Open Letter Covid19: Calling For A Sustainable Economic Re-set
~ Open Letter from 'The Sustainable Reset Collective' ~
(Update March 2021: Click HERE for the link to the updated written submission delivered to the Finance and Expenditure Committee)
Dear Prime Minister, Ministers, MPs and Local Government,
In this time of chaos and uncertainty we must be honest with ourselves about the world at our doorstep, about what we are up against, and the opportunity we have been presented on the back of the terrible crisis that is COVID19.
We now know we can change systems in a matter of days. We know we are in the midst of a reset. We know that New Zealand is being admired on the world stage for its direct COVID19 response.
The Government has signalled the beginnings of a recession and that we must spend to get our way out. But do we have sustainable guiding principles for this spend?
We have come together to urge the Government to spur sustainable possibility into reality during this economic reset.
With opinions from contributing experts, this letter demonstrates that by combining Mātauranga Māori, technology and systems already in existence we can:
- Build a strong, resilient economy
- Begin living our international reputation as a green country
- Respect Papatūānuku and her biophysical limits
- Foster inclusive, true wellbeing for our people and the generations to come.
Doing so will result in a New Zealand with a strong, resilient, local economy that is truly sustainable and regenerative.
A country that prioritises all our people and our planet.
A country that respects that we are one with nature, not above.
This is action that science, and legally binding international agreements, require us to urgently take. What this could look like in practice is outlined in the following Key Areas provided by respective industry experts:
Melanie Mark-Shadbolt: Kaihautū, Chief Māori Advisor at MfE, CEO at Te Tira Whakamātaki Foundation
The video ‘Papatūānuku is Breathing’, produced by Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) and narrated by 11-year-old Manawanui Maniapoto has gone viral around the globe and been translated into both French and Spanish. Its simple message about people stopping to allow nature to rest leans heavily on the connection between man and land, and the stress or impact that can occur when a shift between the two occurs. This concept of interconnections between the environment and people, a co-existence reliant on ‘balance’ is a worldview familiar to indigenous peoples the world over, and embedded in our knowledge and our environmental practices. During the Covid19 response we have talked openly about the rāhui we are all participating in. Rāhui is a form of Māori management utilised by rangatira (leaders) to modify and restrict human behaviour and activity, for the purpose of protecting people and taonga (those things that are treasured), and thus allowing nature to re-establish balance and return to its natural or desired state. In the Covid19 recovery, in a country that exalts and promotes its bicultural roots with Māori, we ask that agencies not forget their Treaty partner whose culture, knowledge and environmental management practices (like rāhui), contain embedded and codified solutions and tools designed for these lands.
So as we reimagine our new world post Covid19, let us imagine one where we tread lightly on Papatūānuku, and we take her needs into consideration in all of our decision-making and investment. Let us lean on what is uniquely us, our remarkable response to Covid19, our beautiful landscapes and international brand of 4.7 million nature lovers, and our Māori culture. Let that guide our investment into the production of sustainable premium products. Investment in the inclusion of mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) across all sectors of the Covid19 recovery, would ensure decision-makers have access to other ideas and ways of thinking, and ensure they don’t support activities that harm the environment or people. Let us remember to bring all people, not some people, along in this recovery. We can support the Māori economy to invest in our lands and in our people, and not be tempted to ignore it in favour of offshore investors with little love for, or understanding of, Papatūānuku.
We have found solutions to plant diseases like Kauri Dieback and alternatives to 1080 in the knowledge our tohunga (experts, healers) hold of our indigenous plants and their chemical make-up. As our kaitiaki implore the government to fund them to be the eyes and hands of Papatūānuku, and as our stories from previous natural disasters and pandemics offer us ideas on how best to recover. We ask for solutions that; restore the balance between people and nature; force economic investment not only within the physical limits of our ecosystems, but also within the cultural limits of the Māori worldview; and are inclusive of all peoples and knowledges be supported. For they offer us unique solutions to ensure our recovery is productive, sustainable, inclusive and world-leading.
- Māori leaders are calling for investment in the employment of Māori to perform their duties as kaitiaki of their lands and waters, including undertaking tasks such as pest management, biosecurity surveillance, water quality monitoring, and restoration of our environmental systems.
- To ensure our whānau are supported to be healthy, warm and disease free, Māori desperately need investment in healthy homes; homes that are warm, have access to clean water, are energy efficient etc.
- To ensure we are not further degrading Papatūānuku, Māori have asked for investment in waste infrastructure, especially plastic recycling.
- Protecting the Māori economy and Māori investments is as important as protecting national airlines and large construction companies.
