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Environmental priorities must connect the dots

3 November 2009

Environmental priorities must connect the dots

This morning’s New Zealand Institute of Economic Research report on environmental priorities fails to connect the dots between modern environmental challenges, particularly when it suggests that reducing climate change emissions is a low priority for New Zealand, claimed the Green Party.

“It is nonsense to think that we can prioritise meeting international climate change obligations without reducing our greenhouse gas emissions,” said Green Party Co-leader Dr Russel Norman.

“We cannot pull the wool over the world’s eyes, pretending to be a team player without contributing to the team effort. The world will see through that and our economy will suffer when emission reductions are forced on us in future.”

The report, Sustainable Development: Have we got our priorities right?, applies a theoretical cost-benefit analysis to some of the environmental issues facing New Zealand. It concludes that air quality and biodiversity should be top priorities, while waste and greenhouse gas reduction should be low priorities.

“The report overlooks the economic opportunities of moving to a low-carbon economy, and the dire economic consequences if we don’t do that quickly and deliberately,” said Dr Norman.

“A fair and effective Emissions Trading Scheme would help, as would Government leadership on low-cost emission reduction opportunities – but unfortunately the National Government is dragging its feet on both.

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“The report also fails to see the links between environmental problems and their solutions. Suggesting that New Zealand should prioritise air quality and biodiversity at the expense of greenhouse gas emissions reductions overlooks the fact that:

• climate change is the biggest long-term threat to our biodiversity;

• home insulation and vehicle standards improve air quality and reduce emissions, as do more buses, trains, cycling and walking;

• lower-intensity dairy farming reduces emissions and water pollution; and

• pest control to protect ecosystems can capture climate change emissions.

“The report also fails to account for New Zealanders’ love of doing their bit: the popularity of individual environmental action like recycling, planting trees, and using cars less. It is disrespectful to dismiss these useful contributions to creating a healthier planet.

“It’s pleasing that NZIER is beginning to think in environmental terms, but their methodology requires serious improvement. The report’s timing, and focus on lobbying against a meaningful ETS, is also suspicious.”

Dr Norman welcomed other aspects of the report: “I’m pleased to see mainstream economists recognising that it is not sustainable to trade natural capital away.”

The report notes that using up natural capital can be irreversible and impossible to replace, which means ‘it becomes more valuable to protect it in its natural state to sustain the benefits it provides for future generations’.

“Applying natural capital theory to pollution and overuse of water, the rush to mine our conservation lands, and the threat to species and ecosystems from habitat loss, we can see that strong environmental protection rules and standards are crucial,” said Dr Norman.

References:

NZIER report: http://nzier.org.nz/includes/download.aspx?ID=105519
Green proposals for low-cost emissions reduction: http://www.greens.org.nz/sites/default/files/BigAffordableClimateChange_1.pdf

ENDS

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