New Zealand and the Environment: An Economy Fit for the Past?
Image Credit: Greenpeace

New Zealand and the Environment: An Economy Fit for the Past?


New Zealand is a young island nation, known the world over for its clean, green reputation and breathtaking scenery. It’s a reputation that opens up markets for its exports and draws in millions of tourists looking for adventure. It is the lifeline of the economy and the employer to many thousands of people.

Indeed, it’s a reputation that has defined New Zealand as a nation and reflects the values that many of its people hold dear.

It’s also a reputation that is under threat from government policies that are undermining the country’s clean, green values.

Missed Opportunities

New Zealand is well-placed and well-equipped to achieve economic prosperity without compromising its environment. The government could stop the on-going battle that’s being waged on the country’s land, air and seas, and instead take action to become a global leader in cleaner, smarter development.

But, sadly, this is not the case.

The centre-right National party government has defined both its terms in office with two polarizing ambitions: to close the income gap with Australia by 2020, and to get New Zealand’s books back in surplus by the next election in 2014.

On the face of it, such aspirations would seem laudable. But they have become the basis for policies which are letting ‘economic growth at all costs’ ride roughshod over the people’s instinct and wisdom to protect their land.

Known in political circles as the ‘business growth agenda’, it has become the holy grail of economic reform. “Nothing creates jobs and boosts incomes better than business growth,” its architects claim. And who could disagree?

However, a more prosperous future for New Zealand depends on the type of business growth that it allows. And this is where the risk to its reputation lies.

At the heart of the government’s fiscal plan is the exploitation of the country’s natural resources — its oil, gas and coal reserves. The government has made it the centrepiece of its economic program. It is courting major oil companies to come and drill for oil in New Zealand’s deep seas and mine its land for coal.

Ministers are championing hydraulic fracturing for unconventional gas reserves, in spite of international and local community concerns over the effects of this polluting practice on human health.

New Zealand’s state-owned energy company, Solid Energy, has proposed to unlock some of the country’s six billion tonnes of lignite — the dirtiest coal and the most climate-polluting form of energy — to turn into diesel and coal briquettes. It is a carbon bomb that will shatter New Zealand’s efforts to tackle climate change.

Yet the government is eager to light the fuse. Nothing, it seems, is off the table.

In order to make it easier for big business to exploit the nation’s natural resources and bypass local consultation, the government has been rewriting the laws that were put in place to safeguard the environment.

Or, as the mantra has become, it’s ‘finding the right balance between economic growth and environmental loss’. In other words, a little bit of growth justifies a little bit of environmental damage, and so on. It pits the two against each other, rather than considering them as a whole.

Robert Miles
February 1, 2014 at 10:20

The MMP electoral system has been a disaster for NZ, making governments excessively sensitive to misinformed opinion. The introduction of STV into local govt has also been disaster leading to a replacement of a liberal mayor and council in Wellington with a hard core socialist regime in Wellington obsessed with social intervention and limiting bar opening hours and also probably the number of barmaids from the W>Coast of the US.
Under the guise of maximising comparative advantage the government has increasingly abandoned other options, meat- sheep farming, tourism and coal mining, for all out concentration of maximising milk production , throwing out the CRC to ease the granting of consents in the South Island to those who openly violate the consent process- NBR writer Neville Bennett estimated half the consents are violated, with effluent running openly in a recent radio commentary.
NZ Trade Minister, Timothy Grosser, a former Victoria Uni Maoist , born in the Scottish slums in the 1950′s see’s NZ future, as trade and relations with China and in future Russia and India.
In the 1980s and 1990s NZ became a magnificent vibrant country with a 24 hour cafe and bar culture and the streets full of young people from the US, UK and Europe . Now under the direction of English and Grosser , NZ has surrendered to the dictate of the hard left and old fashioned male muscle. In NZ the ordinary people and their beliefs are now god and given the small scale of the nation that largely renders the economic and constitutional structure established in the 90s irrelevant.

October 7, 2012 at 21:58

Im a New Zealander…and you’ve hit the nail on the head with this!

October 2, 2012 at 07:49

Actually, the Gasland video was proven to be 100% true, but go on and believe the propaganda you're being fed.  Meanwhile, those of us who are smart are investing in water which won't be contaminated by fracking….

October 1, 2012 at 08:27

where you coming from Matt,your dreaming,fracking and the like, will stuff Texas up,what about your children's children,
Company man are you?

September 30, 2012 at 17:41

I don't quite catch on how New Zealand can be judged so negatively by this story, where is the supporting data? on what metrics is New Zealand underperforming (environmentally)? How is its future impacted by current government policies, and more importantly, what is the relationship between government (public policy making) and the democratic process?
The facts are, New Zealand is a very stable democracy with very sound, people driven, public policies. It is a benchmark model for sustainable utilisation of its environmental assets, and most importantly, its people truely understand that defending its treasured environmental assets requires economic strengths.

