As Convention on Biological Diversity parties meet to hammer out new resolutions, having failed on most of the old ones, UK paper the Guardian is compiling a list of action points, and demanding, you know, action

But to make this campaign work, you have to get behind it. That means pestering your MP, bothering your environment minister, demanding that your government stops hiding behind platitudes and starts talking about specifics. It means insisting that they treat the world’s natural wonders not as a disposable asset but as a precious charge.
—George Monbiot and Guillaume Chapron, (my emphasis).

The Guardian is co-ordinating public submissions, to compile a list of 100 government actions, to be put to those meeting now, in Japan.

Their campaign focuses on the G20: not, therefore, New Zealand. But New Zealand is party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, underpinning the Nagoya meeting. It's a 'biodiversity hotspot': “It has an exceptional concentration of endemic species, and has had an exceptional loss of primary habitat”.(1) One of the last places settled, our other biggest boast is one of the worst records of native biodiversity loss.(2)

We should demand two actions of our government, that both meet the Guardian’s criteria.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature“the world’s oldest and largest global environmental network … with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists in more than 160 countries” — species are being extinguished 1,000 times faster than the natural rate.

In 2002, world leaders agreed to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. This is the “international year of biodiversity”. After reviewing all of the evidence, the latest Global Biodiversity Outlook says that, despite some small achievements, the target has not been met:

The 2010 biodiversity target has not been met at the global level. None of the twenty-one sub-targets accompanying the overall target of significantly reducing the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 can be said definitively to have been achieved globally, although some have been partially or locally achieved. Despite an increase in conservation efforts, the state of biodiversity continues to decline, according to most indicators, largely because the pressures on biodiversity continue to increase. There is no indication of a significant reduction in the rate of decline in biodiversity, nor of a significant reduction in pressures upon it. …

New Zealand’s biodiversity efforts are described here and here. The record of “achievement” speaks for itself (tip: follow the link to “success stories”). Surely, this is a joke? I don’t think it’s supposed to be — but in truth, it is.

So, to the Guardian, our government, and anyone else who’s watching, here are two things the government must step in and do:

  1. Stop state-owned enterprise Meridian Energy’s Mokihinui River hydro power proposal.
  2. Lead development of a strategy for the Mackenzie country, which is under urgent intensification pressure, particularly dairy intensification.

They’re familiar to Pundit readers.(3) I persist, because they matter. Here’s why.

Mokihinui River hydro power proposal. State-owned power generator Meridian Energy has consent to construct an 85 meter high dam, and flood the Mokihinui River gorge, to make a lake for kayakers.

The conservation appeal, including the Department of Conservation (DOC), and NGO Forest & Bird, is being heard. DOC says that: “If approved, and constructed, it appears that it will be the largest inundation for hydro electric generation purposes of lands and ecosystems set aside for protection and conservation ever seen in this country.”

Meridian says it is “committed" to the project; so even if the appeal succeeds, that may not be the last we hear of it. It is wholly unnecessary. Other projects, by other generators, that will meet all of the West Coast’s power needs, are going ahead with conservation support. One of those was facilitated by the timely withdrawal of another unhappy state-owned enterprise. This is not unprecedented.

A draft DOC expert report, released to me under the Official Information Act, describes the gorge’s conservation values.(4)

“The area rates highly in terms of its representativeness, life supporting capacity, natural diversity, distinctiveness, intactness, and long term viability.” It “contains nationally significant populations of indigenous avifauna as well as rare and threatened species”. There are sixteen species of threatened indigenous birds, including great spotted kiwi, kaka, and blue duck (whio). This “points to the location either containing high quality breeding and feeding habitats that have not been degraded to the extent of many other places in New Zealand, or suggests that threatening processes [such as introduced pests] are working at slower rates compared with other sites”.

Long tailed bats live there. No short tailed bats were recorded, but this was not strong evidence of their absence; there were many large diameter trees with cavities, and standing dead trees, that could house bat colonies.

Four species of threatened lizards are likely to be present, and three subspecies of threatened land snails. These are the Powelliphanta, giant carnivorous snails found only in New Zealand, important nationally and internationally. They have quite special habitat needs; they are, therefore, highly vulnerable. Their former neighbours Powelliphanta augusta, from the Stockton Plateau and Mt Augustus, are slowly dying in fridges, after relocation efforts failed.

