This past weekend saw a burst of rhetoric about New Zealand’s environment and the best paths to protect and enhance it.

In Akaroa, the ‘Bluegreens’ were meeting. This is a group of 18 National Party MPs (neither MPs Foss or Tremain belong) and party members who subscribe to the philosophy enunciated on Saturday by Environment Minister Nick Smith (his full speech is here):

“Bluegreens are … passionate about our nation’s economic success. It is our water, our fertile lands, our forests and our oceans that underpin so much of the wealth we need for New Zealanders to have jobs and good incomes, the funds we need to provide quality health care, education and retirement incomes. Our most important founding principle is our belief that successful economic and environmental policy can and must go hand in hand.

It is this that is driving our freshwater management reforms, our approach to climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, our changes to the resource management act, and the Government’s announcements that we are making today on air quality, green growth, biodiversity, marine protection and long term emissions reductions.”

The National-led Government used the Bluegreen gathering to announce a variety of environmental initiatives:

  • A final decision on regional/local deadlines for meeting healthy air standards aimed at reducing deadly small particle (PM10) pollution. Hastings gets until 2020 to be fully compliant; Napier, with a lesser problem, must meet the standard by 2016. (Details here)
    Smith noted that: “Fifty percent of New Zealand’s population covering 27 urban areas like Auckland, Christchurch, Hamilton, Rotorua, Nelson and Timaru live in polluted airsheds that adversely impact on health. The issue here is fine particulate pollution from fires, from cars and from industry that when inhaled do permanent damage to our lungs and hearts contributing to strokes, heart attacks, cancer, lower birth weights and increased asthma. The best estimate of annual premature deaths from air pollution is 1640 per year or about four times the road toll.”
  • Creation of three new marine reserves totaling 435,163 hectares in the Subantarctic Islands (Details here)
  • Plans to gazette under the Climate Change Response Act 2002 a 50% reduction in New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. (Details here)
  • A proposed National Policy Statement on biodiversity under the Resource Management Act that would set out the Government’s expectations and guidance of how local councils will protect biodiversity on private land. Smith says the new policy would recognise that “rare and threatened species are not just found in national parks, but rare and threatened habitats, such as wetlands and lowland native forests, and occur on private land throughout the country.” (Details here)
  • And finally, a ‘green growth’ initiative, which consists of establishing an Advisory Group on Green Growth charged with developing a strategy to “enable New Zealand to grow the economy while enhancing our clean, green brand.” (Details here)

You can expect to hear more from BayBuzz about these proposals as they progress through their various public consultation processes (the clean air decision is a ‘done deal’).

Meantime, the Green Party had its megaphone going too on the weekend. Party C0-leader Dr Russel Norman delivered a major speech (billed as ‘Smart Green Economics’) on environment and the economy to party faithful gathered in Auckland. The crux of his message (his full speech is here):

“The heart of smart Green economics is understanding that when we look after our environment, we look after our economy. The National Party says it’s a trade-off: we must consume our environment to grow the economy – mine our national parks and aquifers for short term profits. We say clean and green is the foundation of our prosperity. No environment, no economy.

As a small producer at the edge of the world, we need an export brand to sell our products overseas. That brand is clean green New Zealand, 100% Pure. Not 50% Pure. Clean and green is the best brand you could ask for as the world becomes more environmentally aware.  The brand is already worth $18 billion to New Zealand, and can be worth much more in the future.

Clean, green and safe is the brand that resulted in the dramatic increase in dairy exports to China after their melamine scandal. Clean and green stands behind our multi-billion dollar tourism industry. Our organics sector has grown into a half billion dollar industry building from clean and green and GE Free.

To keep clean and green real we must re-tool our economy. We need market signals that internalise environmental damage – we need a price on carbon, water and waste, so that prices reflect real world costs. And to keep clean and green real we need strong government regulation – serious rules to clean up water, reduce greenhouse emissions and protect our natural capital.

By making prices better reflect true environmental costs and introducing real environmental regulation, we reward those businesses who play nicely with nature.”

The parliamentary election year begins!

Tom Belford

P.S. And from Labour: National’s proposed 50% by 50 emission cuts are “meaningless window dressing” (details here) and its biodiversity proposal is “paying lip service to conservation” (details here).

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