This year I have attended two open forums that have stirred me to consider the life style changes that we, as individuals, will face over the next ten or thirteen years. I say thirteen, not because it is a random or ominous number, but because 2030 has become somewhat of a deadline year for many reasons. I say ‘lifestyle’, but the same changes will also arise in the way we do business across the region, country and the globe. At least that’s what the scientists, world leaders and policy makers are telling us.
I refer to the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which the NZ government has signed up to as well as New Zealand’s pledge under the Paris Agreement, to reduce emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels, also by 2030.
Do we as a region look like we care? And, why should we? How will it benefit the economy of the region and us as individuals to start making changes now instead of inevitably having them forced on us?
At the Sustainable Farming Fund gathering held in Lincoln a couple of months ago delegates were asked for a show of hands in terms of how many owned electric vehicles. Zero hands were raised, although one courageous farmer confessed to having an electric bike.
We were then asked, “what will it take and how long will it take for you to change?’ – because in 10 years’ time we won’t be having this conversation, you will own one.” Those in my age group will have learned this lesson from the past. We reflect back with humour on our reaction to Bill Gates’ big audacious vision (in 1978), that there would be a computer in every home by 2008 – yea, right.
Whatever our personal opinions or political persuasions are regarding climate change, we can hardly ignore the national strategies and global agreements in place. We do contribute to the national GDP after all and presumably we would quite like to contribute more. At the other end of the equation our major regional employers are already aware that they need to reconsider their energy processes because their largest markets demand it of them. That’s the economic reality.
It’s not going to be easy for our farmers especially but it’s a process that is already being tackled by the sector at large in terms of being able to deliver a premium product to overseas markets.
“This is probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves, which is to intentionally transform the economic development model, for the first time in human history,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC (the UN body overseeing the process of attaining a global treaty on climate change).
My second memorable forum attendance was down in Invercargill at the evaluation of the ‘Wood Fuels South’ project.
In 2014 the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) partnered with Venture Southland to deliver the Wood Energy South project in the Southland region. The project aimed to lower energy-related carbon emissions in Southland, improve air quality and demonstrate the cost and life cycle benefits of wood-chip and wood-pellet fueled boilers utilising local waste wood. It also provided local employment capacity building and business opportunities. And it wasn’t easy. The commercial benefits have proved to be positive and the investment story is a good one, not just for the wood suppliers but also for all the individual businesses, schools, and council amenities that took part.
I am not necessarily advocating that we do exactly the same project here but I learned a lot about the change process that had to be managed well in order to ensure long term sustainable benefits.
The Southland region also got to showcase the ability of both public and private sectors to have courage and work together on a regional project for the benefit of all. You can’t underestimate how attractive that is to potential investors.
As one of NZ’s regions that has a long tradition of mining and a lot invested in dairy farming the challenge ahead may look doubly hard for the West Coast. But is it?
There are several things in the region’s favour.
We are a pretty good looking little region and our landscape, our mountains and rainforests represent all that is best about New Zealand in the world’s eyes. We have the newly launched and award winning regional brand, Untamed Wilderness, that encapsulates our place and sells it so well. We already have the things that most of the world is running out of; space, water and clean(ish) air.
The recently announced funding for the NZ Institute for Minerals to Materials Research (NZIMMR) to be established here in the near future will have as one of its focuses, “using innovative research and manufacturing techniques to convert minerals into higher-value products” - presumably in an environmentally suitable and sustainable way. So the region is poised to lead the way in this sector. And if we are going to continue to extract coal for the purposes of adding value to it, well I presume we will need to use something else for process heat.
Meantime there are still plans in progress for a renewable energy plant for the Buller district and I am aware of the developing local interest in biomass planting as a way of diversifying land use.
Research into protecting the region against the impact of future events is underway and includes a government funded project focusing on the development of an electricity distribution resilience framework for the West Coast. More renewable hydro energy projects are in the pipeline. Climate change will perhaps not be as calamitous for our region as it will for others, we can cope with a bit more rain can’t we?
In terms of profiling our region to the world outside our borders it will be of benefit to have a collective and clear vision, especially one that can define a new competitive advantage. The recently launched West Coast Economic Action Plan is just the beginning.
I am not sharing this view as part of some personal green agenda. My job is to consider future opportunities for business growth and investment. We can’t just be offering cheap coal in an effort to bring new people, businesses and industry to the region. Those days are gone. We need a new story. If we bundle up all the new development activities happening in the region and planned for the near future we could sell an environmentally viable story and lead the way.
Economic development will always be about change. Understanding the changes that need to be made and the value proposition that those changes will bring with them in the long term will be an important process. Telling the story about how we as a region got on with it will be a big bonus.
So, when will I buy my electric car? When I can wander down the road to the NZIMMR and be assured by the scientists that the required componentry has been extracted in an environmentally favourable way. Also, I will be needing it to be driverless, so I can get on with knitting my knee rug while on the way to my appointment at the new WC Hospital to discuss my new locally made titanium hip replacement. Trust me, it’s in the very near future.
DWC’s Research & Innovation Manager Helen Wilson and Business Service Manager Fiona Hill.