Climate change shouldn't be ignored

19 Jun 2012

Forest & Bird decided last month to appeal the Environment Court’s recent decision that stops the effects of climate change from being considered under the Resource Management Act (RMA).

The decision has major implications that could lead New Zealand away from taking important steps to tackle climate change. It means resource consents for developments such as coal mining can be granted without taking into consideration the negative impacts on climate change.

The case will be heard in the High Court, and we’ll be joined by the West Coast Environment Network in the appeal. The RMA is New Zealand’s overarching piece of environmental legislation.

Forest & Bird Top of the South Field Officer Debs Martin says the act is supposed to manage developments to ensure sustainability for future generations. So its omission of climate change is like having “an elephant in the room that everyone is ignoring”.

“The RMA should take into account all the ramifi cations of a developer’s activities,” Debs says. “If we’ve got activities happening that will cause a significant amount of carbon emissions to be released, it makes nonsense of the RMA.”

Challengers may point to the Kyoto Protocol to argue New Zealand already regulates climate change. However Forest & Bird believes the protocol is inadequate on its own. “The Kyoto Protocol merely puts a price on carbon. It doesn’t allow us to consider whether the implications for climate change mean that the project should not go ahead,” Debs says.

The RMA on the other hand, evaluates a development’s impact on the environment before it gets the tick to proceed. It’s at this pre-development stage where Forest & Bird believes
councils, developers and other stakeholders need to be discussing its projected contribution to climate change.

The Environment Court’s decision will not affect Forest & Bird’s appeal against consents to open-cast mine on Denniston Plateau as we have a strong case arguing the immediate and
permanent loss of biodiversity. However, consents to mine the plateau demonstrate how our current law is failing.

“Coal is the biggest thing we can do to start turning the tide on climate change and if that isn’t a reason to turn a development down, then something’s wrong with the law and something needs to be changed,” Debs says.

Once burnt, the coal extracted from Denniston Plateau will pump some 11 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. Effectively New Zealand law as it presently stands, allows the sacrifice of our special environment, to pollute the planetsome more.