The New Zealand story: 100% pooer!

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.