Visionweek NZ 2020 – day three

Visionweek NZ 2020 - day three

Sustaining NZ

The COVID-19 response demonstrated New Zealand’s leadership. Our leaders looked at the science and took early and decisive action to address the threat. We need to extend this approach to address other sustainability threats and opportunities that we face. That was the overarching message that we took from Wednesday’s Vision Week webinar entitled “Sustaining NZ”.

The initial COVID-19 recovery investment needed to be quick and relatively coarse – there simply wasn’t time to do otherwise. Subsequent waves of investment can and need to be more considered and nuanced. By applying a sustainability lens to our COVID-19 recovery actions we can ensure the very substantial investment being made is truly no regrets, maximises the benefits for future generations (from whom we are borrowing) and avoid locking us into costly or unsustainable pathways.

The speakers highlighted that while climate change is less dire in the short term, the long-term consequences are severe. Like COVID-19, the science is sufficiently clear, and the benefits sufficiently obvious, that early action is warranted. We need to address both emissions and adaptation to the effects, such as rising sea levels, more severe weather events (floods, droughts, wind) and bio-security threats. Failure to act will only increase the long term economic, social and environmental costs.

The opportunities for improving sustainability apply across the board, including infrastructure (three waters, transport, energy) as well as natural based systems such as agriculture and tourism were all spoken about. The point was made that businesses that embrace sustainability tend to be more profitable, in part because they are more forward looking and better prepared to take up opportunities.

A strategic approach is needed. Some investment decisions are easy and obvious – such as home insulation that delivers multiple benefits to the nation as well as home occupants. In some cases, wise investment may mean delaying large long-term investment decisions to ensure we are not locking ourselves into short-term fixes that we have worse outcomes in the longer term (Dr Carr gave the replacement on the Cook Straight ferries as an example).

Several speakers highlighted that changes are already starting and the need to stay ahead of the pack. Kirsti Luke and Tāmiti Kruger gave an example of looking at overseas technology and applying it locally. Similarly, Ian Proudfoot and Alan Sutherland emphasised the need to learn from others. NZ is blessed with resources and opportunities. We need to get creative, use local knowledge and innovation but also draw from overseas experiences and expertise to inspire and stretch our imagination and creativity. This cannot be left to Government, businesses are critical to this.

Much of the discussion was related to managing risk. This includes ensuring our investments are ‘no regret’ options.  It also means addressing issues such as the vulnerability of our supply chains highlighted during COVID-19, as mentioned by Alison Andrews. Being prepared for, and resilient to, low probability but high consequence events, such as pandemics, are part of being sustainable.

Leadership, consensus and a long-term approach is needed. The role of iwi in providing a long-term perspective was noted, as was the need to avoid the short-termism of the three year election cycle. Our sustainable future can be built on the shared values and vision that allowed us to lead the world in our COVID-19 response.

For us the speakers highlighted the tight coupling between resilience and sustainability.  To be sustainable and meet the challenges of climate change we need to be resilient to disruption, as well as be adaptable to a changing world.  We need to be inclusive, innovative, open to opportunity, flexible, and we need to move together towards a clear and common goal.

Go to #visionweekNZ to see details of the speakers and to listen to webinar.