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Forest & Bird has applied to the High Court today for a judicial review of recent changes made to the policy and regulations guiding the protection and management of wetlands in Aotearoa. 

The organisation argues that loopholes in the changes mean wetlands will continue to be lost, including to the operation and extension of existing coal mines, with wide-ranging impacts on biodiversity and the climate. 

Forest & Bird is challenging the amendments on the basis that: 

  • The Minister erred in making the changes because he thought they would still ensure no loss of wetlands. However, the amendments provide for ‘compensation’ of an activity’s effects on wetlands, which can result in loss. 

  • There is a threat to Aotearoa’s climate change commitments because the changes provide a pathway for thermal coal mines to operate and expand in wetlands up until 2065 and beyond (for an application made in 2030, the time taken to process the consent, with a 35-year term), and for coking coal mines to operate and expand in wetlands indefinitely. 

Late last year, Minister for the Environment David Parker announced changes to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and National Environmental Standards for Freshwater.  

The changes introduced ‘consenting pathways’ allowing the destruction of wetlands for quarrying, landfills and clean fills, mining, urban development, ski field infrastructure, and water storage infrastructure (e.g., dams).  

There are very few activities the new consenting pathway does not allow for. 

If someone wants to destroy a wetland for one of these activities, they are required to go through an ‘effects management hierarchy,’ which was intended to ensure ‘no net loss’ of wetlands. 

However, Forest & Bird says the effects management hierarchy allows for compensation of damage with environmental restoration work or financial contributions that might not involve wetlands at all, which effectively means developers can pay to destroy wetlands. 

Forest & Bird is also challenging the changes on the grounds that allowing councils to grant consents for coal mines to operate until 2065 undermines Aotearoa’s ability to meet emissions reductions targets. 

“We raised our concerns with Government late last year,” says Nicola Toki, Chief Executive, Forest & Bird. 

“Although they’ve said the changes will lead to ‘no net loss’ of wetlands, that is incorrect.  

“The pathways still allow expanding coal mines to destroy wetlands, including granting new thermal coal expansion consents until 2030. This means existing or extended thermal coal mines could continue destroying wetlands until 2065, and existing coking coal mines could continue destroying wetlands forever. 

“Since we are in the midst of twin climate and biodiversity crises, this is hugely irresponsible and disappointing. The International Energy Agency has said that, for a safe climate, there can be no new or expanded coal mines from 2021. Destroying wetlands for coal mining has a double impact on our endangered wetland species.” 

For more information on the benefits of wetlands, see Every Wetland Counts and restoring lost wetlands to help protect against climate change

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