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Urban Air, Biodiversity Top Priorities For Sustainability:NZIER

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, Nov 3 NZPA - An economic think tank wants to see more emphasis on urban air quality and protecting biodiversity, while saying waste and greenhouse gas reduction has been rated too highly.

In a working paper on sustainable development published today, the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) said it found environmental priorities were not well targeted.

Getting sustainability policy right was important, not just because of reputation risks to trade, but also because any regulation should be cost effective and efficient, the paper said.

That was particularly so in light of New Zealand's poor economic growth performance, and the need to ensure value for money from any government spending and to avoid undue impositions on private initiatives.

The paper considered sustainable development policy in light of international approaches which focused on maintaining stocks of natural, physical, institutional and human capital.

Environmental priorities were not well targeted at sustaining critical stocks or on effects that policy could realistically expect to control, NZIER said.

"Their net benefit to New Zealanders is therefore open to question. This suggests a change in focus could both improve environmental and economic outcomes for the country at large."

Of current environmental priorities, work on urban air quality and protecting biodiversity and ecosystems would be the highest priority.

That was because of the high loss of life quality and premature death from the former and the high proportion of species at risk that were unique to this country, NZIER said.

In its briefing to incoming ministers in 2008, the Ministry for the Environment listed climate change as the top environmental priority, followed by freshwater, the Resource Management Act, the Treaty of Waitangi, biodiversity and then the marine environment.

The NZIER paper said that meeting international climate change obligations and maintaining momentum to achieve an effective international agreement deserved a high ranking.

"But actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a low priority for New Zealand," the paper said.

This country accounted for about 0.3 percent of global CO2 emissions and even reducing those to zero would have no appreciable effect on the climatic changes experienced in New Zealand.

Maintaining this country's reputation as a constructive, pragmatic participant in international efforts was a higher priority in climate change policy than pursuing an all gases all sectors carbon pricing scheme ahead of other countries, NZIER said.

Such a scheme posed significant risk of costly short term business contraction and carbon leakage that may take some time to recover from.

Focusing attention on things that were controllable would give reputation a higher priority than restraining atmospheric emissions.

Similarly the risks to land, water and associated infrastructure would imply a greater emphasis on adaptation issues and the avoidance of decisions that worsened future risks.

Apart from greenhouse gas emission reductions, the lowest priority given by the NZIER paper to current environmental priorities was to waste reduction and waste management business support.

The Waste Minimisation Act 2008 imposed a levy on all waste disposed to landfills, to generate funding to help local government, communities and businesses fund waste reduction initiatives from July this year.

Waste policy was no longer guided by the effects basis of the Resource Management Act but minimising waste was an end in itself, the NZIER paper said.

But there was no natural stock at serious risk of depletion, and no demonstrable source of welfare loss from the current level of waste disposal.

Waste policy had achieved much over the past decade but further extensions for sustainability purposes were questionable, the paper said.

NZIER also said water demand management and water allocation did rank high because of their potential to affect the availability and cost of water for production and consumption processes.

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