There is threatened and rare vegetation: six threatened and one “sparse” species, including “dense primary podocarp forest” and “riparian turf”. “I have not seen a better example of riparian turf anywhere [wrote DOC’s expert], and I would rank the Mokihinui Gorge riparian turf zone as of national significance because of its extensiveness, intactness, diversity and habitat value for the threatened Olearia cheesemanii [streamside tree daisy].”

Some effort would be made, to relocate some of our favourites: kiwi, the snails, and so on. The rest would deliberately, callously, drown.

“Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine” [grant them eternal rest, Lord]. But might we let them live out their natural lives, first?

The Mackenzie country. Highly stressed — with shallow stony infertile soils, a climate of drought, wind, short hot summers, and some of New Zealand’s coldest winters — the Mackenzie is our most concentrated and biggest area of naturally rare ecosystems (ie, rare before humans). It's home to 20 ‘threatened’ and 40 ‘at risk’ plant species, wetland 'kettleholes', and some other endangered creatures.

Damage — caused initially by fires, stock grazing, rabbits, and exotic weeds, including wilding pines — is accelerating. Irrigation and pasture conversion are the big current pressures. According to scientist Susan Walker, land use conversions (all uses) since 1990-2009 represent “the most rapid rate of indigenous ecosystem loss and landscape transformation within any single ecological region in New Zealand in modern times” and “More grassland has been completely converted [in those 19 years] than in the previous 150 years of human settlement”.(5)

She says the Mackenzie’s species cannot survive intensive development, in particular irrigation: they're native to a highly stressed dry climate, not saturation with high nutrients. She says they “are becoming isolated within an increasingly developed landscape which threatens their viability”. Applications being considered, to irrigate a further 25,000 hectares of the district, will:

likely result in the clearance of naturally rare and vulnerable ecosystems within the proposed footprints of irrigated land and associated infrastructure, and in substantial degradation and loss of natural ecosystems and indigenous species populations off-site, including well beyond directly affected areas. These impacts are major and will result in a permanent net loss of significant vegetation and habitats for indigenous fauna that cannot be mitigated or reconstructed.

The government needs to mediate between conservationists and high country farmers, to broker a strategy. The Resource Management and Crown Pastoral Land Acts are not working, in this environment. Walker says land reform, provided for under the latter Act, has not met protection goals explicit in the Act, and may have hastened biodiversity decline.(6)

Some legislative amendment may be needed, but more crucially, intervention and leadership are missing.

The Mackenzie's conservation challenge is that, unlike the exceptional landscape, none of its individual species are especially striking or charismatic. Many are small, and some are frankly a little bit boring. That’s exactly why it’s the poster child, for biological diversity.


(1) Walker, et al (2008) “An index of risk as a measure of biodiversity: conservation achieved through land reform” Conservation Biology 22(1): 48-59 (citing Myers, et al (2000) “Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities” Nature 403: 853-858).



(4) Department of Conservation “Submission to the Minister: Meridian Energy exchange proposal” (draft dated March 29, 2010). This was the final iteration of the report. Shortly after that, the application in question (but not the whole hydro proposal) was temporarily withdrawn.

(5) (+ attachments). See also Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (2009) Change in the High Country.

(6) Walker, et al (2008) “An index of risk as a measure of biodiversity: conservation achieved through land reform” Conservation Biology 22(1): 48-59.

Comments (20)

by Mark Wilson on October 19, 2010
Mark Wilson

Hi everyone, I encourage you all to absolutely go for it. Won't have the slightest effect, but hey it will keep the Green Party away from the decision making process and it will improve the Guardian people's self esteem issues.

 As to the Mokihinui River hydro power proposal as I understand it usually a river will slowly rise as it is dammed so I assume that most species will beat it. "The rest would deliberately, callously, drown". I rather hope the ducks can figure out a way to make it out of there.

Good luck with making any goverment or poli "stop hiding behind platitudes and starts talking about specifics". Still, has to be a first time for everything.

Can I ask a serious question here - Who pays for the lost power generation and why can't those who are against the dam buy the area off the government if they are so keen on reducing our power generation?

These same arguments were used to try to stop Manapouri yet the area around it is teeming with biodiversity (more than before the dam) including the lake. 

