SUSTAINABILITY : Leadership vital on climate change

Seldom is there an issue of such magnitude, offering such opportunities for magnificent leadership as climate change. Rupert Murdoch, John Howard and George W Bush, once sceptics, are now leading the call for action.
Closer to home, any failure to act boldly in this area will cost our political and business leaders dearly. And the time for them to seize the opportunities is now. In year or so, even less, any failure of leadership will be so apparent it will be extremely hard to win back public or customer support. New Zealanders already have firm view on what sort of country they most want to live in, and they also aspire to take on the world. They also have view on the ‘perfect platform’ of policies to manage climate change – and protect and enhance the country’s trading position at the same time. Nine out of 10 will move their vote to the party putting most emphasis on protecting their quality of life*.
So will we see bold leadership or failure to lead? What will the Prime Minister see when she ‘looks in the mirror’ after her party’s significant turn around in the polls?
Does the failure to act on New Zealanders’ views on practicable climate change policy responses explain why people can support Budget policies on company tax cuts, KiwiSaver and even (in some cities) regional fuel taxes, but not back this up with voting support?
There are lessons in this for business too.
Climate change has opened an opportunity for governments and businesses to collaborate to win the trifecta: achieve sustainable growth, innovate, and meet New Zealanders’ social aspirations.
How?
Extensive research by the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development (NZBCSD) shows what New Zealanders want most is to preserve their quality of life. Thinking about the long term, they want to be able to preserve New Zealand family values, take their kids to clean beach and catch fish from clean waterway. They are also well educated, know they live in one of the most open economies in the world, and love taking on the rest of the world. It’s not the old number eight wire mentality. This is the ‘new New Zealand’ where being smart and innovative is highly valued – and now national trait.
Kiwis want to look after their quality of life – and enjoy the benefits of economic growth.
To achieve this, they are willing to switch their custom to companies which look after the environment and their staff.
How does New Zealand’s climate change response mesh with this?
Nine out of 10 Kiwis believe climate change is problem, nearly eight out of 10 believe it’s one we need to tackle now, according to NZBCSD extensive nationwide polling (with an error margin of just 2 percent).
How can strong leaders respond to the climate change challenge in ways which meet New Zealanders’ wishes and aspirations to protect and improve their quality of life? Here are just two examples of what could – and is not yet – being done:
• Take care of health: Mass insulate the nearly 400,000 homes which are currently giving us one of the highest asthma rates in the world and killing hundreds of the elderly with pneumonia every winter. Do this and $4 will come back in benefits for every $1 spent. Energy savings also mean emissions savings – so it’s also climate change response. Popular support? Ninety-three percent. The policy response so far? Comparatively minor extensions to current insulation subsidies.
• Clean up our dirty vehicle fleet: The problem? One of the biggest (per head), oldest (12 years on average and getting older), and dirtiest vehicle fleets in the world. Result? More people dying of emission aggravated respiratory problems each year than from road crashes. The perfect response? Cash grants of up to $3000 to each person newly registering vehicle meeting the latest Euro IV emissions standards and using eight litres or less of fuel per 100 kilometres. Result? More than 430,000 low-emission vehicles into the fleet in five years (to be enjoyed for 13- to 20-year fleet life) and $725 million in fuel savings over the vehicles’ life.
A scrapping fee should also be paid to people ending the lives of their high mileage vehicles. Popular support for cash incentives? Ninety-three percent. The response to date? one city trial of $400 worth of public transport tickets for people scrapping older cars. And officials looking into imposing higher registration fees on vehicles according to engine size (not necessarily related to emissions quality), and proposed higher emissions standards for all newly registered vehicles.
Kiwis also say they will support taxpayer-funded advertising campaign to promote sustainable development policies. When the Government was bold on these issues it was leading in the polls. Both these leads have now evaporated.

Peter Neilson is chief executive of the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development. www.nzbcsd.org.nz or www.shapenz.org.nz

*Poll results from shapenz

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