“We will not gain anything today or in the months ahead if we become lost in hand-wringing and crystal-ball gazing about how bad things are or could be… What we do know is that we are in uncharted waters…Many words have and will be spoken about it… I’m here to do something about it…We are a gritty country with the smarts and determination needed to weather this storm. So let's roll up our sleeves, pull together, and get going.”
Don't flush our climate down the John
So spoke Prime Minister John Key as he opened today's much-heralded job summit in Auckland. One can only dream of the day he expresses the same sentiment over the even fiercer storm we face– climate change.
But climate change hasn’t had a look in in Mr Key’s response to the recession. When someone asked him if he felt it might be a good time to look into the creation of green jobs, he said he didn’t care what colour a job was.
Compare this to US President Barack Obama’s promise of five million new American jobs over the next decade through a US$150billion investment in green energy, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s plan to create 100,000 new jobs with an emphasis on projects like electric cars and wind and wave power.
According to a recent UN Environment Programme report, there are 2.3 million jobs in renewable energy worldwide and that’s expected to grow to over 20 million by 2030. There are more jobs per kilowatt hour in renewable energy than there are in fossil fuels and a study in New Zealand has suggested that for every million dollars invested in energy efficiency, 7.3 direct jobs are created.
The fact is, colour does matter if you want economic sustainability. There’s no point investing in industries that will become economic liabilities. If they are large greenhouse gas polluters, their days are numbered. They will be uncompetitive in a global market where investment in low carbon technologies and industries is the only realistic formula for growth.
It’s interesting to note that many of the industry leaders, who lobbied hard against the emission trading scheme because it would put them under pressure to reduce pollution, are now leading the discussion on how to weather the recession.
As UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon says, simply building new roads and propping up fossil fuelled industries would be the equivalent of investing back into sub-prime real estate. Instead, we must move away from a carbon intensive economy and into industries and jobs that will last the distance.
Make no mistake – climate change is not a niche environmental problem - it is a key prosperity and security issue.
We face the perfect dual storm of an economic meltdown and the tipping point of climate change. The solution to one lies in the solution to the other. When in opposition, Key promised to marry the dual imperatives of economy and environment. We’re yet to see any evidence of this matrimony since he came to power. Let’s hope that there is some thought given to the durability of industries and jobs during today’s summit.