Today, New Zealand is one of the most environmentally friendly countries in the world. This is not only due to the very low population density and the predominantly agricultural-oriented economy, but also to the fact that the operation of thermal power plants is severely restricted by legislation aimed at protecting the environment. The country also has no nuclear power plants, and the New Zealand government has approved a program for the country to switch completely to green energy by 2050.
As a geographically isolated country of 5.1 million people, New Zealand does not play a significant role in world geopolitical processes. This is why the authorities of this affluent and economically advanced state have the time and resources to care for the environment and to engage with other states on climate change issues. Also a big part of Wellington’s policy is the government’s desire to be minimally dependent on energy supplies from other countries.
The New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS), adopted by the New Zealand government in 2008, is a regulatory instrument that aims to stimulate environmental improvements in the country. However, the state’s main economic sector – agriculture – has so far been exempted from the provisions of the ETS. This can be attributed to the fact that an increased tax burden will have a negative impact on the competitiveness of New Zealand agricultural products.
The New Zealand government has taken various measures to preserve the biological balance in recognition of the unique flora and fauna of its country (New Zealand’s relict forests are home to some of the oldest plants on Earth). The main thrust of this policy is to try to involve members of the public in the process of protecting the environment. The government encourages the activities of nature conservation foundations, and members of the Green Party are present in both the state parliament and regional legislatures, demonstrating that citizens of the country care about the plight of wildlife.
The result of years of effort by New Zealand’s government is that more than 80% of electricity is generated from renewable, i.e. environmentally friendly, resources. Year by year, solar panels are gaining popularity in the state and are increasingly found on the roofs of houses and industrial buildings. About 30 commercial organizations specializing in geothermal energy are operating in New Zealand. It is also worth noting that, thanks to the government’s 2016 program to increase the electric vehicle fleet, the percentage of electric vehicle sales in the country’s total car market has increased from 0.5% in 2016 to 5.5% in 2021.
To increase the efficiency of the transition to renewable energy sources – such as sunlight, wind, water and others – the New Zealand government is reaching out to other countries that, like New Zealand, do not have their own energy resources and are at risk of facing an energy crisis.
On April 20, 2022, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrived in the Japanese capital Tokyo on an official visit. During talks with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the New Zealand leader discussed trade and economic relations between the two countries, and also touched in earnest on the most pressing aspects of energy cooperation.
At the end of the meeting, the two countries agreed to develop cooperation in improving clean technologies, exploiting geothermal energy, the gradual transition to electric transport and the production of hydrogen.
Ardern said New Zealand would invest an additional $5.8 million to develop joint research and advanced development projects with Japan that would enable much greater use of renewable energy. The New Zealand Prime Minister also expressed the hope that the Japanese side would assist in the development of clean energy technologies to the best of its ability.
The leaders of Japan and New Zealand recognized the need to step up efforts to tackle global climate change, and pledged to work together on the transition to clean energy sources.
The New Zealand authorities’ concern for the environmental safety of their country has led to some confrontation with the United States, whose nuclear vessels frequently call at ports of states friendly to Washington’s policies.
Back in 1985, New Zealand banned ships with nuclear propulsion systems as well as nuclear weapons from entering its territorial waters. In 1987, New Zealand legally enshrined the non-nuclear status of its territory, airspace and territorial waters.
The country’s nuclear-weapon-free status has made it impossible for US ships to call at New Zealand ports. The result of this adamant decision by the New Zealand leadership was the suspension of Wellington’s participation in the Pacific Security Treaty of 1951 (ANZUS), which includes the US and Australia. US representatives often make statements that New Zealand should reconsider its nuclear-free policy, but the New Zealand authorities continue to defend their position. All major parties in the country are in favor of maintaining nuclear-weapon-free status.
It is the total ban on nuclear vessels that has denied New Zealand the opportunity to become a member of a new military alliance, AUKUS, established in 2021 and consisting of Australia, the UK and the US, to counter China’s growing influence in the Pacific. New Zealand politicians, however, have expressed no regrets about this. This demonstrates that Wellington’s plans do not include a global confrontation with Beijing, and that environmental security is New Zealand’s first priority.
New Zealand’s desire to switch to renewable energy as soon as possible can be attributed to the fact that Wellington does not want to depend on its energy suppliers, particularly Australia and the US. In 2008, New Zealand became the first Western Bloc country to sign a free trade agreement with China, and in 2017 it joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Undoubtedly, amid growing tensions between Washington and Beijing, the US leadership will sooner or later require Wellington to choose one of the opposing sides. To mitigate this choice, New Zealand is trying to become as energy self-sufficient as possible.
Dmitry Bokarev, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.