Enviro poll

With the general election on November 26 fast approaching, Forest & Bird asked all the main political parties to answer six questions about their vision for conservation and the environment. The Labour, National and Green parties responded.

 1 What is your party’s vision for New Zealand’s natural environment
in 2020 and what policies would your party implement to make this vision a reality?

 We love Aotearoa and we want to protect it.
Our kids have a birthright to swim in clean rivers, fish in the
sea and walk in pristine forests. Our environment policy
protects our natural heritage from those who only want
short-term profit from exploiting our finite resources, such
as industrial agribusiness and open-cast mining.
Real prosperity means clean rivers and air, rich
biodiversity, protected marine areas and a GE-free
New Zealand. 

By 2020, the Green Party would like to see our native
flora and fauna thriving, and all our threatened species
recovering. In addition to protecting the wild places we
have left, we aim to restore nature to the lowland areas
where most of us live. We envision a day when our rivers
will be once more full of birds and fish, and safe for our
kids to swim in. 

To achieve our vision, we have a plan for a smart,
green economy that delivers prosperity and protects
the environment.

 

 Sir Paul Callaghan, the New Zealander
of the Year 2011, said in a recent presentation to the
StrategyNZ: Mapping our Future workshop: “Long-term
vision is something we tend to avoid in New Zealand. But
I will argue here that vision is essential to any strategy
aimed at enhancing prosperity.”

Nowhere is the need for vision more obvious and more
important than in our environment. We need a clear vision
for a genuinely clean, green and clever New Zealand – and
we need a government prepared to deliver it. We need
to change our mantra, our knowledge, our citizen buy-in
and our reality. We need to recognise and act on the fact
that our environment is the source of natural capital – CO2
sinks, water supplies, our ecological reserve – and it is what
creates the passion that makes us who and what we are. 

Our responsibility is to be the guardians who treasure
and nurture our water, our rivers, our fish, our trees – the
things that make our country what it is and us, as New
Zealanders, what we are. 

New Zealanders need to have strong leadership from
our governments, central and local, and civil society
leaders, to drive that change in attitude and culture,
behaviour and policies. The policy of economic growth
above all, with token, if any, responses to environmental
concerns, is a fundamentally flawed frame. Those policies
are wrong and must go.

 

 The National Party’s vision for our natural
environment is no different for 2020 than it is for any given
year. It’s easy to make grand statements about ideals you’ll
never actually have to meet. We can’t turn back time and
return New Zealand to the relatively untouched haven it
was 300 years ago. But we can be smarter about how we
protect our environment. 

The National Party’s vision is about being smarter. It’s
about recognising that our natural resources underpin
not only our economy but our national identity. New
Zealand’s natural environment is at the core of our
quality of life. Sound management is required to ensure
it delivers ecosystem services such as quality fresh water
and fertile soil, and these in turn underpin New Zealand’s
primary production economy. Conservation contributes
strongly to tourism – the destinations for both domestic
and international visitors are primarily around public
conservation lands and waters, and protected species.  

Resource use must be based on sustainability and good
science is essential to quality environmental decision-
making.

 

 

2 New Zealand’s unique biodiversity continues to decline despite
a comprehensive Biodiversity Strategy, robust laws and the tireless
work of the Department of Conservation and countless volunteers.
Why is this in your view, and what specifically would your party do
to arrest the decline and restore a vibrant and healthy biodiversity?

 To restore our precious biodiversity, we would
get the Department of Conservation (DOC) to focus its
efforts on biodiversity and heritage protection rather than
generating income from conservation land. The National
Party’s funding and job cuts have compromised DOC’s ability
to protect our unique plants and animals. The Green Party
is committed to increasing the funding for DOC, and is
considering raising it to 1 per cent of the government’s total
budget.

