SUSTAINABILITY : Smoothing the Way to the Green Economic Boom

New research released in Australia, in addition to earlier studies published in the United States, confirms major investment opportunities will result from pricing and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
In New Zealand, research published by the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development, finds more than $12.3 billion in new investment likely to occur or be underpinned by the passage of the Emissions Trading Bill, during the next 10 years.
The report was criticised, by those who don’t favour an emissions trading scheme, on the grounds it was prepared quickly. Some people also didn’t like the result.
This of course, does not negate the conservatively expressed and well qualified results.
The Business Council took conservative approach in costing known and likely developments, including the creation of new bio char, wave energy, bio fuel, and bio energy industries – and the expansion of geothermal, wind, forestry and lower-emission agriculture.
The research also used conservative emissions price of $25 per tonne for carbon dioxide. In recent debate some, arguing for more free emissions assistance from Government under the proposed ETS, have used figures ranging between $41 and $200 per tonne.
The Business Council-commissioned research concluded there would be 9600 new jobs created over 10 years by the investments it identified.
This now seems very conservative. In Australia, new CSIRO report, “Growing the Green Collar Economy”, says that Australia’s living standards can increase while its environmental footprint reduces, and that rapid transition to sustainability will have little or no (negative) impact on national employment. It finds sustainable economy would increase employment by 2.5 to 3.3 million jobs over two decades.
The report was prepared to help balance policy debate – views on the costs of emissions trading have been well aired. Opportunities deserve the same attention in the national interest.
The CSIRO says: “Well designed policies can substantially decouple economic growth from environmental pressure, so that living standards continue to increase at current rates (avoiding blockages that might otherwise occur), while our national environmental footprint reduces over time.”
It also says the transition to low carbon sustainable economy will require “a massive mobilisation of skills and training” – both to equip new workers and to enable appropriate changes in practices by the three million workers already employed in these key sectors influencing Australia’s environmental footprint.
No one has ever said there will not be cost of imposing price on carbon and making the essential transition to lower-carbon economy. The businesses exposed to overseas competitors not facing price on carbon should be sheltered until the playing field levels.
Currently it is proposed 79 percent of all of New Zealand’s emissions credits will be given free to these businesses by 2013. It is gentle way to start and generous.
Vehicle users were given reprieve when carbon price on liquid fuels emissions (including petrol, diesel and gas) was deferred from 2009 to 2011.
While energy and emissions-intensive businesses are being given assistance, perhaps some could also be provided for households, which must pay for electricity emissions from 2010 and fuel from 2011.
If such policy is developed, all but one of the major issues surrounding the ETS will have been agreed.
The other is emissions intensity – some want to be measured by the emissions content of each unit of their production. If adopted, this could see production and emissions rise, while the level per unit of production is held or cut.
When the aim is to actually reduce global emissions and stave off even more costly impacts of climate change, the intensity argument may not fly. It certainly has no strong support from any major political party to date.
We need to get on with making the quickest and most painless change possible – and seizing the new growth in green jobs.

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

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