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Government agencies leading by example

Hon Trevor Mallard
Minister for the Environment

25 June 2008 Speech Notes

Embargoed until:9am

Government agencies leading by example

Speech by Environment Minister Trevor Mallard to the "Towards a Sustainable Public Sector" Conference, Duxton Hotel, Wellington

Good morning, and my thanks for inviting me to speak to you today.

I would like to take this opportunity to outline the government’s aspiration for New Zealand to become a world leader in sustainability and one of the first carbon neutral nations. Then I would like to update you on what the government and public sector have been doing to help achieve these goals.

The government recognises that New Zealand’s future prosperity depends on long-term sustainability in not only the environment but also the economy, society, culture and our way of life.

Without doubt, sustainability is the big issue challenging politicians, policy-makers, businesses and communities around the world.

Like all economically developed nations, New Zealand is contributing to global climate change. It is the government’s aspiration for New Zealand to become a carbon neutral nation that takes full responsibility for its greenhouse gas emissions.

New Zealand is already a world leader in agricultural technology to reduce emissions and we are aiming to lead the world in wider sustainable practice.

Environmental sustainability is about preserving and enhancing the natural and built environments to meet the needs of present and future generations. I know that all of you here recognise that, and are committed to helping the government move New Zealand towards a truly sustainable future.

We need to be bold in our commitment to sustainability to protect New Zealand’s reputation as a country with a clean environment that is attractive to investors and visitors, smart and innovative people, and an inclusive community.

We also need to be bold because sustainability sells and our standard of living is dependent to a large extent on the success of our export sector.

I've said this many times to business audiences –New Zealand can actually leverage economic opportunities in our offshore markets out of being carbon neutral, being climate friendly and selling products that are at the leading edge of sustainability.

Consumers worldwide are increasingly demanding products that are climate friendly – and this trend is not going away. Our exporters must seriously grasp this opportunity and think seriously about how they can seize a competitive edge by offering sustainability as a key part of their brand. It will be worth it for their bottom lines, it will be worth it for their employees and the wages they receive, it will be worth it for the prices they can command in international markets, and of course, it will be worth it for the environment and New Zealand as a whole.

You may have guessed by now that I do not believe in being downbeat or blindsided about the challenge New Zealand faces.

Sure there will be costs that no country can escape, but the upsides will be big if we all work hard to get it right, by managing the costs as fairly as possible and planning well for the years ahead – that is what the proposed Emissions Trading Scheme is about.

This is also what a raft of other government initiatives are aimed at – from tackling climate change at the grassroots through household sustainability and energy efficiency programmes, at the public service level and at the industry and business level – with millions being pumped into research into reducing our greenhouse gases.

If we do nothing as National wants - in order to please its special interests, the costs will be much higher. We will completely miss the opportunities that being carbon neutral and climate friendly offers to us as a small country out on the edge of the world.

There is no doubt that to achieve this goal, all New Zealanders need to change fundamentally the way they live, work and do business.

We all play our part here and as a government, it is vital that we do show some leadership on this front, not only in the actions of public agencies, but also in the information and support that we can provide at all levels of New Zealand society - to help us during this transition.

A survey of 1000 New Zealanders released earlier in the year shows widespread concern for environmental issues. The majority also wanted more information on what they could do (63 per cent claimed they ‘would like to learn more’) and a further 28 per cent reported ‘actively looking for more information’ about sustainable actions they could take.

It is important that the government leads by example. We also recognise that the lessons that government agencies learn in this process may provide best practice solutions out in the private and non-government sectors.

The Govt3 programme run by the Ministry for the Environment is about government agencies sharing their knowledge and experience of how to reduce waste, travel in an environmentally sustainable way, buy and lease buildings that reduce their ecological footprint, and use sustainable office supplies and equipment.

The Govt3 Programme has a membership of 51 government agencies including 34 public service departments and 17 organisations from the wider state sector and tertiary education institutions.

The programme encourages government agencies to think more holistically and strategically about their environmental impacts and opportunities and the decisions they make.

For instance, when relocating to new premises or building a new office this would require not only thinking about the sustainability principles for the actual building but also ensuring the location and surroundings provide for and support sustainable transport needs.

I’m advised there have been some good role models amongst the agencies, including the Inland Revenue Department’s reported savings of $100,000 a year through its energy monitoring programme. The Ministry of Research, Science and Technology has reduced its waste sent to landfill by 79 per cent in the last year, and Antarctica New Zealand has reported a 24 per cent reduction in water consumption at Scott Base.

Cabinet last year also mandated that government departments have a sustainable procurement policy. The Ministry of Economic Development has helped 34 core government agencies rewrite their procurement policies to put sustainability at the forefront of their decisions about what to buy and lease.

The public sector spends around $20 billion annually on goods and services, so its spending decisions have a significant influence in the drive towards national sustainability.

Cabinet has also decided that new accommodation for government staff in central business districts should be in buildings that show high levels of environmental sustainability.

And central government agencies are working to have workplace travel plans in place by 2010, aiming for a fifteen per cent reduction in kilometres travelled by staff.

Targets such as these reinforce the aims of our internationally ground-breaking Carbon Neutral Public Service programme.

In April all 34 agencies in the programme made public their emissions inventories and plans to reduce their emissions. It was a huge achievement to have calculated the carbon footprint of the core public service, equivalent to 159,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2006/07.

This inventory provides an excellent baseline from which to track and manage emissions and secure changes in behaviour as the government builds a pathway to long-term sustainability. Six agencies have a target of carbon neutrality by 2012 and are doing well so far, with the other 28 agencies aiming to follow.

As part of the Carbon Neutral Public Service programme, government agencies are now required to report on their emissions and reduction plans annually. Between them, they have over 300 planned activities to reduce their emissions.

It is the many small actions that together achieve a big step towards achieving carbon neutrality and this is exactly the example we want to demonstrate to the rest of New Zealand.

How we act in government has an impact on what others, both locally and internationally, will do. New Zealand’s growing international reputation as a nation striving for sustainability was reinforced when we were asked by the United Nations Environment Programme to host World Environment Day on 5 June this year.

We were of course very proud to have accepted this opportunity. It was excellent to see projects and events being organised by communities, businesses, schools, local councils, research institutions and climate change experts from around New Zealand to mark World Environment Day and its theme of 'Kick the carbon habit'.

It is up to us in government to show that becoming sustainable is no longer just the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do – and as I've said - it is simply good business practice.

Moving to a low carbon and carbon neutral economy will be hard work but we can do it if we attack the challenge – as we are doing – on several fronts. The Emissions Trading Scheme is one very important tool in the box – but we also need households, businesses and our top innovators and researchers to commit to action, assisted by a huge range of government support – from home insulation grants, investments in public transport and buying back our railways, to major funds for greenhouse gas research.

The government and our public service are taking a lead, and I know many many New Zealanders are keen and committed to following suit.

Thank you. I am happy to take questions.


ENDS

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