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The environment can’t wait

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Tom Belford23 June 2020

Oddly, our policymakers seem to believe the environment will wait on them.

Waterways won’t deteriorate, species won’t die out, greenhouse gas emissions won’t amplify … we can postpone attending these nuisance matters, or consign them to bureaucratic slow motion, or just deal with them cosmetically, hoping no one will notice  the underlying problem is worsening.

Even in areas deemed of highest priority, the problems worsen.

For example, the HBRC estimates HB’s hill country releases on average 3,272,686 tonnes of sediment into the region’s waterways every year. That’s 136,000 truck and trailer loads or 1090 Olympic sized swimming pools full of sediment per year.

Today, like any time it rains more than a day, from my front lawn I can see the Tukituki mud-brown, evidence of this statistic. Sure, when it comes to soil erosion, the HBRC is ‘working on it’, but meantime those 3.3 million tonnes a year of soil are being lost, effectively forever in the human time scale.

Yet our Regional Council boasts of a ‘solution’ that lets farmers file a 30-minute ‘pre-application’ so as to allow circumvention of the plan change designed to clean up the Tukituki catchment … a set of rules that became effective five years ago, not yesterday.

HBRC took over a year to pry a community-backed water plan for the Heretaunga Plains (including measures to curb erosion) out of its own dysfunctional Regional Planning Committee. It spends inordinate time obsessed with ‘can’t do’ farmers full of excuses for non-performance and non-compliance instead of encouraging those on the leading edge of profitability and sustainability. And it’s made no progress on providing leadership on climate change in a year.

At the national level, the Government caves in and withdraws its proposed fuel efficiency standards for autos. Then it backs off seriously addressing nitrogen pollution in our waterways, disengenuously claiming the scientists disagree. Then it gets weak-kneed at including farm emissions in its greenhouse gas budgeting, despite our country’s escalating emissions. And only in recent weeks did it approve its first investment out of the vaunted $100 million NZ Green Investment Finance fund created two years ago.

But, hey, judging from such (non) performance, the environment can wait.

There’s always an excuse to delay or circumvent environmental action … ‘shovel ready’ jobs are more important (whatever their environmental impact); farmers need more time (five years to address new standards isn’t time enough); or farmers simply cannot meet these ‘overly-stringent’ water quality standards or ‘must have’ more irrigation (despite hard evidence that plenty of more foresightful farmers indeed can comply and manage with the water they have); our territorial councils can find planners and engineers for vanity projects, but not accelerated water system upgrades.

It’s not just that the environment (and occasionally public health) suffers from these delays. It’s bad for our agri-business sector. As we think about ‘recovery’, listen to the warning of Mel Poulton, the government’s special agricultural trade envoy, speaking to NZ’s overseas competitiveness and fresh moves by governments to protect their local food producers (as reported by Farmers Weekly):

“I am certain that our continued commitment to the environment will help keep our product on the menu and the shelves. We must make it extraordinarily difficult for markets to keep NZ product from their shelves and menus and our commitment to the environment, standards on food safety, quality assurance and animal health and welfare are all factors that make our products attractive …

“Aligning ourselves with the highest international standards is what gives substance to our reputation and branding. It is this that enables our food sectors and exporters the opportunity to be flexible and access diverse markets around the world.”

We all feel a huge instinctive urge to ‘buy local’ during this economic pandemic … but it’s not a sentiment confined to New Zealand … in overseas markets the world over, consumers are retreating to their tribes and circling the wagons.

Only the very best and trusted brands will make it through the barriers. If we want ‘NZ Inc’ to be one of those brands, then another reason the environment can’t wait.

 

 

Tom Belford23 June 2020

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