Nature would have legal status under a government with the Greens “at its heart,” day two of the Environmental Defence Society’s Tipping Points conference heard.
MP Eugenie Sage, standing in for party leader James Shaw, said that nature has a fundamental right to life, and a Green government would order a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Resource Management Act.
“The Productivity Commission’s review of the RMA has focused on economic efficiency, rather than social and environmental outcomes,” she said.
“It hasn’t had the broad public engagement which changes to our major environmental and planning law deserve. Royal commissions enable robust and thoughtful independent analysis which inform Parliament’s law making.”
Sage said the royal commission could recommend modification of the RMA or that it would be thrown out and replaced with something new, but the bottom line would be that humans exist within the environment.
Much of the rest of the day 2 of the conference was dominated by discussion about taking an ecosystems-approach to environmental management.
WWF New Zealand campaigns head Peter Hardstaff said it was “bloody hard to do”, but worth doing.
Te Ohu Kaimoana chief executive Dion Tuuta said it isn’t a new thing – Maori have been doing it for centuries, and it’s the principle needed to complete the Quota Management System.
Integrated Kaipara Harbour Management Group programme manager Willie Wright said holistic, ecosystems-based management was the aim of the harbour’s management plan, bringing together the health of the harbour and the land.
Sanford chief Volker Kuntsch said that much of damage occurring in the oceans has its roots in land management issues, including sediment loss and excessive nutrient load.
EDS policy director Raewyn Peart said that looking after wetlands and creating more of them would be an effective way of stopping sediment and nutrients getting to the sea.
Landcare Research and Auckland University ecologist Professor Bill Lee ran a ruler over the cost of planting the riparian margins of all New Zealand’s waterways, and found that for every dollar spent, $3 of benefits would be gained – up to $5.2 billion worth of benefits.
The University of Otago’s Professor Marc Schallenberg said it was all very well recognising tipping points once we have passed them, but it’s much better to see them before we get to them.
NIWA freshwater research manager Dr Scott Larned said that was possible, citing the Montreal Protocol on the ozone hole as an example.
Auckland University’s Professor Simon Thrush – using the collapse of the Canadian cod fishery as “the poster child” of the impact of going past environmental tipping points – said that New Zealand needs better information if it wants to identify tipping points before we get to them.
“New Zealand’s data isn’t good enough to identify tipping points,” he said. “We need to build up capacity if we want to move to ecosystems-based management.”
Eric Jorgensen, who chairs the Marlborough Sounds Integrated Management Trust, said the disconnect between communities and between government agencies is the biggest challenge facing groups like his.
“We are waiting for agencies to catch up,” he said. “At the moment their approach is very ad hoc.”
EDS Policy Director Raewyn Peart outlined the benefits of the Seachange marine spatial plan for the Hauraki Gulf and called for agencies to implement it.
At the end of the day, there was a “pitch a policy” session in which members of the audience suggested election ideas.
Earlier, EDS CEO Gary Taylor had spelled out an election “wishlist” of policies on behalf of EDS that were well received by most of the audience. The wishlist is:
The resource management system
Environmentally sound development
EDS’s next conference is the Australia-New Zealand Climate Change and Business Conference which is being held in Auckland on 10-11 August 2017 www.climateandbusiness.com
*Communique by Carbon News, New Zealand’s daily environmental news service, www.carbonnews.co.nz