September 28, 2012 at 12:22

Hi Matt, thanks for your comments. You may find, in part, some of the answers on green growth and jobs in this recent Bloomberg article:

September 27, 2012 at 23:34

Name the school district that is firing teachers Dan. Texas is doing very good financially. Why would we have to let go of teachers in the middle of an economic boom and huge numbers of migrants coming in from all of the other poor states? I know for a fact there are a many new schools being built because of the incredible oil boom. Towns that have seen no new schools in fifty years are now finally able to build. Don't be so ignorant. It just keeps you poor. I am not part of the oil industry but it benefits the entire area. The evidence is legion. Drive around and look for yourself. All sorts of new businesses and schools and housing. Where is the evidence of the much hyped green energy boom? It is no one's interest to be poor. Please understand I'm just trying to offer a fair perspective from the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale boom. New Zealand would have to be crazy to turn down a perfectly safe economic boom. Especially in a depression.

Dan Pendleton
September 27, 2012 at 18:41

Nice of Gov. Rick Perry to incentivize with tax breaks environmental polluters by letting go of thousands of public school teachers. Attaboy, Rick!

September 27, 2012 at 18:05

You mean do away with the remaining property rights, raise taxes, and engage in fantasy. Yeah can't wait, sounds like a brilliant plan. 

September 27, 2012 at 12:22

The gasland video was proven false. You must be very naive to think a state like Texas would commit environmental suicide. Land owners aren't ALL dumb. Grow up you lame brain. We are rich and we enjoy our beautiful environment. Don't be an environmentalist bigot just because someone disagrees. Your loss though. Texas is doing wonderful. 

September 27, 2012 at 10:27

New Zealand has a myopic approach to the environment.  People are unable to recognize its importance when short term economic and social problems are used by the government to distract from issues that will affect the country for future generations.
Beside tourism the biggest industry is agriculture which is given carte blanche towards the environment despite years of evidence that government intervention is necessary where industry has failed to act.  Fonterra, the main dairy exporter, is a sacred cow that demands the industry be allowed a free hand in order to increase productivity but cannot attract enough young educated New Zealand workers because they refuse to properly invest enough in their own industry.  They can instead demand concessions from the government.
Environmental disasters, such as the grounding of the container ship Rena, are quickly forgotten because responsibility is swept under the rug.  In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster it should be apparent that governments need stronger control over industries that have the ability to impact the environment rather than opening the door to them and courting their favour.  Not to mention privately run mines whose unsafe practices lead to the deaths of workers, such as at Pike River, because the government allowed greater self regulation rather than safety laws that exist in comparable countries such as Australia.  These are the industries who are being given access to national parks.
New Zealand seems convinced that traffic pollution is invisible and so it is not a concern. The roading policy since the 1960's has been to defer until problems become bad enough to require expensive patching culminating in an ineffective system that doesn't lend itself to adapting to future needs.  As oil prices continue their rise from the last decade diversity in solutions is necessary, especially in congested urban areas surrounded by sprawling suburbs.  New Zealand's geography dictates the need for road based transport, hence the dependence on private cars, but cities are not adopting to new methods of managing traffic and integrating other forms of transport.  Walking, cycling and public transport are an after thought.
The list goes on, but New Zealanders keep selling the "clean-green" image both to the world and themselves whilst ignoring the consistent degrading of their environment.  A large environmental disaster might not be the real threat but instead a gradual decline under the auspices of economic activity.  The basis of the economy is both productive use of the environment and its protection but selling out long term protection for short term economic gains has dangers that New Zealand needs to consider.

Uong Nguyen
September 27, 2012 at 09:09

I love the way the Kiwi handle their environment, nothing but meticulous. I respect them and wish many nations of the world can learn from them. Just arrive at their airport one would see and feel it right away. However, meticulous as they have been, but they cannot save the Christchurch from earthquake. Mankind can only do a little thing like that dinosaur of the past.

September 27, 2012 at 06:52
See what danger lies in hydraulic fracturing, well but If always take contaminated water no wonder you are braindead

September 27, 2012 at 04:02

I stopped reading after "Ministers are championing hydraulic fracturing for unconventional gas reserves, in spite of international and local community concerns over the effects of this polluting practice on human health."
Texas is using hydraulic fracturing and it has not harmed anyone at all. In fact it has led to a wonderful economic boom which has saved our state from the economic malaise for which the rest of the country and even the world is going through. Don't be ridiculous. It just makes you poor.
Environmental extremists have a terrible effect on the country. Look at every place where it is practiced by the hard core believers. They are poor and getting poorer. Texas meanwhile is booming. South Dakota the same. Where is the Green Energy Boom? Where are the millions of green jobs? Nowhere. Don't be a sucker. You just go bankrupt and you lose credibility.

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