NZ should be in the vanguard of green industry, says Dave Feickert.
The critical issue for the future of New Zealand's economic performance is the survival of its clean and green brand.
Sound macro-economic policy is needed to set the framework, as Bryan Gould argued yesterday, and lifting productivity, improving human capital and boosting innovation, as Bill English argued, are also essential. But we cannot survive as a first-world country unless we renew our brand.
New Zealanders have long had a good reputation overseas, working in international institutions, in business, as good workers and as people who can get on with almost anyone, anywhere, anytime.
We have not been a class-ridden or status-obsessed society and our Polynesian inheritance has injected highly-prized welcoming and social values into the mix. Successful firms these days require people to work in teams. Maori are excellent at that.
We have a beautiful country and many in the Northern Hemisphere know this. Those with money will visit in increasing numbers. But we have also been exposed recently as "eco-hypocrites" in Europe.
We failed to put our case clearly in the run-up to the Copenhagen Summit on global warming. The National-led Government's reaction to the previous government's "impossibilism" on climate change, and its lack of real action during nine years in office, defined a lack of vision that could sink us.
The global economy does not owe us a living. We are a small, open economy at the far end of the Asia Pacific Rim but we have many things going for us which we do not use.
We could have been very practical, such as using state-of-the-art, commercially available technology on our large dairy farms to convert dairy waste to methane to electricity and hot water. This is win-win-win as it uses a free fuel to produce energy and cuts emissions.
It is our agricultural emissions, methane and nitrous oxides, that cause us most problems with our Kyoto compliance. We are deep in deficit and this could cost us dear through having to pay for carbon credits from the international marketplace.
It is astonishing that there is no government incentive programme to encourage the spread of this technology, in widespread use in the US, as the manufacture, installation and operation of them by contractors would create many jobs and give us a cutting edge in selling them to the vast dairy farms now being built in China.
Fonterra could have led such an initiative but instead it got into deep trouble in China with a baby milk scandal.
The Chinese Government, however, has put all that to one side, as we were the first country to sign a Free Trade Agreement with them and we have taken an independent line in foreign policy by not going into Iraq.
New Zealand is in the Chinese mix and we have "guanxi" [connections]. I know this, as I work in China and have it. It is very powerful for business and government relationships.
In my home electorate, Whanganui, a region with a workforce of 32,000, we have several score of businesses growing in association with China. There will be more as China moves to become the world's largest economy in the next decade or so.
In the US, they like us as well. Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton know who we are, thanks to the work done by the last two foreign ministers. President Obama may be calling for favours in sending the SAS back to Afghanistan, but more important than that is we respond to the initiative he set in train during his visit to Beijing last November.
He took a team of top business people with him who aim to grow their clean energy and environment businesses there. The Chinese have huge environmental problems and a serious commitment to solving them and the US firms know this.
China already has the largest number of solar water heating installations, huge hydro and wind turbine projects and has already built 235 of the cleanest coal-fired power plants, replacing inefficient ones and cutting CO2 emissions per electrical unit of output by 20 per cent. They will use coal for decades to come and we will all need to work with them to move to a lower carbon economy.
In New Zealand, we have a good record in renewable energy and many related firms are working on innovation. We can run some leading edge projects as nursery schemes for exporting products, systems and services.
For example, the Huntly coal power plant could be retro-fitted with a supercritical boiler thereby cutting its emissions by 20 per cent and cleaner technologies should be considered for our gas plants as well, especially ensuring that wherever possible combined heat and power systems are used.
The waste heat is then captured by such plants, saving energy and emissions.
New Zealand has a deserved reputation for being clean and green. We all identify with it. But if we lose it, we lose our unique place in the world.
* Dave Feickert of Wanganui is an energy and mine safety consultant in China and New Zealand.