Seriously, all our renewable energy is out of bounds -hydro is out because it makes a lake, windpower makes too much noise, thermal is not PC because of ownership issues etc.

Time to go nuclear - seriously!

by Andrew Geddis on October 19, 2010
Andrew Geddis

"These same arguments were used to try to stop Manapouri yet the area around it is teeming with biodiversity (more than before the dam) including the lake."

Ummm - could that be because Manapouri didn't get dammed?

"The natural beauty of Lake Manapōuri was threatened in the 1960s by plans to significantly raise the lake level to generate hydro-electric power at the West Arm station. However, after a campaign by environmentalists and a 265,000 person petition, the lake was granted statutory protection by the Government. The lake is now controlled within natural levels."

As for "Time to go nuclear - seriously!", where do you live? Just so we know where to put the power station next to.

by Mark Wilson on October 19, 2010
Mark Wilson

Andrew, the Manapouri Lake is some 6 metres higher than it was before the decision - it just meant the operators needed to take more time to fill it. Sure they didn't build a high dam. Plus the diversity of the area has improved - ask DOC.

The question still stands - "Who pays for the lost power generation and why can't those who are against the dam buy the area off the government if they are so keen on reducing our power generation?"

And where is the power going to come from if not there?

When the lights start going out will the greenies do without as is only fair?

by Andrew Geddis on October 19, 2010
Andrew Geddis


You'll need to provide a citation for the claim that Lake Manapouri is 6m higher today than it was before the power scheme. 'Cause I don't believe it, and it goes against everything in DOC and other descriptions of the project ... they all say the lake levels were left within previous (i.e. natural) levels, which is 4.6m fluctuation.

As for "where will power come from" ... why does it have to be large scale developments far from the actual use? Ever thought of individualised solar/wind generation or community-specific schemes? Alternatively, the nuclear power station beside your house, because I'm sure you'll make that sacrifice.

by Simon on October 19, 2010


Great post! Biodiversity, when understood fully, as you have done in your post, is the trump card that shows up the fallibility of National's "balance the environment and economy" approach. Every time biodiversity is "balanced" with development, it declines.

by Claire Browning on October 20, 2010
Claire Browning

The question still stands - "Who pays for the lost power generation and why can't those who are against the dam buy the area off the government if they are so keen on reducing our power generation?"

That big question of yours is already answered, in the post. Here is Meridian’s own PR summary of their proposal. I recommend you also look at a map.

Nobody’s lights are going out. Yours seem a bit dim.* It makes no more sense to generate a whole lot of surplus power, where nobody lives, and transmit it out of there, than it does to transmit power in to the West Coast currently -- Meridian’s case for the dam in the first place. They can’t credibly have it both ways.

Why don’t those against the dam buy the land? We all already own it. It is stewardship land, held for conservation purposes. Since Meridian has so far, with all of their expertise, been unable to show how this project will serve conservation purposes, I don’t like your chances.

The onus isn’t on me, actually. It’s on the applicants to demonstrate this doesn't breach Conservation and Resource Management Act environmental bottom lines. They're making better progress under the RMA, to date, because it doesn't permit all of the wider considerations -- which at a good public policy level, also need to be taken into account. That's where the government comes in. 

If you want to persist in sticking up for them, the onus is on you. And collectively, internationally, NZ as a party to global biodiversity commitments.

Who’s paying already, right now, for Meridian’s persistence -- tying up DOC resources, processing applications and in court? Who pays, if the dam does go ahead? How do we reconcile that with our biodiversity platitudes?

* Gratuitous, but irresistible. Thought it would be like, well, water off a duck’s back -- given your boasts of mental fortitude.

by Claire Browning on October 20, 2010
Claire Browning

Dear George

I'm contacting you directly, because the submission form via the Guardian seemed to only apply to G20, not NZ.

Here are two NZ suggestions, for the Biodiversity 100 list:

Please let me know, if anything further is required.

Best wishes
Claire Browning


Excellent, thanks very much Claire. I'll clear them with the others and push for them to get on the list. These look like exactly the sort of things that should be on it.

With my best wishes, George

by MikeM on October 20, 2010

Environmental issues aside with some quick googling, there are some plausible arguments about why New Zealand is too small and isolated to reasonably make use of nuclear power anyway. Granted that Herald article is 6 years old. The World Nuclear Association, probably not very impartial at a guess, seems to have a different view.

