By Pattrick Smellie
Nov 14 (BusinessDesk) - New Zealand's plantation forestry estate represents a major opportunity for New Zealand to become more self-sufficient in transport fuels, says the latest report from the Pure Advantage business lobby group seeking support for a "green growth" push in New Zealand.
However, a "crisis of faith" in the forestry industry could stymie the newly emerging potential of forestry - a sector that has long confounded attempts to add value beyond the export of raw logs, mainly to Asian markets.
Pure Advantage trust chairman Rob Morrison told BusinessDesk the fragile state of the forestry industry is a major issue for realising the largest economic opportunity identified by a study conducted by London economic consultancy Vivid Economics and the Business School at the University of Auckland.
"One of the concerns is faith in the forestry industry," he said. "There are question marks about the forestry industry's capacity to deliver" as a result of stop-start government policies towards forest planting in the last decade.
The report identifies seven areas for action, some of which are partially under way, including mass home insulation and an upgrade to electricity networks to enable energy efficient "smart grids."
The initiative is intended as a catalyst for investment in science and new businesses capable of producing economic growth that also combats climate change.
Its sponsorship by industry figures associated with the Labour Party, including its brainchild Philip Mills of the Les Mills gym franchise, saw the initiative spurned by Ministers as special pleading and subsidy-seeking.
The report from the London-based economic consultancy Vivid Economics and The University of Auckland Business School identifies the opportunity to "create a smart, productive, sustainable forestry industry" among seven big opportunities.
* retrofitting homes for energy efficiency and warmth to create a healthy environment: under way owing to existing initiatives by both Labour and National-led governments. Some 750,000 homes to go, the report says;
* turning geothermal expertise owned by MightyRiverPower and NZX-listed Contact Energy into a globally valuable resource, as heat from the Earth becomes understood as an electricity generation source. New Zealand is a world leader in geothermal energy;
* investing in sustainable agriculture and efficient agricultural technologies, simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making farming more profitable;
* using waste heat and burning waste products to produce low-carbon energy;
* installing a national "smart grid" allowing real-time energy pricing and digital technology to connect. Under way;
* establishing a bio-fuels industry based on woody biomass;
* investing in New Zealand's ecological diversity to create high value eco-tourism and conservation education programmes.
Morrison said "green growth … is the only growth that allows humanity to develop and flourish, reduce poverty and achieve development goals while at the same time protecting natural capital, such as climate stability, without which growth and development will be retarded or reversed."
Pure Advantage sponsors include Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe and Chris Liddell, an expatriate key advisor to the failed US presidential candidate Mitt Romney and a former Carter Holt, Microsoft and General Motors senior manager.
Warehouse founder Stephen Tindall, merino-wear impresario Jeremy Moon of Icebreaker, and Joan Withers, chair of the boards at Auckland International Airport and MightyRiverPower, the state-owned electricity company, are also involved.
Led by Rob Morrison, the investment banker brother of the late Infratil founder Lloyd Morrison, Pure Advantage will now seek senior corporate sponsors to build business cases for action, independent of government involvement, in the seven identified areas.
Among those slated for involvement in the bio-fuels initiative are understood to be science and bio-tech darlings, Auckland-based Lanzatech, the New Zealand-owned transport fuels company, Z Energy, and Scion, the government-owned forestry science research body.
Both Labour and National-led governments have sponsored efforts for more than a decade to secure a special place for New Zealand's plantation forestry as a legitimate way of storing carbon under global carbon market rules.
One of the few wins noted in last December's talks in Durban was New Zealand's successful campaign creating more value for owners of plantation forestry, if and when global carbon prices rise from current low points.
"None of it's greenfields," said Morrison of the report. "It's not about new technologies or silver bullets. It's about what we are currently doing and trying to improve it. Much of it's common sense."