Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bad timing and sustainability

National's Nick Smith has opened his political year by attacking the government's record on sustainability. Unfortunately, he chose the day when we learned that New Zealand had been ranked the 7th most sustainable country in the world (and more importantly, miles ahead of Australia and the US) according to the World Economic Forum's 2008 Environmental Performance Index.

What's missing from the Herald's recycled wire story is that in 2006, we ranked first. However, the index has changed significantly since then, most notably by the inclusion of indicators on climate change. And one thing Smith got right in his speech was that our performance in that area has been less than stellar, with the continued failure to implement policy seeing emissions continuing to rise (unmentioned by Smith is his own party's role in that failure, both by foot-dragging in the 90's and its tooth-and-nail opposition to serious action over the last seven years. Even today, it steadfastly refuses to confront our major source of emissions, instead promising its farming base a free ride at taxpayer expense. but I digress...) However, on that front at least, things are looking up, and it looks like we will finally get a price on carbon within the next year, coupled with some serious regulatory measures to ban coal-fired power plants and reduce transport emissions. This still puts us well behind the European nations topping the rankings - they've had carbon taxes and vehicle emissions standards for over a decade, with a corresponding effect on their emissions - but it is at least a serious start.

The 2008 Environmental Performance Index can be found here. 2006 data is here.