I dunno. To me it's often seemed that our problem is an oligopoly of power companies that were thrown into the wash in 1999, all leaping on every prospect they can possibly grab and throwing huge resources for lobbying in the hope they'll be left with the biggest segment of power generation once supply and demand have evened out again. If the rules and procedures for considering applications were perfectly conceived and impervious to heavily funded political lobbying then it might work okay, but it's also not a very top-down approach of prioritising national interests about how and where power generation should occur.

by Mark Wilson on October 20, 2010
Mark Wilson

Nobody’s lights are going out. Yours seem a bit dim.* Good shot - wish I had thought of it! 

Your right that the new RMA will be a lot easier to deal with as only those directly involved can hold up progress and it cuts down on the blackmailers. 

There has to be some level of cost to the community of protecting every possible avenue of bio diversity that is considered unacceptable by even the most rabid greenie - where do you draw the line? Is an infinite amount of money to much? A human life? Can you elucidate?

It seems from the latest updates we are probably 20 to 50 years away from fusion. It is going to be interesting to see how the greenies deal with it when it comes along as those who don't play will be completely uncompetitive in every market we are in. Oh sorry, that's incorrect - it may be that we can be still competitive in the handcraft market as our wages will by then be at Bangladesh's levels. 

Andrew's push for local power generation as an alternative just doesn't work if you want to have a serious amount of power on tap all the time. Some of the local farmers for example will need 3 phase power levels which cannot be delievered by alternative energy.     

It always astonishes me that wealth consumers as so comfortable with damaging the wealth producers ability to produce that wealth but won't hear of the former being the ones who pay the price.

All power - no responsibility. 

by Andrew Geddis on October 20, 2010
Andrew Geddis


I'm assuming your silence on the Manapouri issue is an admission of error? These things don't go away just because you ignore them.

As for local generation ... your question wasn't "how will we generate all of NZ's power for every need?". It was, "how will we generate additional power to provide for increasing demand?". And if you were to apply some innovative, creative thinking to this problem, instead of just putting out used slogans, you might generate some intellectual wealth instead of just consuming that created by your responders.

by Mark Wilson on October 20, 2010
Mark Wilson


Me make a mistake? - an oxymoron surely! Am trying to find it - was in last years reports about dam safety in NZ.

You cannot have isolated areas produce a serious amount for the economy without 3 phase power and this cannot be provided by alternative energy. Fact of life. Even the Green Party's only non benefiicary financial supporters the  commercial dope growers need it. Without it you are subverting democracy for heavens sake. 

You get triple brownie points for the last sentence.

by Claire Browning on October 20, 2010
Claire Browning

You get triple brownie points for the last sentence...

But I didn't say anything about "the new RMA". What I said was ... oh, forget it.

I hate to destroy this new bonhomie, but you get thumbs down, for all of yours. ('Bonhomie': word of the day. 'Elucidate' was Monday's. Glad you liked it, and never forget: Pundit taught you something.)

'Greenie' is a small advance on 'lefty', and -- with a lower case 'g' -- in the ballpark, at least. But still intellectually bloody lazy. Mark Sainsbury and Sean Plunket seem to like it. What does this tell you?

On the biodiversity, the onus is on you, as I said. Burping ideologically and crudely is not going to advance things much. Do you draw the line anywhere, in terms of breaking our global promises, and kaitiakitanga?

by Mark Wilson on October 20, 2010
Mark Wilson


I accord the same respect to our global promises as do other countries around the world. I notice that two of the current Vice presidents of the UN's Human Rights Commission are Angola and Cuba. By the way, I wonder what sort of political leanings their Governments have?

As to kaitiakitanga I accord the concept the same value that Maori did to the moa and the NZ eagle. Can't be fairer than that.

I dispute that I have any responsibility on diversity given (1) the new RMA will make it irrelevant and (2) the areas that have been developed such as the hydro areas are, in time, more diverse than before because of the new water volume. Or is it only about land animals? I mean the mossies alone are incredibly diverse.

PS - Call me the devil, the great Satan, a moron or whatever but putting in with Mark Sainsbury, now that's just plain mean. Wait until the human rights commission hears about this!

by Claire Browning on October 21, 2010
Claire Browning

I expect Mark Sainsbury feels the same ...

