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A Government freshwater announcement means wetlands will continue to be lost, including to coalmines, and will have wide-ranging impacts across the country, says Forest & Bird. 

“Keeping our few remaining wetlands safe is vitally important in the midst of biodiversity and climate crises,” says Forest & Bird Freshwater Advocate Tom Kay. “This announcement does the opposite – it facilitates the destruction of our few remaining wetlands.” 

Yesterday, Minister for the Environment David Parker announced changes to the Essential Freshwater 2020 regulations, removing protections that prevented further destruction of wetlands. The changes include special consenting pathways allowing for the destruction of wetlands by industries ranging from landfills and skifields to water storage and coal mines. There are very few industries that the consenting pathway does not allow for.  

“It’s a small success that the coal mine pathway is limited to existing or expanding mines – which means new coal mines, like that proposed at Te Kuha, do not have a consenting pathway," says Mr Kay.

“But 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. 

“That 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. 

"This announcement is all the more shocking as it comes as governments, including our own, are meeting in Montreal at the COP 15 biodiversity conference to address the accelerating pace of species loss and the dangers of ecosystem breakdown.

“The Government’s announcement says these changes will lead to ‘no net loss’ of wetlands. That is entirely incorrect. The effects management hierarchy allows for compensation and financial contributions, which effectively means developers can pay to destroy wetlands.”  

Minister Parker’s claim that the activities face a high threshold before using the consenting pathways is also false. The “threshold” for skifields is so low that it is difficult to see how any commercial skifield would not be able to access the consenting pathways. 

The changes also leave many coastal wetlands, including mangroves, lacking in protection by removing them from the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-F). 

Mr Kay says some outdated regional plans do not give effect to the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement or provide any protection for coastal wetlands.

"These wetlands are important and need this extra layer of protection. Coastal wetlands can store carbon up to 57 times faster than a tropical forest. 

“In implementing these changes the Minister for the Environment has provided a green light to destroy critical ecosystems and carbon sinks. This makes a mockery of the government’s own Emissions Reductions Plan, National Adaptation Plan and Te Mana o Te Taiao – our national biodiversity strategy. This is a massive fail by the government.”  

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