainability will become a defining characteristic of New Zealand’s unique national identity – just as being nuclear free has defined us for more than two decades.

I have taken a broad view of sustainability, seeing it as having economic, social, environmental and cultural dimensions.

A sustainable economy cannot be built on plundering the natural environment for short term gain – nor on a society where many are left to fail.

Sustainable societies are built on investment in knowledge, skills, and technology, which are also critical ingredients to 21st century economic success.

Sustainable societies balance opportunity with security, and they balance the needs of present generations with those of the future.

Sustainable nations have the resources to plan for and care for their natural environment,

Such nations build sustainability into their value systems – it becomes a guiding principle for decision makers at all levels of society, from policy makers in central and local government to each of us in our organisations, businesses, workplaces and homes.

When each of us begins to think this way, our nations are truly on the way to making a difference for the better for our planet.

So, how are we acting in New Zealand to meet the sustainability challenge, and in particular the challenge of the moment, that of tackling climate change?

The concept of sustainable development has been being built into our legislative frameworks for some years, particularly since the passage of our Resource Management Act which replaced the former town and country planning legislation in 1991.

Then in 2002, a major rewrite of local government legislation defined the very purpose of local government as being to play “a broad role in promoting the social, economic, environmental, and cultural wellbeing of their communities, taking a sustainable development approach.”

The following year we passed new land transport legislation with its central purpose being to achieve “an integrated, safe, responsive, and sustainable land transport system.”

A Sustainable Development Plan of Action was launched in January 2003 with four action areas covering water, energy, sustainable cities, and children and young people.

We launched initiatives directly relevant to meeting our Kyoto commitments, such as the ability for major industrial emitters to negotiate greenhouse gas agreements which moved them to environmental best practice.

There was also a fund established for projects to reduce emissions, available to incentivise electricity generation from sources like wind, or methane from rubbish dumps, which would otherwise have been uneconomic.

Up until mid 2005, the assumption and advice successive New Zealand Governments had operated on was that we would be in a net credit position during the first Kyoto commitment period.

But, for a variety of reasons, that turned out not to be the case. Our economic growth exceeded projections – and indeed it has run at a higher level than the EU and the OECD averages since 1999. On our current growth patterns, that increased our greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, the decline in forestry commodity prices relative to the boom in dairy prices contributed to deforestation. The change in land use both reduced the size of our forest sinks and increased our methane emissions.

In New Zealand, around half our greenhouse gas emissions come from pastoral agriculture. Roughly thirty per cent of our total emissions are from methane emitted by animals, and twenty per cent from nitrous oxide emissions.

Compounding the problem of our growth in emissions, we were unable to proceed with a planned carbon tax after the 2005 general election because the political balance within our Parliament changed.

So, in late 2005, our government went back to the drawing boards to look at more comprehensive strategies to put New Zealand on a path to emissions reductions. The results of our policy reviews are now in the public arena.

Central to our journey forward is an emissions trading scheme, the legislation for which is due to come to our Parliament before Christmas.

This scheme is a world first in covering all sectors and all gases. The European Union scheme by comparison covers only around thirty per cent of the EU’s emissions of greenhouse gases.

Obviously with around half our greenhouse gases coming from pastoral agriculture, it would not be credible for us to exclude that sector. But agriculture faces more challenges in reducing emissions than do other sectors.

For that reason, agriculture will be the last sector to enter the emissions trading scheme. The scheme will be phased in from 2008 to 2013

That ensures that there is time for ongoing consultation and engagement around the participation of each sector. It is proposed that:

• Forestry will enter on 1 January 2008
• Transport will enter in January 2009
• Stationary energy and industrial processes will enter in January 2010, and
• The agriculture and waste sectors will enter in January 2013.

Direct obligations for emissions would be imposed on a relatively small number of ‘points of obligations’ in each sector – typically ‘upstream’ operators high in the supply or production chains. It is expected that some 200 firms would be points of obligation.

To ensure that people on low or modest incomes are not unfairly disadvantaged by higher electricity costs, the government will put in place measures to reduce financial impacts, while still ensuring that incentives for efficient energy use remain.

The Emissions Trading Scheme is supported by two companion strategies – the New Zealand Energy Strategy and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy, both announced in October.

These strategies aim to reduce our reliance on imported fossil fuels and increase our production of renewable energy.

We have set ourselves specific medium and long-term objectives and targets.

