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Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

NZ placed to reap rewards in an eco-conscious world

Report backs electric cars and more investment in public transport and in biofuels.

The global market to supply low-carbon power and building technology could be worth more than $3.6 trillion in 40 years. Photo / Christine Cornege
The global market to supply low-carbon power and building technology could be worth more than $3.6 trillion in 40 years. Photo / Christine Cornege

Mandatory emissions standards for new vehicles, an electrical "smart grid" and a stocktake of our clean green image are among a raft of ways New Zealand could benefit itself and tap into a global green economy projected to top $3.6 trillion by 2050.

A report released today by the University of Auckland Business School and consultancy Vivid Economics proposes an ambitious blueprint for "green growth", with homegrown export potential ranging from sustainable agricultural products and geothermal energy to second-generation biofuels.

It has found New Zealand could benefit from green investment in two main ways - exporting to countries investing in green assets and technology and importing new technology and ideas to boost world-leading policies here.

It makes recommendations for our major industry sectors, including tourism, agriculture and forestry and envisages an energy-efficient electricity network and eco-friendly buildings.

The report backs improving standards and infrastructure to meet an influx of electric cars, urges investment in public transport and second-generation biofuels, and proposes mandatory light vehicle emission standards for new vehicles.

Other findings echo those of another high-level report presented to the Government's Green Growth Advisory Board last year.

The economic potential in global green growth is vast - the market to supply low-carbon power and building technology could be worth more than $3.6 trillion in 40 years, while opportunities in low-carbon power alone could be $465 billion a day, spread across a range of technologies.

But one of the key authors and former special adviser to the Australian Government, Kathryn Smith, told the Herald it was the wellbeing of New Zealanders, not economic gains, that was the report's main focus.

The country was already well placed to action many of the recommendations.

"I know New Zealanders are rightly proud of a lot of their environmental performance, but there is a lot of scope to do better," she said.

"That will not just improve the environment for future generations, but will also have other benefits like lower fuel emissions, more comfortable homes and higher-producing industries - there's a lot to build on."

Opposition parties have urged the Government to adopt the measures.

Pure Advantage, a lobby group formed by top business leaders, believes New Zealand has the potential to generate billions of dollars in new high-value economic growth while improving the environment.

Yet the opportunities presented in the report have not been fully realised, according to the group's chairman, Rob Morrison.

"If they had been realised, we would already be seeing significant economic and environmental gains - but as of yet we are not."

Mr Morrison said it was industry that would be taking the next steps, with action coming after "concerted and focused discussions" at boardroom level.

Professor Jacqueline Rowarth, professor of agribusiness at the University of Waikato, especially agreed with recommendations to boost research and development and retain high-level support for the country's brand. Anything less was "economic treason".

University of Canterbury senior economics lecturer Dr Eric Crampton saw much to like in the report but had some concerns.

"I worry that some of the identified opportunities may impose cost well in excess of potential benefit."

Dr Crampton cited "perverse effects" that regulatory mandates could have on building, with energy-efficiency standards discouraging people from renovating their homes.

He said imposing carbon dioxide emission standards on New Zealand vehicles, when the country did not make vehicles, mostly shifted to other countries used cars New Zealanders would have bought.

"We already have seen evidence of reduced used car availability and higher prices consequent to the Government's recent regulatory measures that effectively barred Japanese imports produced prior to 2005," he said.

"Further, shifting towards greater use of electric cars because of New Zealand's low electricity emissions-intensity would only work if we were able substantially to expand our base of hydroelectric or geothermal generation."

What is green growth?

*The definition of green growth varies, but the report released today defines it as "growth which maintains or improves wellbeing while staying within ecological constraints".

*A report prepared for a Government advisory group last year stated green growth began "with realisation that economic growth and environmental sustainability go hand-in-hand - and that this needs to be increasingly reflected in policies and actions". And the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has defined it as "fostering economic growth and development while ensuring that the natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services on which our well-being relies".

- NZ Herald

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