15 Nov 2009

NZ clean green image lambasted

5:30 am on 15 November 2009

A British journalist says New Zealand should be embarrassed by its environmental performance.

In his online column on Britain's Guardian website, Fred Pearce says New Zealand trades on its natural beauty but has increased greenhouse gas emissions by 22% since committing to reduce them under the Kyoto Protocol.

Because of this, he says his prize for the most shameless two-fingered gesture to the global community goes to New Zealand.

Mr Pearce told Radio New Zealand the New Zealand Government recognises there is a problem and a survey it conducted indicated that tourism is likely to be harmed by a change to the country's image.

"The Government recognises that its green image is a precious asset and something which it needs to defend. What I hope is that it will defend this by taking real steps to cut carbon emissions, rather than engaging in more PR, if you like."

Mr Pearce says with some of the highest emissions of carbon dioxide of any country in the world per head of population, New Zealand is no friend to the environment.

He believes fuel burning is the real problem.

Criticism a reality check - minister

Climate Change Minister Nick Smith describes the criticism as a reality check and admits there has been a huge gap between the rhetoric of being a world leader in mitigating climate change and emissions growing at one of the fastest rates in the world.

The rhetoric has been toned down and New Zealand will do its fair share to reduce emissions, he says.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says New Zealand's clean, green image is at risk if the country does not pull its weight.

"We've told the world that we're clean and green and I think it's a great brand to have, but we've got to make the reality match it. When the reality's out of sync, then we run into economic problems because it will undermine our branding."

He believes emissions can be reduced if the Government stops going on a motorway building binge and opts for more public transport.

However, an academic believes the criticism of New Zealand's environmental performance is not expected to hurt tourism or agriculture exports.

Jonathan Boston, a professor of public policy at Victoria University, says one article in the Guardian is not likely to have a damaging affect on the country's reputation.

"What is more damaging is that if we fail to live up to the claims that we're making about the quality of our environment and the way we seek to protect it, we either have to drop the claims or clean up the environment."