You know how they say, two wrongs don't make a right? Except in your case: right-wing, and wrong often.

by Graeme Edgeler on October 21, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

I notice that two of the current Vice presidents of the UN's Human Rights Commission are Angola and Cuba.

Pretty sure that's not true. Indeed, I'm pretty sure the UN Human Rights Commission doesn't even have vice-presidents (nor a president for that matter).

by Mark Wilson on October 21, 2010
Mark Wilson


UN Website - it also identifies the Vice Presidents.

If you check the UN website it will confirm you are wrong.

by Claire Browning on October 22, 2010
Claire Browning

No Mark, you are. Graeme is being cryptic, as usual, but if you had, yourself, properly checked the relevant websites, you'd have found that the "UN's Human Rights Commission" no longer exists. It was replaced in 2006 by the Human Rights Council.

by Whitewater NZ Conservation Officer on October 29, 2010
Whitewater  NZ Conservation Officer

A belated reply to Mark's initial comments:

1.  re "usually a river will slowly rise as it is dammed so I assume that most species will beat it". 

Perhaps most fauna that isn't reliant on river flats and margins as a habitat.  That leaves all flora and some of the most threatened  fauna.  The whole point of F&B and other environmentalist opposition is that the Mokihinui is known to be one of NZ's biodiversity hotspots, and it is unacceptable that it be the site of the largest ever inundation of NZ's conservation estate.  The UN declared 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity, not Inundation.

2.  In answer to your "serious question" of "`Who pays for the lost power generation"?

This is like Saudi Arabia in Climate Change negotiations, asking to be paid for the oil they wouldn't sell if the world agrees to reduce oil consumption to reduce emissions.  Or Don Elder asking to be paid for not burning Southland lignite.  And not much different from asking who is going to pay me not to post more words on Pundit, though you are very welcome if you feel the need.

The serious answer is the West Coast doesn't actually need power from the Mokihinui, due to power coming from two new projects; the Arnold and Stockton. The West Coast will be exporting power once these projects come on line, and both will be operational long before the Mokihinui could be.  Claire has blogged about this and there was a documentary about it on TVNZ6 a few weeks back, you can buy it or view it here:

by Claire Browning on November 03, 2010
Claire Browning

"Everyone agrees that the new declaration on biodiversity is a triumph. Just one snag: it doesn’t appear to exist.

"... The declaration agreed at the summit in Japan last week to protect the world’s wild species and wild places was proclaimed by almost everyone a great success. There’s only one problem: none of the journalists who made these claims has seen it.

"... though it was approved on Friday, the declaration has still not been published. I’ve now pursued people on three continents to try to obtain it, without success. Having secured the headlines it wanted, the entire senior staff of the Convention on Biological Diversity has gone to ground: my calls and emails remain unanswered. The British government, which lavishly praised the declaration, tells me it has no written copies. I’ve never seen this situation before: every other international agreement I’ve followed was published as soon as it was approved.

"The evidence suggests that we’ve been conned. ...

"... The meeting in Japan was supposed to be a summit; bringing together heads of government or heads of state. It mustered five of them: the release boasts of coralling the President of Gabon, the President of Guinea-Bissau, the Prime Minister of Yemen and Prince Albert of Monaco. (It fails to identify the fifth country: Lichtenstein? Pimlico?) One third of the countries represented there couldn’t even be bothered to send a minister. This is how much they value the world’s living systems.


"The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) attempts to price the ecosystems we are destroying. It shows that the economic benefit of protecting habitats and species often greatly outweighs the money to be made by trashing them. A study in Thailand, for example, suggests that turning a hectare of mangrove forest into shrimp farms makes $1,220 per year, but inflicts $12,400 of damage every year on local livelihoods, fisheries and coastal protection. The catchment protected by one nature reserve in New Zealand saves local people NZ$136m a year in water bills. ...

"... Even so, this exercise disturbs me.

"As soon as something is measurable it becomes negotiable. Subject the natural world to cost-benefit analysis and accountants and statisticians will decide which parts of it we can do without. All that now needs to be done to demonstrate that an ecosystem can be junked is to show that the money to be made from trashing it exceeds the money to be made from preserving it. ..." 
published in the Guardian, November 2, 2010.

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