We would also pass legislation that would require the
development of active recovery plans for all our threatened
species. Currently, only 6 per cent of our threatened
species have active recovery plans, whereas in the United
States, the figure is 85 per cent. Central to this Bill would
be an ecosystems approach, where we protect the habitats
of threatened plants and animals, not just the species
themselves.

 

 We have a good biodiversity strategy and
good work, in theory, in regard to biodiversity issues on
private land. But we don’t have the clear vision to generate
private landowners’ drive, nor adequate commitment from
the government towards the work that the Department of
Conservation needs to do. We need strong buy-in, we need
to support and fund key areas of intensive management and
we need to adequately fund pest control so that DOC can
lead by example.

We should note the recent report from
the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, in
which she talked about land clearance and climate change
and their impact on our biodiversity, but she went on to say:
“The biggest and most immediate risk lies at the feet of just
a few introduced species. Possums, rats and stoats continue
to devastate our forests and the creatures that live within
them.” She went on to say that we do not have the luxury of
time, and that if things continue as they are, our forests will
become silent. We cannot let that happen.

 

 As the question indicates, we have in place
comprehensive policies, processes and laws aimed at
reversing the decline in biodiversity. In fact, New Zealand is
recognised as one of the world’s most progressive countries
in the area of biodiversity protection and management.

The biggest threat to our biodiversity is introduced
pests. Not only predators like possums, stoats and rats, but
also weeds. It isn’t possible to eradicate them from New
Zealand now that they’re established – not without some
radical advances in technology. So we focus on areas where
we can make a difference, like creating predator-proof
sanctuaries on offshore islands. Policy-wise, the proposed
National Policy on Biodiversity will mean a more consistent
approach to biodiversity protection on private land.

 

 

3 Our freshwater resources are poorly managed,
wild rivers continue to be dammed and our freshwater
biodiversity is in dire straits. What specifically would your
party do to protect our water resources for the future?

 We believe that our freshwater should be
clean so our children can swim and fish in all our rivers, and
so our unique freshwater biodiversity can flourish. Water
is a mainstay of our economy, and we would protect this
precious resource from pollution and ensure that water
extraction always leaves enough for the fish and birds.  

We would do this by regulating intensive agriculture,
particularly industrial dairying. We would introduce a
moratorium on agricultural intensification in over-allocated
catchments while developing national bottom lines for river
flows, lake levels and water quality. We would implement
the strong draft of the National Policy Statement on
Freshwater Management (NPS) that was recommended by
the Board of Inquiry – a panel of experts – rather than the
weak final version that National adopted. Campaigning
for a strong NPS was the focus of Green Party Co-leader
Russel Norman’s national Dirty Rivers Rafting Tour this past
summer.  

We have also campaigned to save the majestic
Mokihinui River from an 85-metre dam because we believe
there are better ways to generate electricity. We do not
need to sacrifice the last of our pristine wild rivers to meet
the energy needs of New Zealand.

 

 Water is a common good, owned by
us all and belonging to none. It is our most precious
resource. Our waterways are a transparent measure of our
environment. Their health is at the heart of how we see
ourselves, how we promote ourselves to the world and
how we earn a premium for our exports. Our birthright of
being able to swim safely in our rivers and lakes needs to

be restored. There needs to be a water quality measure in
the National Policy Statement. We should implement the
recommendations of the Land and Water Forum. Everyone
wanted them, everyone agreed – then the government
wussed out. Our wild rivers need special protection. Our
wetlands are a critical part of our ecosystems, but only 10
per cent remain. Their degradation is something that must
be reversed. And we should keep the Mackenzie as it is
(unless we could restore it to as it was).

 

 Certainly there are challenges with freshwater,
which is why the Fresh Start for Fresh Water programme
is a major focus for this government, led by Environment
Minister Nick Smith. Our water quality is good by
international standards but there is little national consistency
in how councils manage water quality and allocation. There
is a need for clearer direction. What we want to achieve is a
framework by which decisions on the use of this major asset
are consistent and environmentally sound. 

