‘Green growth: opportunities for NZ’ report – Experts respond

A major report into ‘green growth opportunities’ for New Zealand, outlining actions for industry and government to apply across several key economic sectors, was launched today at events in Auckland and Wellington.

The report, commissioned by Pure Advantage and the New Zealand Green Growth Research Trust, identifies 21 ways the country can capitalise on a global shift to greener growth, and includes specific recommendations for forestry, electricity, transport, agriculture, fisheries, and tourism.

A full copy of the report is available for download in the on the Pure Advantage website.

The Science Media Centre approached experts in relevant sectors for comment on recommendations for green growth. Further comments will be made available as they are received — please contact the SMC for more information.

Prof Shaun Hendy, Industry and Outreach Fellow, Industrial Research Ltd (IRL), comments:

“This report highlights the need for the green growth of the New Zealand economy. Understandably, the report is heavily focussed on the greening of our existing primary sector industries, many of which are big producers of greenhouse gases and place a heavy load on our water and land resources.

“Greening these industries is important, but more attention could have been paid to opportunities to grow our economy via greener, knowledge intensive sectors.  Although biotechnologies are identified as an area for potential green growth, there are opportunities for New Zealand to grow sustainably via a diverse range of knowledge-intensive industries.

“Fast growing firms like the software company Xero, the medical device company Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, and others highlighted in the recent TIN100 report, are much, much greener than the primary sector and offer real opportunities for long term growth.  These companies measure the value of their products not by weight, but by the knowledge that goes into their manufacture.  So while I applaud the maintenance of our clean green brand, as highlighted in this report, I do worry that this is often seen as our sole source of comparative advantage.

“In reality, we are a creative, well-educated and talented people, with an ability to succeed in high technology industries. We should base green growth on knowledge not nature.”

Dr Matthew Dunn, Principal Scientist, NIWA, comments:

“The fisheries section of the Green Report makes many good general points and recommendations. In particular, it highlights the need for greater collaboration between research providers, managers, and the industry. It also correctly concludes that a greatest growth potential for New Zealand is probably in the aquaculture industry.

“The authors suggest one particular area for action is to explore aspects of public policy which might restrict the growth of the seafood sector. This is certainly true for the aquaculture industry, but the wild capture fisheries, which currently produce most of New Zealand’s seafood, there are further challenges. New Zealand’s main fisheries are generally well understood, and fully exploited, but we know relatively little about many of the smaller stocks, and what their potential yields and benefits could be. This issue is not recognised in the report, but collaborative scientific research is needed to help determine how big the New Zealand resource actually is.

“The authors also suggest a particular research focus should be on ‘precision harvesting and processing’, although their use of this term is rather vague. There are undoubtedly benefits in catching the desired fish for as little cost as possible, and in supplying products that are exactly what the markets want. But ‘precision harvesting’ is often used in ‘green’ forums to mean minimising bycatch, which means precise control of fishing activities to avoid everything but the specific ‘target’ species. This might seem like a good idea, because we don’t want to kill animals we aren’t going to eat, but recent research suggests an ambition of highly precise and selective fishing might be misplaced. The research suggests marine fisheries may be substantially more productive, and ecosystems more resilient, when a wide range of species is harvested, including both ‘target’ and ‘bycatch’ species. Basically, they argue it is better to reduce the abundance of animals evenly across the whole ecosystem, than it is to remove just a few selected species. This idea is still new, and needs further research, but in principle it could lead to greater yields.

“The summary of the report does not list fisheries as a potential green growth export, but they do have great ‘green’ potential. Capture fisheries have an advantage over terrestrial farming in that they are truly free-range, and truly organic, with no use of pesticides, fertilisers, or water for irrigation, and they aim to harvest animals from functional and diverse ecosystems, instead of converting land to monocultures, usually for an introduced species. Whilst fish may be relatively expensive and so a luxury for many New Zealanders, which means there is currently limited potential for growing the domestic market, the New Zealand industry is recognised, at least in scientific forums, as having international ‘best-practice’. The vast majority of New Zealand’s seafood is destined for export, so clearly we need to make the most of, and get more widely and formally recognised, this best-practice to ensure the New Zealand industry can access the best and most profitable markets.”

