In 2012, National Ministers’ environment choices left us 100% poorer - or pooer, in the case of our impure, faecally-contaminated rivers

Three years ago, new to the job, Trade (and former Conservation) Minister Tim Groser said our brand would be built on “world class environmental standards”:

Conservation Minister Tim Groser, in a speech in July, made the link between the state of the environment and our economic prosperity.

He said of New Zealand's place in the world: “The point of difference is not price or volume but rather brand value based around world class environmental standards.” With food in particular, demand for sustainable environmental practices was growing, he said.

The Prime Minister picked up on the theme in a November speech to Federated Farmers - after the Guardian's criticism of the blow-out in our greenhouse gas emissions. Key also noted moves by US and British supermarkets to stock only sustainably produced products ... But Key didn't go on to outline any Government initiatives towards sustainability ...

And yet here’s Groser in 2012 - yesterday - accusing people like, well, me of using that same brand as a “stick to beat New Zealand”, and calling it “deeply unhelpful”.

This followed dummy-spitting at water scientist Dr Mike Joy, by corporate lobbyist Mark Unsworth (economic “sabotage”), and talkback host Sean Plunket (“traitor”).

In 2012, this government’s economic focus has been more determined, and more desperate.

It has cost us, environmentally and economically, and it also came at the cost of evidence-based decision-making. Environment science (on freshwater, climate, critically endangered sealions) was ignored; environmentalists and New Zealanders with real concerns were marginalised by Ministerial hyperbole (special mention here to Phil “they are not really New Zealand” Heatley: “they are not really New Zealand. They have concerns but they are not really middle-class New Zealand”).

In breach of Parliament’s standing orders, and sub judice rules, Heatley was joined by Mr Joyce and Bathurst Resources, telling people like, well, my employers Forest & Bird to butt out.

So - since it’s the time of year for list making - let’s. Let's write it all down, and ask:

Is this the government you voted for?

Is this the New Zealand you want?

Water quality. To the fracas surrounding Mike Joy, add removal from the Land and Water Forum of enforceable National Water Quality Objectives: “After four years immersed in the issues, it was the logical body to do this critical work. Instead, Environment Minister Amy Adams put the job in the hands of a seemingly secret group of officials.”

Meanwhile, the Horizons regional council, backed by Environment Court, has gone ahead and done exactly that - set regional water quality standards, backed by land use limits, in (to rule them all) the One Plan. Successful appellants, Fish & Game, are now left defending Fed Farmers' further appeal alone. In a letter released under the OIA, DOC declined to become involved. (In the letter, Director-General Al Morrison says this was his decision.)

In Environment Canterbury: “The Government suspended democracy and restricted legal action in Canterbury to protect an agriculture boom potentially worth more than $5 billion to the national economy, documents reveal.”

Environment Minister Mrs Adams, a Canterbury farmer herself, wants better cost-benefit analysis from councils. This is the One Plan issue; the issue the Feds are complaining about.

She will change the RMA to require it: “I want communities to be asking themselves, ‘OK, we can improve our water quality in this way and at this rate and it will have this impact on our GDP and jobs, or we can do it on this track and on this time and it will have that impact'.”

But when it comes to environment reporting, which is also cost-benefit analysis (riffing off the Minister - “we can grow our economy in this way and at this rate, and it will have this impact”), five-yearly reports are abandoned, and in a broken election promise, this function will not be given to the PCE.

Marine critically endangered species. On a motion at the IUCN to protect Maui’s dolphins, of which an estimated 55 dolphins remain: “Some 576 members, including governments and NGOs, voted for the motion. New Zealand is the only country to vote against. It was initially believed two countries opposed to the motion, but it has since been revealed that New Zealand had two votes.”

Government has just finished consulting, after reopening submissions, on a Maui’s threat management plan. I commend the science to them!

Sadly, when it came to sea lions, Primary Industries David Carter ignored the science, excluded DOC, and wrote to a marine scientist saying “not to bother him”.

National was the only party - the only party - in Parliament which refused to meet, and declined to join, the Shark Finning Alliance. All other Parliamentary party spokespeople publicly pledged and signed a written commitment to ban this unsustainable, wasteful killing of marine ecosystems’ top predators. Sharks are the wolves of the sea.

Environment legislation. Despite last minute changes, National also passed an EEZ law that does not comply with international law, and leaves offshore regulation weaker than that on land, under the RMA.  At the time of writing, Mrs Adams had not ruled out the possibility of unlawfully permitting oil exploration (meaning it could happen “as of right”, without consent), by way of new regulations.

And no sign yet of a Marine Reserves Bill, which was supposed to be a companion package, and introduction of which had been promised this year.

Rod Oram slated the idea of gutting the RMA (so did I). On the Crown Minerals Act, too, government is stealthily unpicking the law’s fabric.

Economic winners and losers: climate. Biofuels and solar energy grants were cut (not picking winners?) - but when it comes to indefinitely subsidising polluting industries (picking losers!), billions are being poured in to the roads of National significance, and ETS amendments and subsidies, which were tersely criticised by the Sustainability Council’s Simon Terry, and PCE Jan Wright who, in incredibly strong language for her, called the changes a failure and a farce (and was accused by government members of politicisation for doing so).

New Zealand has just had the dubious distinction of achieving both first and second place in ‘climate fossil awards’ from talks in Doha, for hampering the talks.

And the Guardian declares New Zealand one of the “four horsemen of geoengineering”, joining Britain, Australia and Canada in opposing a moratorium.

2012 saw us slipping in the environment rankings, to fourteenth according to the Yale-Columbia Environmental Performance Index, from first in 2006; and eighth according to the World Bank, from second in 2009.

Ministers are tiptoeing away from that brand, saying that they now want to write a New Zealand story.

