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.

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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.

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