This past weekend a colleague and I represented Greenpeace at the Blue-Greens conference in Akaroa. For those of you less familiar with this political group, they are the green wing of the National Party, spearheaded by the perennial Dr Nick Smith, Minister for the Environment.
There was much anticipation that the full programme laid before us would be punctuated with a series of key conservation and climate change announcements which would signal a new direction in moving New Zealand towards a cleaner economy. And this was, in essence, why we were there.
However, what met our cautious expectation was not the bold and ambitious vision of a Government with a plan, but a myriad of policy initiatives that were anchored in the ordinary and paid homage to a familiar 'business as usual' approach to the environment and economy.
Bill English's lethargic launch of an 'Advisory Group' that would advise on green growth initiatives and help exporters leverage greater value from New Zealand's clean, green brand risks becoming yet another talking shop that relies on the alchemy of marketing rather than a Government committed to getting serious and strategic about the huge opportunities in clean technology.
The thing is, the future prosperity of this country lies in our ability to innovate and pioneer. We already have Kiwi engineers and scientists developing world class clean technologies, yet they are being left to wither on the vine. Only last week, President Obama called for America to have their 'Sputnik moment' and change the face of the American economy by investing in clean energy and eliminating subsidies for fossil fuels. What we witnessed this weekend was more like launching a paper aeroplane from the Skytower and relying on good thermals.
What we need is for Government to put its money where its mouth is and breathe some life in to the plethora of clean technology opportunities - whether it be in geothermal, waste management or energy efficiency - and reap the huge benefits that this new, emerging and prosperous economy will bring. And they need to do it now.
Another way of inspiring such a move would be to set a strong emissions reductions target for green house gases. Yet what we got from Nick Smith that afternoon was a gazetting of the Government's existing target to reduce New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050. This is way out of step with the cuts that science is telling us we need to prevent the worst effects of climate change. Indeed, the Government have in fact chosen to align themselves with some of the most polluting nations on the planet. Not good company to keep and well short of the 40 percent by 2020 that we've been calling for.
Nick Smith commented that environmental groups are never happy with Government and that groups like Greenpeace will always argue that politicians never go far enough, but that only serves to mask the inadequacy of what he's chosen to grandstand as 'progressive'.
When leadership fails, it needs to be called on it.
See, at the heart of the Government's thinking is an hypocrisy that undermines climate action. The Government talk about a clean economy, yet they invest millions in subsidising the fossil fuel industries of yesteryear. It backs moves to dig up six billions tonnes of the dirtiest form of energy in Southland - which would amount to a climate crime of global significance - and have just declared open season on BP-style deepwater oil drilling in some of our most pristine environments.
The global clean technology race has already begun with many countries turning their backs on the 19th Century fossil fuel mindset and shifting to a clean economy, with investment in clean energy due to hit US$ 1.7 trillion within the next six years. If New Zealand could rightfully claim just a small piece of that market, it could be worth billions to the economy each year.
But the Government needs to act fast to ensure that our home grown clean technology innovators don’t miss out.
So while we had much hope that blue was going to be the new green, it seems that their environmental efforts are still somewhat in the red.