The trouble is, I think I just did.

This is our National story.

Comments (12)

by Claire Browning on November 27, 2012
Claire Browning

And yes, I will take the award for Worst Headline of 2012. Thank you very much.

by Claire Browning on November 27, 2012
Claire Browning

For more on Mike Joy's credibility, water and climate science (and what it means, for '100% pure'), and the Yale EPI, here's Peter Griffin from the Science Media Centre (my emphasis):

In the rankings, New Zealand comes in in 14th place out of 132 countries – between Iceland and Albania. Not a bad result. But Yale also issues an EPI Trend ranking – looking at how we’ve progressed over the past decade. Using this indicator we are ranked 50th, between Armenia and Slovenia. ...

by mudfish on November 28, 2012

Slovenia is a nice place, at least it was when I visited nearly 10 years ago. But not a patch on where we were 10 years ago.

Lots of worrying trends.

For Hobbit Day: 100% pure fantasy

by geoff on November 28, 2012

I think you are missing some key points. National has hardly touched key areas of environmental legislation where reform is deperately needed from an economic perspective and that is conservation. At the moment our vistors don't pay for entry into national parks or the costs of search & rescue operations (unlike overseas countries), hut fees don't reflect the true cost of their maintenance/upkeep and more importanly there are few incentives for private sector involvement in biodiversity conservation for a range of reasons.    Clearly this government is not economically rationale when it comes to the environment. It is simply focussing on policies that will offend the least number of people and get themselves relected in 2014.

by Ian MacKay on November 28, 2012
Ian MacKay

In Egypt, the people rushed to the streets in huge numbers, to protest the Presidential usurping of power.

In NZ hardly a whimper at the huge denial of future welfare of our fair land. The National Government has been "clever" enough to chip away at the rules protecting us so that gradually we have been degraded. (Its a bit like aging. It is insidious.)

by Alan Preston on November 28, 2012
Alan Preston

This National 'government' has no interest whatsoever in anything other than achieving the outcomes set by those in the corporate sector who funded them into power.
If this is how we define 'corruption' - then this government is completely corrupt.
They are nothing more than an agency and cannot be defined as a 'government' because they are not adhering to the principles of 'good governence'.
As agents working for the interests of the corporate sector National only see 'society and environment' as costs so to expect them to act on our behalf to improve environmental and social outcomes is misplaced wishful thinkiing.
It simply isn't on their agenda and they will avoid doing anything until it becomes politically expedient for them to do so. And how is that going to happen ?

by Che Nua on November 29, 2012
Che Nua

Went for my first 'summer swim' with the whanau in Lake Taupo last weekend; never seen so much algae & weed growth in the unusually green-tinged water + quite a lot of junk food wrappers / plastic bottles lying around. Hope our kids don't grow up thinkin' all this is 'normal'

by Matthew Percival on November 29, 2012
Matthew Percival

This is what happens when governments interfere in the market.

If we had a free market what would happen is an opportunity would be created. A group of farmers who have low levels of waste would get together and form a company selling ethical dairy products. The concerned public would be able to enforce change with their wallets by purchasing the ethical dairy products, vaulting the companyy into a preferred market position. Thus forcing other farmers to up their game and change their ways to remain competitive.

However in New Zealand we don't have anything approaching free markets and we are left with a regulatory web/mess that ultimately achieves inferior results over a longer period of time.

We as a society should not be looking to our government for change. We have the power to change society with our wallets but that power is stifled by government interference.

by Robert Atack on November 29, 2012
Robert Atack

I'm reasonably politically neutral, being as I think they are all useless liars ....

So I am not defending the current bunch of fools, but to harp on about how hopeless National are about cleaning up say the Manawatu river, is forgetting that Labour were in 'control' for 9 years while the river just got worse, so lets not lay the blame of our current situation at National alone, it has been both of them stuffing up NZ in pursuit of the mighty $ and it has been happening with the approval of most apathetic voters

Basically selfish people will vote for selfish leaders, we get what we deserve, garbage in garbage out.



by Frank Macskasy on December 11, 2012
Frank Macskasy

@ Matthew Percivalon - "This is what happens when governments interfere in the market. If we had a free market what would happen is an opportunity would be created. A group of farmers who have low levels of waste would get together and form a company selling ethical dairy products...."

Matthew, your trust  in the "free market" to solve greowing environbmental mess is worse than naive - it enters the realms of faith-based religion.

We already have "ethical" products on our shelves - eg; free range eggs. It has not stopped battery cage egg-production. Why? Because free range is considered a "premium" product by retailers and charge accordingly.

Your precious "free market" works - in reverse.

Claire Browning's assessment of National's track record on degrading the environment is 100% on-the-mark. In almost every respect, National's mania for pro-business policies has undermined environmental-related laws and strategies.

The irony is that our future is very much based on a supposedly clean & green image - and National is destroying this in front of our eyes.

Paradoxically, Matthew  our market advantage of "clean & green" is being whittled away by a supposedly pro-business Party.

And the response from the likes of Unsworth, Groser, etc? We're expected to keep our mouths shut and not tell the truth to the rest of the world.

It's one thing for politicians to tell lies - now they expect the rest of us to follow suit?!


by Frank Macskasy on December 11, 2012
Frank Macskasy

@ Robert Atack - "Basically selfish people will vote for selfish leaders..."


by Jeanette Fitzsimons on December 17, 2012
Jeanette Fitzsimons

Matthew, how can ethical consumers have any real effect on the dairy industry when most of their product is bulk commodity milk powder not sold direct to consumers? the intermediaries don't give a damn and the final consumer is too rem ote from the source to be able to influence. Even markets require a framework to operate in, and the role of government is to set that framework in a way that protects people and the environment.

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