David Tong, Senior Campaigner for Oil Change International
The global energy economy is in turmoil. We are witnessing an unmanaged decline in oil production, with catastrophic impacts on working people, communities, and some countries. Big Oil and Gas companies are laying off workers, abandoning polluting wells and infrastructure, and aggressively pushing for government support. In 2017, Aotearoa's government took the first step in managing the oil and gas industry's decline by banning new offshore fossil fuel exploration and committing to a just transition process.
Even the International Energy Agency has argued that countries must place clean, renewable energy at the heart of stimulus packages, despite still not having modelled an energy scenario that reflects the 1.5ºC ambition of the Paris Agreement, and indeed of Aotearoa’s Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019.
In this rapidly transforming energy economy, Aotearoa is well placed to carve a path that other countries will follow. Our high baseline renewable electricity generation and existing ban on new offshore oil and gas exploration mean we are well positioned to manage the decline of oil and gas, building on existing and developing just transition strategies and initiatives.
We must not invest stimulus funds in fossil fuel intense projects that will be at odds with our existing and anticipated climate targets, or bail out emissions intense businesses without strong conditions tied to our climate and energy ambitions. On 7 April 2020, the Chair of the Climate Change Commission, Rod Carr, wrote to ministers outlining six principles for recovery and stimulus. We urge you to consider and apply these principles in your decisions: accelerate don’t stall climate action; bring forward transformational climate investments; prepare our workforce for future jobs; uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi; continue fixing the emissions trading scheme; and measure success beyond just GDP.
• In the immediate term, we encourage you to enhance finance and support for home insulation and heat pumps. This provides an immediate benefit to New Zealanders, particularly as over 600,000 homes are still under insulated. International examples suggest that investment in insulation and energy efficiency creates more jobs than investment in new generation or fossil fuel extraction.
• Removing regulatory barriers to community solar and wind projects will allow a number of shovel-ready electricity generation projects across the country to begin work rapidly, and could allow for a more equitable, resilient electricity system. Issuing a National Environmental Standard for community wind generation would allow many communities to rapidly begin work on building local clean energy projects. This can be further encouraged by providing zero-interest or low-cost loans for household solar and batteries.
• Beyond that, we encourage you to stay true to the government’s ambition of securing 100% renewable electricity by 2035, while recognising that the ultimate target is achieving 100% clean, renewable energy – not just electricity. As the Interim Climate Change Committee showed, New Zealand can achieve significant decarbonisation through accelerating electrification across industrial and transport sectors. This will require a visionary investment in electricity generation – and there is strong evidence that renewable electricity investment creates more jobs than investment in fossil fuels.
Dr Mike Joy, Freshwater Ecologist and Science Communicator, Victoria University
New Zealand faces multiple urgent ecosystem, animal and human health crises arising from the intensification of agriculture and horticulture. This agricultural model is disastrous, dependent on fossil fuel derived fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides all leaching out to the environment where they build-up and harm our freshwaters and soils. The harmful model is driven by short-term profit seeking and happened because successive governments did not put a charge on their destructive externalities. This failure means that New Zealanders are effectively subsidising harm by passing costs onto future generations in the form of polluted freshwaters and degraded soils. Not including negative externalities has given many a warped view of the economic value of farming and thus they fail to see that intensive farming systems are not economically or ethically viable.
Emerging now is a viable and exciting regenerative solution for sustainable food and fibre production not dependent on fossil fuels. Based on ecological principles, regenerative farming systems mimic natural ecosystems, so that they restore rather than degrade the land and freshwaters over time. They are complex and interconnected as opposed to linear siloed approach we have currently and are inherently resilient economically and ecologically. This pandemic is the warning we needed to shake us out of our unsustainable mechanistic model of food and fibre production. We must now usher in a new regenerative system that is healthy for us, our animals and ecosystems. This is what it could look like:
• No more Taranaki gas wasted making urea fertiliser, instead nitrogen can be fixed by clover in pastures and give us healthy soils
• The transition to high value clean food will mean no more coal fired milk driers.
• The new chemical free diverse farming systems are healthy, beautiful, rewarding places to work so New Zealanders will again want to be working on the land, and we will no longer need to bring in large numbers of desperate people from poorer countries as farm workers.
Dr Paul Callister, Economic and Social Research
After agriculture, domestic based transport is the largest contributor to New Zealand’s greenhouse emissions, estimated at about 20%. These emissions have been growing steady since 1990, with just released data showing a 90% increase to 2018. Road transport, notably cars and light trucks, are by far the largest contributor. Not counted are international shipping and aviation. Between 1990 and 2018, international aviation emissions grew by nearly 200%.
Decarbonisation of transport needs to be led by strategies within urban areas. This will include substantially reducing car use, increasing the provision fast and reliable public transport, including the use of electric buses and taxis, and substantially expanding walkways and cycleways. Electric cars, electric bikes and electric scooters will all play their part. Better urban design, such as seen in cities such as Ghent, will assist this transition.
