OPINION: As a diplomat with several years of international experience working on climate change I meet many people who talk of a global race to low carbon. The rapidly growing global market for environmental goods and services is estimated to be worth US$4 trillion - larger than the aerospace and defence industries.
Yet there is little urgency for grabbing these new opportunities in the debate in New Zealand.
In this context Pure Advantage released a report (pdf) last week on New Zealand's position in the Green Growth Race. It is a helpful contribution to the debate and shifts the focus to economic opportunity
I arrived in Wellington two years ago after four years in South Korea, watching with admiration as President Lee Myung-bak positioned his country to take a leading role in the response to climate change. In his National Day address Lee announced Low Carbon Green Growth would be at the heart of the Korean economy for the next 60 years.
Since that day in August 2008 his Administration has built the framework to direct 2 per cent of GDP annually into low-carbon investment and that's from the public sector alone.
His Administration's economic stimulus package, announced in January 2009 to counter the impacts of the global financial crisis, contained the largest "green" component of any industrialised country.
The Green New Deal announced US$ 38 billion over four years to create green jobs and build a low-carbon, green-growth economy.
Investment has been allocated for an ambitious low-carbon transport infrastructure, building 2 million green homes and a massive project to better manage Korea's water resources.
Korea's businesses, too, are moving rapidly into the low-carbon and energy-efficient space. Every sector of the economy is engaging in this global trend.
Major companies such as Samsung and LG are working with the government to develop a carbon labelling scheme so their products are recognised internationally as the "greenest" available. Hyundai is embracing energy-efficient technologies to reduce emissions from their cars.
Thousands of SMEs that supply the major companies are responding, too: examining their processes to reduce waste, and save energy.
Why are the Koreans doing this? There is a clear prosperity agenda driving this transition. Korea's efforts to position itself as a leader in low-carbon goods and services are impressive, but they have competition in this race.
Around the world, those sitting in government offices and business board rooms, are realising this global transition is an economic opportunity. A Google search for "green growth" produces thousands of examples from round the world but those from New Zealand are few and far between.
One quick example from Britain highlights how business and government can work together: in Britain we are investing heavily in power generation from off-shore wind turbines. We have an ambitious goal to increase capacity from 2GW to 32 GW by 2020.
Over the coming decade, through pursuit of this goal, Britain will become a global leader in designing and installing off-shore wind power. This particular market is expected to total US$ 170 billion by 2050, and so Britain's expectation to capture 10 per cent is in itself a strong economic reason for investing in off-shore wind irrespective of whether the 2020 target is reached.
There is too much focus on the United Nations negotiations in New Zealand. There seems to be a prevailing opinion that Kiwis should do only as much as is required by their international commitments. Many fear getting ahead of the pack.
But looking around the world, businesses from China to Brazil, from the US to the EU, are not waiting for a legally binding international agreement. China's decision last year to establish low-carbon economic zones encompassing 350 million people is a clear sign of intent.
Humanity has never faced a problem like climate change. Unlike poverty, hunger, disease, and terrorism, it affects everybody. We need to make the global economy essentially carbon neutral in little more than a generation, and resilient to the climate change we cannot now avoid. That means aligning national choices, rooted in national politics, to build national economies that are carbon neutral and resilient.
The answer to the growth question is increasingly being seen as low carbon, green growth. Will New Zealand come to the same conclusion?
Tony Clemson is the British High Commission's First Secretary (Political and Global).
- © Fairfax NZ News
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