“We should always measure a government’s environmental rhetoric against its environmental record,” said John Key on the campaign trail last year.

We agree. So how does his Government’s environmental record stack up after one year in office?

Sadly, a quick look at action (and inaction) on key environmental issues reveals that the Government’s environmental record so far comes nowhere close to living up to the “blue-green” rhetoric. Here are some examples we think are important.

Climate change

Climate change is the greatest global challenge facing our generation.

New Zealand was beginning to show leadership on this huge issue, but the new Government has turned this on its head.

We now have a weak reduction target to take to December’s international negotiations in Copenhagen. We have an Emissions Trading Scheme that pays polluters to pollute more. And we have seen the cancellation of numerous programmes that could have helped reduce our emissions right now at low cost.

The Greens are fighting this reversal every step of the way. We think Kiwis want to do their bit for the team, not drop the ball and run away.

Water

If climate change is the greatest international environmental issue, water is the biggest domestic one, and it’s especially important in Hawke’s Bay.

Hawke’s Bay has superb rivers, but they are under strain.

It’s been great to see the people, and now Councils, beginning to stand up for the public good against private profit. The proposals for land disposal of sewage in Central Hawke’s Bay will be a big help for the Tukituki River, and halting the pollution entering the Mohaka is essential to protect a river that is recognised by law as “nationally outstanding.”

But nationally, we have a long way to go. Water quality continues to decline in lowland rivers and lakes, and our wild and scenic rivers are threatened with damming for electricity and being sucked dry for irrigation.

We must not let private interests profit at the expense of our public water.

A new threat emerging from the Government’s recent announcement of changes to the Local Government Act is the privatisation of our drinking water. Overseas, privatised water has resulted in residents having water shut off, unclean and polluted water making people sick, and profiteering from companies from what is fundamentally a human right.

It’s very important our water infrastructure and management remains in public hands.

Conservation

The conservation of our unique species and treasured places is in peril.

Outrageously, the Government may allow mining in National Parks and other high-value conservation areas. Fortunately, we’re pretty sure the people of New Zealand won’t stand for it.

As well as cuts to the Department of Conservation’s budget, we’ve seen a halt on new marine reserves. Hawke’s Bay’s Te Angiangi marine reserve and others have proven to be a boon for biodiversity, and improve fish abundance and size nearby too.

To add insult to injury, this Government voted down Metiria’s Bill that would have fixed the laws that are failing to protect our dolphins and sea lions from extinction. We said ‘Shame on National!’ on that one; and the Baybuzz had to agree (Baybuzz 30 July).

Changes to the Resource Management Act

The RMA is there to ensure that we get a say in what happens to the places that are important to us, and to ensure our environment is protected. This Government has been quick to attack the public interest in the way we plan and develop our communities.

Our flagship environmental protection law has been wounded but not as badly as they wanted to. The Greens and the 1000 groups and individuals who had their say on the changes got several disastrous amendments knocked out, so you still have your right to appeal part of a plan to the Environment Court if it affects you.

On the other hand, National has raised the fee for filing an appeal to the Environment Court to 10 times what it was!

Groups like Baywatch in Hawke’s Bay do excellent work to keep an eye on the councils and defend the environment from poor proposals and dodgy development, but this makes it a whole lot harder.

The Ministry of Justice described this right of appeal as “fundamental”, and the fee rise as unjustified. We stuck up for your democratic rights in a complaint, and are awaiting the outcome.

The axe comes down

There have been other bizarre decisions by this Government.

The Inland Revenue saved over $1 million for the taxpayer by cutting energy and travel bills through the Govt3 sustainability scheme; yet the Government axed it.

The implementation of the Green Party’s Waste Minimisation Act has been watered down to almost nothing. Even the sensible proposal for retailers and importers of TVs and computers to help consumers recycle electronic waste has been abandoned.

And the Enviroschools programme has been so popular and successful it was being touted in trade-talks overseas as an export opportunity; yet the Government cut the funding for it.

Credit where it’s due: Home Insulation

The Green Party’s one billion dollar insulation package, eventually agreed to by Labour, and now National, is a major step in providing help to communities to meet better environmental standards. The uptake of the insulation has been massive, with thousands of families now living in warmer, drier, healthier, homes.

The expected savings in health costs, energy consumption, and air pollution are significant. It’s also provided jobs during the recession. It’s a great example of MMP in action: what started as Green Party policy has now been accepted by all parties as a high-priority Government investment.

Environment, economy, society: three sides of the same coin!

So there you have it – our take on the Government’s environmental record so far. It’s not all bad, but it certainly comes nowhere close to living up to the rhetoric.

Fundamentally, we think this Government is failing to understand is that taking care of the environment goes hand-in-hand with taking care of the economy and society. They can’t be separated.

The Green Party recognises this by pushing for environmental protection, a fair society, and a sustainable economy all together.

We’d love to hear your views about how we can do this, and anything else. Perhaps we’ll bump into you for a chat when we visit Hawke’s Bay later this month.

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