BOP Regional Councillor
Well, the Olympics are over and we did pretty well for a little country down the bottom of the world – 15th out of the 204 countries which were competing.
However, a recent publication called ‘New Zealand’s Position in the Green Race’ noted that our environmental performance as a country is slipping. In 2006 we ranked first out of 124 in Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index. As of 2012, we have slipped to 14th, overtaken by countries like Slovakia and Costa Rica. This is a huge concern because we pride ourselves on our clean green image and use this to brand ourselves internationally for tourism and exports.
So why are we falling behind?
- While our freshwater water quality is pretty good, in many catchments across the country water quality is deteriorating and there are increasing water shortages in some areas.
- The percentage of energy supply from renewable sources is decreasing – in 1975, 90 per cent of our electricity came from renewable sources and in 2012 this had dropped to 76 per cent. Overall, approximately 60 per cent of our total energy supply comes from fossil fuels like oil, coal and gas.
- New Zealand’s emissions per capita are the fifth highest out of all the OECD countries, and our emissions have increased 23 per cent since 1990. Our agricultural emissions have grown one per cent a year since 1990 and now make up 95 per cent of our total methane emissions.
- Our total transport emissions increased 64 per cent between 1990 and 2006. We have the third highest rate of car ownership in the OECD and our transport sector uses 45 per cent of our total consumer energy. This is reflected by our low usage of public transport.
- While we have large areas of New Zealand in our conservation estate, intensification of land use in many areas is negatively affecting water quality. Erosion, nutrient leaching and loss of biodiversity have all been linked to changes in land use.
- Our native biodiversity has been in decline, and while some improvements have been made, 77 per cent of our threatened species lack targeted recovery programmes and will continue to decline in numbers.
We cannot afford to continue slipping backwards on environmental performance. Turning this around will require concerted effort from all levels of government and our community. As a country we have many natural advantages, and we need to use these to strengthen our economic performance while protecting our clean green image.
The phrase ‘green growth’ has been used to describe economic development which is based on minimising waste and the inefficient use of energy, reducing pollution and emissions, enhancing natural resources and biodiversity. This is the way we must go to ensure sustainable wealth and protect our international competitive position for future generations.