I know Forest & Bird was part of the Land and Water
Forum that reported back that limits needed to be set on
quantity and quality. This is significant and National agrees.  

We’re also committed to investing in assisting councils
to clean up the historical degradation of rivers and
lakes. Pollution has seriously deteriorated our freshwater
biodiversity, so we’re looking to spend over $250 million
over the coming years to help address this.

 

 

4 Our marine environment is also poorly managed, with
continued depletion and destruction of marine species and
ecosystems, and less than 1 per cent of our marine area
protected for conservation. What specifically would your
party do to protect our marine environment for the future?

 A staggering 80 per cent of life on Earth
lives in the sea, and we would ensure greater protection
for these species by adopting a precautionary approach
to marine activities. The sea is an integral part of the
commons, and those who use the sea commercially would
have to look after it, and would pay to use it.  

To maintain the viability of our fisheries in the
future, the Green Party would move to an integrated
fisheries management system (rather than single species
management) and create more marine reserves.  

We would also work to eliminate the marine pollution
that threatens our children’s birthright to swim, fish and
collect kai moana in our seas. We are the only party that
is courageous enough to stand up to oil companies: we
would put a moratorium on all deep-sea oil exploration
until the industry has proven that it can fix leaks and look
after the environment.

 

 We have tools available, such as marine
reserves, that are not being used well. We are still using
destructive fishing methods. We have huge pressure on
government for oil drilling and development. We are not
prepared for an oil spill. The Minister of Energy doesn’t
even know who is responsible for responding to an oil spill!
We have similar pressure for ocean-floor mining – for gold
deposits off the West Coast, for iron sand off Taranaki – and
yet we have no information on which to base decisions. No
decisions should be made until we have this information.

 

 National does not agree with the statement
that our marine environment is poorly managed. New
Zealand is used as an example when it comes to fisheries
management and marine protection. We have a proud
reputation in this regard. The issues associated with
managing the marine environment are significantly more
complex than those on terrestrial land and the normal
protection mechanisms that we might use on land don’t
necessarily operate as effectively in the marine environment
as we would hope.  

We have 34 marine reserves, not counting those
proposed for the sub-Antarctic islands or those likely to
be proposed for the West Coast. New Zealand has had
a target of 10 per cent marine protection based on areas
within the 12-mile territorial sea limit, not the EEZ, and we
have always been upfront about that.  

National is keen on replicating the forum process that has
taken really constructive approaches and made meaningful
progress on marine reserves. Community engagement and
buy-in is integral to having them established. The response
is more positive and constructive, rather than having
communities feel something is being pushed on them.

  

 

5 Climate change may be the most significant long-
term threat to biodiversity, our society and our economy,
yet New Zealand continues to pursue high-polluting
activities like coal and lignite mining, deep-sea oil and
intensive dairying. When and how fast should New
Zealand transition away from these high-polluting
activities, and how would your party support that
transition?

 We need to transition to a low-carbon
economy as soon as possible. To do this, we would put a
fair price on all greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, we
would put an end to the yearly billion-dollar subsidies that
the National government is giving to polluting industries
under the current Emissions Trading Scheme.  

To reduce our dependence on oil, we would shift
transport funding to public transport, walking and cycling.
We would also ban all mining of lignite coal and phase
out coal use. Most of our energy needs can be met with

renewable energy generation, and we can develop other
industries to support our economy. Our Green New Deal
outlines shovel-ready ideas for government investment in
the creation of clean, green jobs.  

Our climate change policy is about improving the way
we live and do business. We can reduce emissions and
enhance our quality of life.

 

 National, supported by the Maori Party
and Peter Dunne, passed amendments to Labour’s
Emissions Trading Scheme that will add billions to the
taxpayers’ bill for New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions
and let polluters off the hook for their emissions. The
amendments are economically, socially and environmentally
unsustainable. Agriculture is our largest source of emissions
and must be part of the scheme. We need to do more
about energy efficiency and ensure that our transport
system moves away from fossil-fuelled cars and trucks.

