Monday, September 26, 2005

Energy: more support for the green path

The Business Council for Sustainable Development has released a report on A Sustainable Energy Future for New Zealand by 2050 [PDF], which explores our options for the future. It covers much of the same ground as the recent report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, but uses a two-axis analysis and so sees four scenarios rather than two. Unfortunately, one of these axes - economic growth - is redundant; no government will choose the "low economic growth" scenarios, and so we are left with the familiar dichotomy: a choice between a "green" future, where we innovate to reduce demand and find more efficient solutions, and a "brown" one, where we keep on doing exactly what we're doing, and turn to dirtier and dirtier technologies to meet the energy cost of stupidity.

The key point emerging from these reports is that, contrary to the fears of the business community, we do not have to be Luddites in order to be sustainable. Instead, sustainability is all about grasping the opportunities for cleaner technology - opportunities which are clearly in reach. It's about using more technology, not less, and it presents significant opportunities for companies who want to innovate and exploit new markets. Clearly this is anathema to a business community who, while avowing capitalism and praising risk-taking, seem to see policy change rather than entrepreneurship as the key to profitability.

Another key point is the need to plan. Energy infrastrucutre lasts a long time, and if we want business to make the right investment decisions and avoid working at cross-purposes to government policy, we need to signal a clear direction. Labour seems to have grasped this point, promising to develop a National Energy Strategy outlining its goals and how we can get there from here. Meanwhile, National is still wanting to leave everything to the market - an approach which virtually guarantees that we lurch from crisis to crisis, get the cheapest, dirtiest solutions, and have the market working at cross-purposes to our other policy goals.

The BCSD makes a number of solid policy proposals: continued encouragement for renewables development and energy conservation, recycling of carbon-tax revenue into R&D and uptake of cleaner technologies, and pushing the transition to cleaner vehicles. However, they also have the traditional business hostility to the RMA, arguing that "parochial" and "nimby" concerns "should be considered in the context of national interest" and that uptake of improved technologies "should not be delayed by the consenting process". In English, this means a return to the style of Muldoon's National Development Act so that development can be foisted upon communities which do not want it. For those with short memories, the abuses of that system are exactly why we now insist on community consultation and local decisionmaking under the RMA.