Royal Society says NZ is well positioned to be a green economy

The Royal Society of New Zealand says environmental problems are beginning to threaten social and economic wellbeing and that New Zealand would benefit from a move to a green economy.

In a paper just released, Facing the future: towards a green economy for New Zealand, the society highlights research on the resource and consumption challenges facing New Zealand and the rest of the world, and the opportunities for dealing with them.

It concludes that New Zealand can have a number of economic, social and environmental gains by accelerating its move to a green economy.

Authored by a Royal Society of New Zealand panel, chaired by Emeritus Professor Gerry Carrington, the paper points out that human consumption growth over the last century has had significant effects on the global environment, such as reduced water quality, loss of biodiversity and a changing climate.

“These environmental changes are not good for long-term sustainability and wellbeing. The panel agrees that New Zealand can avoid adverse consequences for the economy, society and the environment if it reconsiders its direction of development,” says Professor Carrington.

The paper notes that New Zealand has several targets for reducing national net greenhouse gas emissions, including a 50% reduction by 2050 compared with 1990. However, recent modelling by the Ministry for the Environment indicates that by 2040 New Zealand’s net GHG emissions are expected to be 51% higher than the 1990 baseline.

A green economy is defined by the United Nations Environment Programme as being resource efficient, low carbon and socially inclusive. The Society says New Zealand is well positioned to become a green economy with its many natural advantages, such as extensive renewable energy sources.

“We also have many opportunities to increase our resource efficiency, which means improved productivity. Many businesses and organisations are already aiming for sustainability. Communities are working together for change, and innovators and entrepreneurs are ready to grasp the opportunities of a greener economy,” says Professor Carrington.

The paper identifies a number of barriers that need to be overcome, such as the perception there are trade-offs between being economically competitive and being sustainable, and that a green economy might lead to a lower standard of living.

“The paper points to growing recognition of alternative indicators better suited than GDP for capturing the quality, quantity and sustainability of economic activity,” says Professor Carrington.

Sectors where research, new technologies and innovation would help moves to a green economy are also highlighted in the paper.

“Initiatives which bring together different interest groups, such as the Land and Water Forum, have shown that sustainable solutions can be generated by collaborative processes incorporating government, communities, businesses and individuals. The recently announced Smart Grid Forum is another example.”

Professor Carrington says the aim of the paper is to encourage the discussions that will help shape a sustainable future.

“Becoming a green economy will require action and collaboration across all sectors of society. It’s good that we are already seeing this happen.”

The paper is available to download at the society’s website.

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