• By 2020 we aim to achieve a net increase in forest area of 250,000 hectares
• By 2025 our target is to have ninety per cent of baseload electricity generated from renewable sources. This is an achievable target; we are over sixty per cent renewable now.
• By 2040 our target is to reduce by half the per capita emissions from transport. We aim, for example to be one of the first countries to introduce electric cars widely.

And next year we are introducing a mandatory biofuels sales obligation, beginning at 3.4 per cent. The level will be regularly reviewed as we increase our biofuels capacity.

Achieving those targets will move us significantly towards our vision of New Zealand becoming carbon neutral.

With this programme, we believe our electricity sector could reasonably be seen as carbon neutral by 2025, the rest of the stationary energy sector by 2030, and our transport sector by 2040.

Other notable initiatives include:

• The introduction of a Permanent Forest Sinks Initiative to encourage the planting of permanent forests. This will also have the advantage of reafforesting vulnerable hill country and over time reducing the risk of downstream flooding after severe weather events.
• Major changes to our building code which will result in significant improvement in the energy efficiency of our new homes and buildings
• Significant investments in retrofit programmes to bring greater energy efficiency to older homes, and incentives to install solar water heating
• Initiatives to promote greater sustainability overall in households and business, ranging from providing more information and advice to stronger legislation on waste management and product stewardship.
• Major new investments in public transport, including the rebuilding of commuter rail services in our two major cities, Auckland and Wellington, and the electrification of Auckland’s rail network.

To underpin our commitment to sustainability the government itself has committed to having six government departments achieve carbon neutrality by 2012. All government departments are expected to begin, by next year, plans which put them on a path to carbon neutrality.

In government we have also committed to use our substantial purchasing power in the economy to grow the market for environmentally friendly goods and services. Government departments have new sustainable procurement guidelines to ensure the purchase of goods and services which are more water and energy efficient, emit less carbon, produce less waste, and are accredited or environmentally certified where possible. This extends to green star requirements for new and refurbished government buildings.

Our programme is by any standards ambitious. It is both the right thing to do for the environment, and as well it is a major investment in New Zealand’s overall future.

For our country, it’s not just that the risks of not acting on sustainability are simply too great; it’s that the benefits of acting are substantial.

By being proactive, we meet head on those challenges to our economy which would come from being seen to be indifferent to the environmental challenges our world faces. Being indifferent makes no sense for New Zealand – our own pastoral agriculture sectors function best in a stable climate.

By being proactive, we accept our role as a developed nation to lead on these issues. That’s a responsibility we accepted when becoming a party to the Kyoto Protocol, and one we will continue to accept in the post 2012 arrangements which I hope the world’s nations are capable of negotiating.

By developing more renewable and low-emission energy sources, we reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels and lower our exposure to fluctuations in their price.

By developing and implementing low emission and emission reduction technologies, we create new commercial opportunities and reduce the pollution of our air, land, and water.

It is encouraging that many New Zealand businesses and industry sectors are now seeing the benefits of having sustainability as a core product and service attribute. They too have concluded that the risks of inaction on sustainability are too great, while the opportunities of taking leadership are substantial. And I believe they take pride in contributing to sustainability too.

In our economy, as in many other economies we have fantastic examples of leadership from the smallest to the largest companies and sectors.

• Our national airline, Air New Zealand is trialling biofuels, and is purchasing a fleet of new fuel efficient aircraft.
• Our high value wine industry has a target of seeing all its businesses in accredited sustainability schemes by 2012
• Sustainability is also at the core of our new tourism industry strategy developed collaboratively by the government and the industry.

The high value visitors New Zealand seeks to attract are increasingly conscious of their environmental footprint.

For many of them we are a long haul destination.

On average for international visitors, their flight to and from New Zealand accounts for ninety per cent of the carbon emissions generated by their visit.

We don’t want to be ruled out of consideration as a destination because it is seen as unsustainable to visit us, so we must go the extra mile to prove our sustainability credentials.

From next year all quality accredited tourism operators, of which there are more than 2,000 in New Zealand, will need to meet additional environmental quality criteria in order to be certified.

Many initiatives are being taken by individual operators – like the leading tourist coach company which aims to be the world’s first carbon neutral coach company. It is participating in the CarboNZero programme developed by a government environmental research institute and aims to have its operations certified carbon neutral by 2010.

Undoubtedly the biggest challenge for New Zealand is in the agriculture sector.

Our food and beverage sector accounts for around half of our total merchandise exports. We are well known in Germany and elsewhere for our high quality products. Keeping that reputation is critical in a world where more and more consumers want to know whether products and services are sustainably produced.

In Britain, some have argued that food shouldn’t be purchased from far away because of the carbon footprint generated by getting it to market.

