This past Thursday the New Zealand government announced that it won’t be granting any new permits for off-shore oil drilling operations. The ban on offshore oil exploration was announced by New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
The offshore oil ban will only apply to new permits, so it won’t impact the operations of 22 currently existing oil exploration projects. These 22 oil programs cover a region of about 100,000 square kilometers in total, and some of them have decades left on their current permits.
Towards A Carbon Neutral Future In New Zealand
The decision to ban future offshore oil drilling operations comes as part of a commitment to a carbon-neutral future, according to Prime Minister Ardern. Ardern says that New Zealand’s government has a plan to transition away from oil and towards carbon neutrality over the next 30 years. Ardern says that because major transitions like this take so long, New Zealand has to start transitioning now, or else it risks acting too late to combat climate change.
Ardern’s labor coalition government was elected in 2017, and one of its major agendas was tackling the problem of global climate change. It was for this reason that the government committed to generating all of its electricity from renewable resources by the year 2030 and to achieving complete carbon neutrality by 2030.
Said Ardern about the decision:
We’re striking the right balance for New Zealand — we’re protecting existing industry, and protecting future generations from climate change.
While Ardern’s government has made general commitments to pursuing renewable resources and cutting emissions of greenhouse gases, the specific decision to ban offshore drilling was probably motivated by a Greenpeace petition which gained 50,000 signatures and asked that a ban be placed on offshore oil drilling.
Greenpeace New Zealand’s executive director Russel Norman said that the announcement has international significance, effectively declaring the “fourth largest exclusive economic zone” off limits. Norman said that New Zealand has stood up to “one of the most powerful industries in the world.”
Reactions To The Ban
New Zealand’s Forest and Bird conservation association referred to the ban as a massive step in the right direction, protecting wildlife and pushing back against the oil industry’s influence. Kevin Hague, the conservation group’s chief executive, explained that around half of the dolphin or whale species in the entire world can be found in or around New Zealand waters, including animals that are critically endangered. like Maui’s dolphin. Hague says that the decision to ban new permits helps protect sea creatures from oil spills.
Not everyone was happy with the recent announcement, however, as the opposition party in New Zealand called the ban “economic vandalism”, saying that it would lead to the demise of an entire industry. PEPANZ, a petroleum company based in New Zealand, said that the ban would effectively “do nothing” to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. Time will tell how effective the ban will be at curbing emissions.
Ardern voiced her surprise that many members of the petroleum industry had not seen the change coming, stating that when the Labour government had met with representatives from the oil and gas sectors, they had been very clear about their intent to begin transitioning away from fossil fuel reliance. Ardern says she’s proud of the members of her government for being able to face up to inevitable events and plan for the future. A spokesperson from New Zealand’s Regional Development department recently tried to reassure those worried about the transition, saying nobody would wake up tomorrow and discover they didn’t have a job in the oil sector.
Expansion Of The Renewable Energy Sector
While New Zealand’s ban on offshore oil exploration is notable because of their status as a oil and gas producer, other countries like Costa Rica, France, and Belize will also be placing their own bans and restrictions on oil production/exploration. France is aiming to ban the production/exploration of both oil and natural gas by 2040, Costa Rica recently extended its ban on the extraction and exploration of oil until 2021, and earlier this year Belize announced legislation that would effectively put an end to all oil production/exploration in its waters.
New Zealand’s decision to ban oil may inspire yet more countries to follow suit and make firm commitments to renewable energy over fossil fuels. New Zealand has invested heavily in renewable energy infrastructure over the past few years, with a goal of hitting 90% renewable electricity generation by 2025.
New Zealand is far from the only company making heavy investments into renewable energy technology. Countries around the world are investing in various forms of renewable energy, with solar power technology leading the way. Last year solar power technology attracted more investments than any other technology, securing 161 billion dollars in investments over the course of 2017. Even oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia have begun planning extensive solar power projects.
Countries like Germany, China, Japan, Italy, and the United States all have rapidly growing solar power sectors. Yet out of all of these countries, China seems to be investing the most heavily in solar power, as for every dollar that the United States invested in renewable resources last year, China invested three dollars. China is aiming to be the “renewable energy superpower” of the world in a few decades, and while they currently have a long way to go (it’s currently aiming to get 20% of its energy from renewable resources by 2030), the country has made massive strides over the past decade.
This has led some US officials to argue that renewable energy needs greater support if the US doesn’t want to be left behind. Amy Myers Jaffe, Director of the Council on Foreign Relations program on Energy Security and Climate Change, argues that if the US continues to focus solely on fossil fuels it gambles with its dominance of the global energy market.
Investment in renewable energy technology, solar power especially, continue to grow. An analysis done by the Bloomberg New Energy Finance group says that despite a slight drop in investment compared to this time last year, solar power is expected to break even more records during the rest of 2018.