In a poor attempt to make it look like NACT are actually doing something about New Zealand’s incredibly high rate of bio-diversity loss , and warnings that our forests will soon be silent Nick Smith has introduced a National Policy Statement on Biodiversity whilst NACT also announces further cuts in conservation funding .
Having had a quick look over the proposed NPS: Biodiversity, there are two things which I think it fails miserably on.
The first, is a complete lack of vision to address what many people consider one of New Zealand’s defining environmental challenges: the continuing loss of our biodiversity. This lack of any vision for a better environment for our grand-children is summarised well by the proposed NPS objective, which is to:
To promote the maintenance of indigenous biological diversity by protecting areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna, and to encourage protection and enhancement of biodiversity values more broadly while:
• supporting best practice of local authorities
• recognising the positive contribution of landowners as guardians/kaitiaki of their land
• recognising that the economic, social and cultural well-being of people and communities depends on, amongst other things, making reasonable use of land.
So the NPS does not seek to ‘restore’ biodiversity, ‘avoid the further loss of biodiversity’, or even ‘ensure the retention of New Zealand’s biodiversity’ it seeks to ‘promote the maintenance’ of biodiversity by protecting areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats (most of which are probably already protected by the DOC estate or Reserves Act), and ‘encourage protection’ of broader biodiversity values.
This second part wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t then completely watered down by bullet points two and three that: ‘recognise the positive contribution of landowners’ – even if this ‘positive’ contribution is to clear regenerating scrub and to plant pest trees with pretty flowers to attract birds? And ‘recognising that the … well-being of people depends on … making reasonable use of land’ – well, I guess that means if some regenerating bush, or a lake get in the way of a dairy farm well, that would be pretty darn unreasonable wouldn’t it? Another frustrating part is that many of these broader biodiversity values that were within urban environments used to be protected, until NACT removed the ability of local government to protect trees in urban areas in the 2009 RMAA.
The second issue is more of a constitutional/process matter. At the time that the 2009 RMA amendments, some people were concerned that the Minister for the Environment had the ability to make national policy by decree, rather than through a committee or board of inquiry process. This has been confirmed by this proposed NPS. The cabinet paper introducing the NPS ( refer p.10 ) makes it clear that the minister will use his new powers to avoid any public hearing of the proposed NPS and make the decision on the final NPS himself. Essentially, the following will happen: People make submissions in writing, these are reviewed by Ministry for the Environment staff, a recommendation is made to the minister, the minister decides whatever he likes, and we have a new NPS. I’m sure that if Muldoon were still around he would be very proud of the Nats taking power back to the executive!
The loss of our biodiversity is a serious challenge to all of New Zealand. Weak policy that lacks vision, together with cut backs to the ability of local government to protect important habitat and reduced conservation funding, is not going to ensure that future generations can enjoy the bush that Nick Smith was able to enjoy while he was growing up.