“Gifted, but often led astray.” That’s the crux of New Zealand’s latest environmental report card from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
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The review highlights the country’s environmental advantages, including comparatively good air quality, renewable energy sources that provide 80% of our electricity, and access to pristine wilderness.
But it also concludes New Zealand’s approach to economic growth, based largely on the exploitation of natural resources, is “starting to show its environmental limits”.
The review points out gross greenhouse gas emissions increased between 2000 and 2014 whereas the OECD, as a whole, decreased emissions. New Zealand’s emissions per capita and per unit of GDP are in the top five of 35 member states.
Nearly half (49%) of our emissions come from agriculture, the highest share in the OECD. We are also one of the worst emitters (per capita) of road transport-related nitrogen oxides, attributed to high levels of car ownership coupled with an ageing fleet.
Deteriorating water quality in some regions is also singled out. “Growth in intensive dairy production has increased the level of nitrogen in soil, surface and groundwater,” it says. Half of monitored river sites are now at risk of algal blooms.
Among its 50 recommendations, the review suggests extending or introducing taxes in transport and waste management. It notes New Zealand’s revenue from environment-related taxes ranks near the bottom of the OECD.