NZ takes prize for 'shameless two fingers' to world

By Esther Goh

Screengrab of the Guardian article.
Screengrab of the Guardian article.

A prominent British science writer has slammed New Zealand's clean, green reputation, calling it a "green mirage".

Guardian columnist Fred Pearce - an author and environment journalist - said New Zealand was falsely trading on a positive environmental image.

"My prize for the most shameless two fingers to the global community goes to New Zealand, a country that sells itself round the world as 'clean and green'," he wrote.

"New Zealand secured a generous Kyoto target, which simply required it not to increase its emissions between 1990 and 2010. But the latest UN statistics show its emissions of greenhouse gases up by 22 per cent, or a whopping 39 per cent if you look at emissions from fuel burning alone."

Pearce blamed the agricultural sector, high rates of car ownership and "filthy" coal-burning power stations for New Zealand's high emission of greenhouse gases.

He said New Zealand's emissions today were 60 per cent higher per head of population in comparison to Britain's.

"In recent years a lot of Brits have headed for Christchurch and Wellington in the hope of a green life in a country where they filmed the Lord of the Rings. But it's a green mirage."

He also criticised the US, Canada and Australia for their failure to reduce emissions from 1990 levels.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the UN figures showed New Zealand's 100% Pure campaign did not reflect reality.

"Our emissions have increased dramatically since 1990. If we don't take action we're going to shoot ourselves in the foot," he said.

"Both Labour and National haven't cut emissions. Now we're being exposed for it."

But a 2003 University of Otago study found European countries gave little consideration to the clean, green image promoted abroad by New Zealand.

Instead, they were more concerned about hygiene and quality control standards.

But Federated Farmers president Don Nicolson said the increase was mostly driven by emissions from the energy industry.

According to the Ministry for the Environment, the agriculture sector was the largest source of emissions in 2007, producing 48 per cent of total emissions. The energy sector - including electricity generation, heat production and transport - followed closely behind at 43 per cent.

However, agricultural emissions only increased 12 per cent from 1990, compared to 39 per cent for energy emissions.

Mr Nicolson said farming machinery and equipment had improved "massively" in past years and now operated more cleanly and efficiently.

"Our productivity gain since [farming] subsidies were removed in 1984 have outstripped every other sector in the New Zealand economy," he said.

Minister for Climate Change Nick Smith said Pearce's column reinforced the need to take environmental change seriously.

"New Zealand does need to get on and implement an emissions trading scheme that encourages energy efficiency and afforestation," he said.

Dr Smith said the Government was determined to pass its emissions legislation by Christmas and introduce a carbon price on 1 July 2010.

Cas Carter, Tourism NZ corporate communications manager, said although Pearce's comments were of concern due to the Guardian's high readership, in perspective it was just one negative column.

She said surveys showed 98 per cent of international visitors believed the New Zealand environment met or exceeded their expectations.

"It shows we're still performing for our customer base."

She said New Zealand often received favourable press overseas as a destination of choice.

For example, Whale Watch Kaikoura's supreme win at the Responsible Tourism Awards this week had been covered extensively in the UK media.

- NZ Herald

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