 

 Climate change is a global issue and the
burning of fossil fuels is a global issue, not just unique
to New Zealand. National’s approach is to reduce net
emissions while growing our economy. We’re on the path
to moving to a lower-carbon economy with our main
tool being the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). In the
first two years of the ETS we have seen net emissions
reductions and we are on track to meet our Kyoto Protocol
commitments by 2012.  

New Zealand is prepared to do its fair share in
combating global climate change and thus reducing its
impact on biodiversity. We are committed to a 2020 and a
2050 target for reduction of its domestic greenhouse gas
emissions and we are investing in global research related to
carbon capture and storage and agricultural emissions.  

The pathway to reducing emissions will be dictated
by the development of new technologies that allows
economies to develop while feeding the ever-increasing
global population.  

The future challenge is to increase economic growth
while continuing this positive reduction in emissions. That
is why we have established the Advisory Group on Green
Growth to enable New Zealand to grow our economy while
enhancing our clean, green brand. We are keen to help
businesses, particularly our export industries, leverage New
Zealand’s clean, green brand, and move towards a lower-
carbon economy.  

Reducing agricultural emissions will be a big challenge
as nearly half our emissions come from agriculture, which
makes us unique among developed counties. Farming
is the backbone of our economy which is why we have
established the Global Research Alliance on agricultural
greenhouse gases. Its focus is on innovative solutions to
help reduce emissions while producing more food for a
growing world. It now has more than 30 member countries.

 

 

6 New Zealand’s natural capital underpins our
economy, yet many economic activities are causing rapid
environmental decline. What is your view on the economic
path New Zealand should follow, and what policies are
necessary to get us there?

 We can have a smart, green economy that
delivers prosperity and protects the environment, but
we need to change our approach. We need to abandon the notion of “balance”, which in practice means trading
off a bit more economic activity against a bit more
environmental degradation. Growing GDP by consuming
natural capital is a short-term strategy.  

Let’s measure the right things; we need genuine social
and environmental indicators, not just GDP. Let’s have
prices that reflect true costs. Putting a fair price on carbon
and for the commercial use of water will help us move to a
low-carbon economy and drive the efficient use of water.  

Let’s protect our natural capital (and national brand)
by introducing strong environmental bottom lines, for
example, water quality standards. Our clean, green brand
underpins our tourism and agricultural exports.  

Let’s embrace the export opportunities provided by
the global clean-tech revolution. Let’s keep our energy
companies in public ownership, give them a competitive
edge by encouraging joint ventures with private clean-tech
entrepreneurs, and get them exporting clean technology to
the world. And let’s invest in research and development.  

These policies will begin the transition to a smart, green
economy that delivers real prosperity for everyone.

 

 The economic and social value of our
environment needs to be recognised in itself – as a drive
in our economy, not as something to be repaired after the
mining or dairying or exploitative fishing has taken place. If
we want our grandchildren to be woken by the dawn chorus
in the back country, to fill their billy from a clean stream, to
understand the privilege it is to be part of this magnificent
country, then we have to ensure that our conservation
and environment policies have strong voices and are well
funded – as a must-have and as the drive of our social and
economic well-being.

 

 This is certainly a very open-ended question.
National’s policies when it comes to the economy are
well established. We inherited an economy already in
recession, with the tradeable sector having been in decline
for four years. We had seen huge increases in government
spending, which were simply unsustainable. This has only
been compounded by the Christchurch earthquakes. As a
result, National’s focus has been and will remain on getting
our books back into surplus. That involves making tough
decisions around spending, while setting the framework
that will lead to longer-term growth. Absolutely our natural
capital underpins our economy. Our economic growth
needs to be sustainable – not a short-term blip. So we need
to be smarter in how we look to utilise our natural resources
so we’re not putting them at risk.