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HomeSpeaker's CornerWe must be realistic and rational

We must be realistic and rational

 

It’s probably fair to say that most tourism operators in New Zealand are environmentally conscious and committed to helping maintain our country’s clean, green image.

 

Tourism is a huge part of New Zealand’s economic success and it’s growing. During September, Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis and Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford launched a new cross-agency government initiative that aims to boost private investment into New Zealand’s tourism attractions.

These global concerns about carbon emissions pose a threat to long-haul travel to New Zealand because we are so geographically distance from many of our key tourism markets. The outlook for the sector could be bleak.

And let’s be honest. Our tourism sector is a major contributor to New Zealand’s carbon footprint.

Research published in 2018 by Nature Climate Change journal found tourism’s global footprint accounts for around 8 per cent of all global greenhouse emissions.

It’s estimated that international tourists flying to New Zealand were responsible for around 3.5 million tonnes of CO2 in 2008. This year that’s expected to climb to around 6.0M tonnes.

And then there’s our national carrier, Air New Zealand, responsible for emitting 3.5m tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. That’s the equivalent of around four per cent of New Zealand's total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

International flights don't count towards a country's total emissions, so this figure understates the contribution to New Zealand’s inventory.

Of course, every nation requires some level of domestic and international air travel. New Zealand’s geographical location and reliance on tourism means it’s particularly important to our economic well-being. So, I’m not criticising our national carrier here; my intent is to help Zealanders better understand the realities and complexities of moving to a lower carbon economy.

By comparison, emissions from coal burned in New Zealand in 2017 were 3.3M tonnes. Yes, read that again! Burning coal accounts for around the same amount of emissions each year as our favourite airline.

So why is Straterra, as the representative of New Zealand’s mining sector, raising these points?

It’s simple. Responding to climate change is a complex and ever-evolving challenge. New Zealand – and the world – needs a balanced conversation and debate. Realism must overcome idealism.

Some of the world’s smartest minds are focussed on finding solutions to climate change and technology is helping us now – and will help us in the future. We all know the transition to a lower carbon economy must occur. But there’s no magical overnight fix. Our response must be both realistic and rational.

New Zealand can’t do without tourism. Nor can we survive economically without our agriculture sector, a sector that, with current technology, needs to use coal to be competitive internationally.

And the current reality is if we want to keep the lights on in our homes and factories we still need to mine or import coal – in 2018 601,000 tonnes of coal had to be imported to keep the Huntly Power Station going.

Looking at mining generally, demand for minerals is increasing and will continue to increase. Minerals are needed for electric vehicles, solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and other technology that the world increasingly needs to enable the transition to a lower carbon economy.

Straterra’s annual Minerals Forum attracted vocal and passionate protestors in Dunedin earlier this year. We supported their right to turn up and voice their feelings. We actually invited some into the Forum – mayor Dave Cull took that opportunity. We think change will be driven from demand, not supply, but we are happy to have that discussion.

Calls by activists to ban coal mining immediately in New Zealand are simplistic and naïve and, we argue, counterproductive because we’d still need to import coal to ensure the lights stay on. Fonterra still needs coal for its dairy production. NZ Steel still needs coal in order to produce steel. We can choose to ignore those realities, but the result would be blackouts, job losses and lower investment – a loss to New Zealand with no reduction in global emissions.

Some commentators, including politicians, have suggested the West Coast should move away from mining and concentrate on tourism. These activities are not mutually exclusive -mining’s footprint is tiny, wages are much higher and probably the best response to the ‘biodiversity crisis’ is to generate wealth to ‘up the ante’ on the Pest Free New Zealand campaign. One, or two, new substantial mines would come with a material contribution to this important programme – a significant new mine should not be consented without that trade-off being realised.

The world needs minerals and that means the world needs mining. This reliance on minerals is only going to increase. A recent report by the World Bank, The Growing Role of Minerals and Metals for a Low Carbon Future, predicted greater demand for many minerals as we move to a lower carbon economy.

Of course, our industry understands the global challenge to reduce emissions, and our commitments under the Paris Accord. We also understand the need to transition in a way that doesn’t simply export the problem and/or, export our jobs. This is a complex problem and simplistic calls for ‘no new mines’, or ‘stop coal mining’ will have no impact on global demand for coal, nor help achieve emission reductions internationally.

 

 

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