After the United Kingdom joined the European Union in 1973, the independent country of New Zealand began strengthening economic ties with its Pacific neighbors. Today, the country, with only 4.6 million people, has a thriving export sector that ships out mostly agricultural products like wool, beef, cheese and mutton. Its people enjoy a high environmental quality of life.
Environmental Issues of New Zealand
With much of its economy based on agriculture, New Zealand must cope with the toll farming takes on its natural environment. Both Maori and British settlers were responsible for large tracts of land being deforested or drained of water.
Intensive dairy production has increased the nitrogen levels in surface water, ground water and soil. One of the biggest environmental issues here is soil degradation. The loss of trees has rendered much of the countryside inadequately protected against high-intensity rainfall that quickly wipes out fertile soil. New Zealanders are also particularly concerned about soil health: excess of acidification, loss of vital organic matter and the population declines of earthworms and other soil-friendly organisms.
New Zealand is well known for its beautiful landscape and huge range of biodiversity, but this is coming under threat due to a number of industrial practices and climate change. Image Credits: Pichugin Dmitry/shutterstock.com
While it faces air pollution, primarily from cars, half of New Zeland’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. The agriculture sector also causes significant fertilizer and pesticide run-off, which can end up in streams and rivers. Critics say the country also lacks water allocation and usage strategies; water is not always going to where it creates the most value. Fresh water pollution and scarcity thus augment the challenges.
Despite numerous biodiversity havens across New Zealand, the country still faces significant species decline. Wildlife reserves are becoming increasingly fragmented and ecosystems are regularly faced with the threat of voracious pests such as the short-tailed weasel and the lichen known as old man’s beard.
Environmental Policies of New Zealand
Anchored by the Resource Management Act, New Zealand’s government has declared its desire to follow sustainable development principles in its economic, social and environmental policies.
In 2009, the Act was revised to simplify regulations and reduce costly delays for developers and investors while sustaining necessary ecological protections, resulting in quicker processing and better compliance.
Procision+ Case Study: Environmental Challenge | Wellington, New Zealand. Video Credits: TidyWork/YouTube
Despite New Zealand's fairly small share of overall global emissions, the country has committed to engaging with other nations regarding climate change. Passed into law in 2008, New Zealand's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is the main domestic policy for incentivizing cutbacks in emissions. Biological emissions from agriculture are now exempted from the ETS.
The government of New Zealand has also taken numerous steps to conserve the country’s indigenous biodiversity. New Zealand’s Biodiversity Strategy has called for greater education and involvement at the local level, strengthening of partnerships with people regarding conservation of genetic diversity, and maintaining and enhancing natural habitats. .
Clean Technology in New Zealand
New Zealand has lagged behind the rest of the world when it comes to clean technology. A 2014 report from the World Wildlife Fund ranked New Zealand as a middling country among 40 of the world’s developed nations when it comes to clean technology.
Without significant domestic sources of funding, entrepreneurial New Zealanders in many sectors have struggled to get their innovations to market. The WWF report found New Zealand has good infrastructures when it comes to innovation, but is lacking when it comes to the financial promotion of start-up businesses.
However, there are a few cleantech success stories. With ~80% of its electricity generated from renewable resources, New Zealand has an abundant supply of clean power. Drive Technologies, based in Wellington, makes high-efficiency electric motors. Meridian Energy was part of an initiative to put solar panels on dairy sheds across the country. New Zealand also has 30 different companies working in its geothermal sector. The 2016 Electric Vehicle Programme aims to double its electric cars fleet every year until 2021.
In many parts of New Zealand, recycling of paper, plastics, glass and metals is common. However, the country does not regulate hazardous waste management. Waste Management & Minimisation Plan (2012) in Auckland makes the polluter pay for unsorted household wastes, encouraging recycling as much as possible. This principle has cut down on wastes sent to landfills.
New Zealand: Environmental Issues, Policies and Clean Technology
New Zealand has been described as "ripe" for a cleantech revolution by the WWF. Image credit: Dave Greenburg / Shutterstock.com.
With 30 different companies working on New Zealand's geothermal sector, this is a very promising industry for the country. Image credit: Chris Pole / Shutterstock.com.
A Clean Future?
As a relatively isolated and agriculture-based society, New Zealand doesn’t have many factors pushing it toward the adoption of clean policies and technology, unlike China or other heavily-industrialized nations. ,. In addition to New Zealand’s role as a unique biodiversity hotspot, farming presents its own ecological challenges. However, it is emerging as a global leader in recovering species and fighting pests. The government aims to eradicate all possums, rats and stoats by 2050. This helps in the population status of the indigenous species.
Though New Zealand had the highest share of R&D budget to the environment in 2015, its revenue from environmentally related taxes, in 2016, is among the lowest.
Critics have said the country doesn’t seem to be particularly alarmed about the present state of its soil or water, leading to a lack of leadership on these issues. According to New Zealand Ecologic Foundation, a conservation research and consultancy firm, restoring New Zealand’s waterways could take “hundreds of years” at the current rate of progress.
However, New Zealand is socially and politically on the forefront of international climate issues, as illustrated by its adoption of a progressive carbon-trading scheme. The country is also making signs it wants to boost its start-up ecosystem – particularly when it comes to clean technology. Environment and climate-related technologies are improving. New Zealand is a world leader in research on reducing environmental impact of agriculture. It has a well-developed and skilled eco-innovation system.
The 2014 WWF report said New Zealand is ripe for a cleantech revolution and noted countries that put “significant resources into supporting cleantech innovation are rewarded with more emerging and commercialized cleantech companies.”
In 2016, the government has taken measures aimed “to help New Zealand green its economy and improve its environmental governance and management, with particular emphasis on water resources management and sustainable urban development”. New Zealand is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. The 2017 OECD Environmental Performance Reviews state that New Zealand is among the most energy-intensive economies.
New Zealand’s reputation as a ‘green’ country, both as a tourist destination and as a producer of natural and safe foods, needs to be upheld.
Sources and Further Reading
This article was updated on the 24th July, 2018.