But we assert that the distance travelled by food is not a good measure of its environmental impact.

What matters is the energy used across a product’s entire life cycle, not just the transport component of the supply chain. Our research suggests, for example, that lamb produced in New Zealand and transported to Britain by sea has a substantially lower carbon footprint than the locally produced and transported product.

Nonetheless the fact that arguments have been mounted about food miles is a warning to us that we must constantly strive to have the best possible environmental credentials in everything we do, if we are to retain and grow our markets.

With respect to pastoral agriculture, we are seeking to establish leadership in research on greenhouse gas emissions and are making substantial investments in research in the area.

Already our scientists have developed nitrification inhibitors which can substantially reduce nitrous oxide emissions – and in so doing increase our farm productivity.

On 1 December we are convening an international conference on pastoral greenhouse gases, in which I understand German scientists are among those from 25 countries participating.

This conference marks the formal beginning of an international network we are forming to encourage research collaboration on greenhouse gas emissions from livestock.

Called the Livestock Emissions and Abatement Research Network (LEARN), it will cover research on methane emissions from ruminant livestock, nitrous oxide emissions from grazed grassland, integrated approaches to reducing emissions across an entire farm, and developing national inventories of agricultural emissions.

Our concept for the international network was supported at side events on agriculture and land use at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Bonn in May.

We look forward to working on these issues with Germany’s new Institute for Agriculture – Related Climate Research.

Increasingly, New Zealand’s relationships with Germany and with Europe in general have a sustainability dimension.

New Zealand welcomed Germany’s efforts and achievements during its EU Council and G8 Presidencies this year in promoting international action on climate issues.

Our largest city, Auckland, has entered into a strategic alliance with Hamburg, with a particular focus on co-operating and learning from each other’s experiences in sustainable city development.

In recent years considerable collaborative research between German and New Zealand scientists has been in the area of climate change and ozone depletion. And in February this year our respective science ministers concluded a review of the 30-year old Science and Technology Co-operation Agreement, paving the way for even greater levels of co-operation.

Our new joint declaration on relations and co-operation with the European Union includes commitments to work together on sustainable and renewable energy, tackling climate change, chemical and waste management, biodiversity and nature conservation, and on water and marine issues. New Zealand and Europe are natural partners on these issues.

New Zealand was pleased to be asked to be a founder member of the International Carbon Action Partnership launched in Lisbon last month, together with a number of European nations and individual US states. We see this partnership playing an important role in developing the carbon trading markets of the future.

And we look forward to working with the European Union on the UN Conference on climate change in Bali next month as we seek to launch negotiations for the post-2012 arrangement.

Last year New Zealand had to work hard to get a reference to climate change included in the APEC Leader’s Summit communiqué. This year climate change was the key theme for the summit.

As well, we have worked for good outcomes on climate change from the East Asia Summit and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, both held in the past week.

And by good outcomes I mean all nations accepting that they have a role to play in tackling the challenge of climate change.

While the developed world has a special responsibility to act, it cannot solve the problem on its own.

The answers will lie in how we can support the developing world to take a path to development which is cleaner than the one which propelled us to first world living standards – and in how we radically reduce our own emissions.

In 2008 New Zealand will be the host country for World Environment Day. The global focus of events that day will be on the opportunities for countries, companies, and communities to develop low-carbon economies and lifestyles.

Today I have outlined to you some of the ways in which New Zealand is facing up to the challenge of sustainability.

I believe that how nations respond to that challenge will have not only a significant impact on the world’s environment, but will also determine whether they themselves can prosper and sustain their way of life.

During the early 1980s many New Zealand cities and towns voted to become nuclear-free zones, as a way of demonstrating their opposition to nuclear weapons. It was a way of thinking globally and acting locally. Our Parliament passed far-reaching nuclear-free legislation. In the 21st century, being nuclear free is a well established part of New Zealand’s identity.

Today in New Zealand we are seeing the beginnings of the same kind of action on sustainability – thinking globally and acting locally.

Sustainability is being adopted as a core value by individuals, communities, and businesses across New Zealand. The same is increasingly true in many countries.

Leadership is needed at every level. I accept the responsibility to lead on sustainability as Prime Minister of my country, and my government accepts the responsibility to lead.

The good news is that there is a groundswell of public opinion in support of action on sustainability and climate change – a recent opinion survey suggested that 85 per cent of New Zealanders want their government to act.

That gives me confidence that our journey towards sustainability will be well supported, and that our small nation will both secure its own future and pull its weight in finding solutions to the environmental challenges our world faces.


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