Prof Jacqueline Rowarth, Professor of AgriBusiness at the University of Waikato, comments:

“The main recommendations in the Green Growth report are spot on – increasing research and development (R&D) to the OECD average (remembering that New Zealand includes overheads in the figure declared whereas other countries do not — implying that the gap is much larger than acknowledged) and high level support for NZ’s brand… anything less is economic treason.

“People in agriculture already know this. They also know that farmers are the biggest investors in R&D in NZ, through taxes, rates, levies and as shareholders of co-operative companies in, for instance, milk (Fonterra, a farmer-owned co-operative, is the biggest private investor in R&D) and fertiliser. Of further importance is that farmers take up innovations rapidly as shown by the Statistics NZ productivity data and the University of Auckland IBM Innovation index — the primary sector leads.

“The result, as highlighted in UK last week under headlines such as ‘buy NZ lamb to save the planet’, is that NZ production systems are efficient in terms of greenhouse gas production per unit of milk or meat.

“Water use efficiency is also good where new technologies such as precision irrigators are used. Water quality is also rather better than in most other developed countries – and use of feed pads and herd shelters assist prevent environmental degradation. The challenge is the cost of these technologies – herd shelters in Southland, for instance, generally cost more than $1 million to install. With the Ministry for Primary Industries forecasting little surplus money for reinvestment in farms this year, affording the new technologies will be difficult.

“The challenge continues to be explaining to society that farmers can do what is required but the impact will be increased costs of food production and that will lead to increased prices in the supermarket. Government leadership supporting agriculture, as well as the brand, is required.”

Dr Roger Young, Freshwater Ecologist, Cawthron Institute, comments:

“This report is a useful analysis of the opportunities for New Zealand relating to green growth.

“There is clearly opportunity to improve the allocation of water to more valuable and efficient uses, while taking the needs of the environment into account.  Policy reviews in Canterbury, Horizons, Otago and Hawkes Bay will help to clarify what water is available for allocation and how water storage may help to address the water allocation issue.  National initiatives like the Land & Water Forum and the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management will also be helpful.  However, I am not convinced about the role of water pricing for improving efficiency of use, as suggested in the report. ”

Dr Eric Crampton, Senior lecturer in Economics, University of Canterbury comments:

“There’s much to like in the [Green growth] report. It rightly recommends that New Zealand move toward more efficient pricing and trading of water resources. Similarly, they recognize the opportunity for New Zealand to make a global difference by directing research and development resources towards lower-emission pastoral systems – so much the more so if New Zealand were to release the developed technologies under Creative Commons license as our contribution towards reducing global warming. Streamlining regulations to let entrepreneurs take advantage of New Zealand’s natural potential comparative advantages in aquaculture also is well worthwhile.

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

“While more energy-efficient buildings would be very nice to have, regulatory mandates in the area often have perverse effects. For example, mandates that homes undergoing renovations also be brought up to higher energy efficiency standards can encourage people to avoid renovating their homes. Financing programmes assisting those already undertaking renovations for earthquake-strengthening to improve energy efficiency at the same time would be more effective; by contrast, EQC in Canterbury has been barring homeowners from undertaking any energy-efficiency improvements while repairing earthquake damage.

“Imposing carbon dioxide emission standards on New Zealand vehicles, when we do not make vehicles, mostly shifts to other countries those used cars we 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. 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.

“I was somewhat surprised to see no recommendations around allowing well-regulated hydraulic fracturing technology for natural gas extraction. Wave and tidal power are worth investigating, but remain rather too uncertain to bank on. Greater use of natural gas powered thermal electricity generation is likely New Zealand’s best bet for lower emissions intensity power generation in the absence of substantial breakthroughs in other energy sources.”