EEZ Bill bad news for both industry and the environment

The Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Bill, reported back from select committee yesterday with only slight change, fails to protect New Zealand’s marine environment and ignores our international legal obligations, Forest & Bird said today. 

“The Bill is incredibly disappointing. A future government will have to fix it; meanwhile, there’s huge uncertainty for industry and risk to everybody else, as well as the marine environment,” Conservation Advocate Claire Browning said.

Forest & Bird and a large number of other submitters, including the New Zealand Law Society, the Environmental Defence Society, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, had advised the select committee that the Bill did not comply with international law obligations New Zealand has signed up to.

Legislation to protect New Zealand’s massive offshore environment is important and urgently needed but the EEZ Bill fails to do what is required, Claire Browning said. This makes it a real dilemma for Forest & Bird, and Parliamentary parties deciding how to vote on this Bill.

“It should be the offshore version of the Resource Management Act. It’s a tool we don’t have at the moment, to help decide who can do what, where, under what conditions, in the Exclusive Economic Zone, beyond 12 nautical miles. But this particular Bill is badly drafted.” 

Despite slight changes recommended by the select committee, the Bill still fails to comply with the international environmental law requirements of UNCLOS, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, she said. 

This would expose New Zealand to a risk of litigation, and international embarrassment. 

Forest & Bird therefore cannot support this Bill as reported back, and Claire Browning, a former lawyer, urged Parliamentary parties not to do so. 

It was clear from remarks in the select committee report that government members of the committee had fundamentally misunderstood what the Law of the Sea says, she said. 

It is UNCLOS that gives New Zealand rights over the resources in the EEZ. But countries, including New Zealand, only have the sovereign right to exploit their natural resources subject to “their duty to protect and preserve the marine environment”. 

By contrast, the EEZ Bill “seeks to achieve a balance between the protection of the environment and economic development”.

This was a wasted opportunity to set in place a framework like the Resource Management Act that is capable of enduring for 20 years, according to Forest & Bird. 

The Bill means industry will have two different Acts to comply with, because they will be subject to the Resource Management Act within 12 nautical miles of the coast. Litigation about interpretation of this new Act is inevitable. 

The legislation is bound to be changed by a new government, and it is a bad move for the economy. Large parts of our economy depend on adequate environmental protection.

“Government is doing industry no favours, and this is a bad move for New Zealand’s reputation and the marine environment,” Claire Browning concluded.