by Eugenie Sage
A decade or two ago there was no debate in the business community over the economic strategy for New Zealand. The prevailing assumption was we must grow GDP and that any associated environmental damage was an unfortunate but sometimes necessary consequence. The ethos of “balance” which was part of the former Town and Country Planning and Water and Soil Conservation Acts was that it was okay to degrade the environment in order to grow the economy.
When the Resource Management Act (RMA) became law in 1991 it was intended to establish some environmental bottom lines. Development could occur provided the life supporting capacity of air, water, soil and ecosystems and other matters were safeguarded at the same time.
Development interests have often been able to subvert the RMA’s sustainable management principles. Armed with capable lawyers and a bevy of besuited experts, applicants successfully argue that the natural character of this stretch of coast has already been compromised so that their marine farm/coastal subdivision or other development would not reduce it further, or that the regenerating forest or other indigenous habitat that their proposal will destroy is common elsewhere so there’s no need to protect it from harm here. Death by a thousand cuts.
This decade leading and innovative businesses have woken up to climate change and the need to do better by the environment. Pure Advantage is an example of private enterprise thinkers (such as Stephen Tyndall and Rob Fyfe) who have made the conceptual leap into the new millennium. As Pure Advantage’s recent report ‘New Zealand’s Position in the Green Race’ notes, “The traditional view of economics considered environment and economy as two separate things. Today we recognise their intrinsic interdependency.” How long before National catches up and recognises this too?