Decarbonisation of regional passenger travel will be led by a revitalisation of the regional train and regional bus network, led by rapid rail between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga, and bringing back a night train between Auckland and Wellington.
Decarbonisation of heavy road transport will be achieved primarily through a combination of shifting freight to rail and powering trucks and other heavy vehicles such as long distance coaches by either electricity or ‘green’ hydrogen.
The production of sustainable alternative liquid fuels, such as biodiesel and synthetic jet fuel produced from waste, will also play a small part. A much higher carbon price will help prompt this shift.
This is what transport could look like
• ‘Nova Zeelandia’ will be the Holland of the South where biking is the norm not the exception.
• Smart buses and other forms of public transport make personal car ownership unnecessary for much of the population.
• Children walk or bike to school in safe neighbourhoods.
• Most travel from Auckland to Hamilton is by fast train taking just one hour.
Hannah Blumhardt, Zero Waste Specialist, The Rubbish Trip
The waste a society produces is a symptom of its overall health and sustainability. New Zealand was already weathering a waste and recycling crisis well before COVID19 hit our shores. Despite global recognition of the need to move towards resource and energy efficient circular economies that design out waste, New Zealand’s economy remains linear. Per capita, we are one of the world’s most wasteful countries. We consume far more than we can recycle at home, even while overseas markets for recyclate are drying up. We continue to fill landfills at breakneck speed, while our legacy landfills show their vulnerability to extreme weather events and sea level rise. Our waste and recycling systems are fragmented and inconsistent, and the costs of these systems are externalised onto the environment, communities and councils, rather than internalised into the manufacturing, production and consumption phases .
The good news is that existing legislation (the Waste Minimisation Act 2008) gives us all the powers needed to create a zero waste, circular economy reset for New Zealand. However, we have to start using this legislation, and doing so correctly. This means following the waste hierarchy, which is the foundation of good waste policy. The waste hierarchy directs us to prioritise actions that prevent and reduce waste over attempts to recycle or dispose of waste. Actions at the top of the waste hierarchy not only have a bigger impact on waste reduction, but also offer the greatest greenhouse gas abatement potential .
Priority actions for the Government in the rebuild:
• Prioritise investment in systems built around reuse, including reusable packaging and sterilisation infrastructure, over recycling processors and landfills to manage throwaway packaging. These reuse systems must go all the way up the supply chain, not just focus on consumer-facing waste.
• Continue and extend the Government’s Waste Work Programme (WWP) proposals, including raising the Waste Disposal Levy and implementing regulated product stewardship schemes. Redirect all aspects of the WWP’s focus towards prioritising preventing and reducing waste and reusing resources, over recycling.
• Prevent and reduce waste through phase-outs of single-use disposable items and difficult to recycle products, such as composite materials and plastic polymer types 3, 4, 6 and 7. Instead, standardise packaging and encourage reuse systems. These measures should go all the way up the supply chain, not just focus on consumer-facing waste.
• Prevent and reduce waste through legislation and policy to encourage product redesign for modularity and repairability and greater emphasis on building the sharing economy for items such as cars, electronics, and appliances.
• Invest in decentralised composting and vermicomposting systems for both organic waste and the excess paper and cardboard waste that we cannot recycle onshore.
• Mandate consistency of waste management and recycling collections across New Zealand, including standardising accepted materials, and moving towards source-separated recyclate collections rather than commingled collections.
• Invest in massively upscaling community resource recovery centres.
• Shift the focus of the waste-related projects gaining Provincial Growth Fund attention towards local and regional reuse and resource recovery infrastructure rather than downcycling activities and waste-to-energy initiatives.
 Blumhardt, H (2018) “Trashing Waste: Unlocking the Wasted Potential of New Zealand’s Waste Minimisation Act 2008” Policy Quarterly, 14(4). Accessible at https://www.victoria.ac.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/1713615/Blumhardt.pdf.
 Ballinger, A. & Hogg, D. (2015) The Potential Contribution of Waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy (Bristol, United Kingdom: Eunomia Research and Consulting). Accessible at https://zerowasteeurope.eu/downloads/the-potential-contribution-of-waste-management-to-a-low-carbon-economy/
It’s clear from these ideas that who is at the consulting table is of utmost importance. We urge you to give sustainable solutions the weight they deserve at a time when we have the means and motivation to implement them.
Can we as a country be agile and lead by example on the world stage by accelerating out of this with a resilient, local, sustainable economy and inspire other nations to do so too?
Or will we return to the sputtering, stalling diesel work-horse knowing, someday very soon, that beast will run out of gas?
We can only write a letter. You have the responsibility of making informed decisions that are kind to both humanity and the planet for decades to come.
KIA KAHA Leaders.
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