MANAGING SUSTAINABLY : One big leap for New Zealand

Since 1986 the Chinese government has been pumping billions of dollars into national research programme to accelerate its high-tech development.
Since 2001 the ‘863 Programme’ has specially focused on clean-energy opportunities in country which has switched from oil exporting to importing and generates 80 percent of its electricity from coal.
In 2006, the commitment to new energy sources was redoubled, increasing funding for wind, solar and hydro power. In 2006 alone, China doubled its wind-power capacity. It doubled it again in 2008, and the year after. It had almost no solar industry in 2003, five years later it was the world’s biggest solar-cell maker, winning contracts worldwide.
It is buying and installing the world’s most efficient electricity transmission lines, leaping ahead of the United States with its smart grid incentives and pilot programmes.
Clusters of new hi-tech industries, many with overseas partners, are being developed.
Now into its 10th five-year plan period, the Chinese government says its 863 Programme aims are to boost innovation capacity in the high-tech sectors, to strive to achieve breakthroughs in key technical fields and to achieve ‘leap-frog’ development in key high-tech fields.
Twenty-four years after the Chinese started working on cleantech opportunities to “leap frog” itself into climate change- and resource-challenged world, New Zealand needs to do the same.
There are significant opportunities for this country in deciding what those opportunities are – and putting in place policies which ensure we achieve them at ‘leap-frog’ speed to ensure we remain competitive.
We also need to coordinate our research and science funding to make best use of it and look at incentives to ensure investment flows into job-rich, high-pay, new sustainable businesses which can rapidly increase this country’s export earning power.
A study by Fuji-Keizai, leading provider of market and industry information, finds the global market for cleantech products and services will reach US$1.3 trillion year in the next seven years.
A Deutsche Bank report released in January this year found companies that specialise in renewable energy outperformed peers across the wider global economy last year.
“Until the US Congress passes climate regulation, America will be at competitive disadvantage in the development of renewable energy and other climate change industries,” said Kevin Parker, the bank’s head of global asset management.
The same could be said of New Zealand.
Hopefully the Government here will back an idea being led by more than 100 chief executives to review this country’s approach to cleantech, identify new opportunities – and recommend raft of policies to help the country more quickly realise the potential of new industries.
It took 20 years to develop our modern wine industry. It has taken about the same to develop tourism into the nation’s number one export earner.
Should it take 24 years, or just 24 months, to start developing new businesses and services around the cleantech breakthroughs? What are the ideal research and development incentives and investment packages which will produce results most quickly?
How do we put incentives in place so households also convert sooner rather than later to generating their own power? How do we encourage mass switch to home-grown transport bio-fuels? How do we open up opportunities to collaborate with other countries to rapidly commercialise New Zealand’s clean technology ideas?
A government move to support proposed joint state-business taskforce to find the answers and chart the quickest course to more competitive cleaner economy would be welcome. And not before time.

Peter Neilson is chief executive of the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development.

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