Marian Hobbs Speech To Forest & Bird Society
Hon Marian Hobbs
15 June 2001 Speech Notes
Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society, Quality Inn, Willis St, 7.40pm, Friday June 15
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you. I don’t need to tell any of you that the loss of indigenous biodiversity is the most pervasive environmental issue facing New Zealand. For 78 years your Society has been fighting to save New Zealand’s native animals and plants and its distinctive landscapes.
One “recent” bulletin published by the Society expressed concerns about habitat destruction and modification, pests and pollution. I wonder how many of you read it? It was, in fact 78 years ago - which is very recent if you consider the age of the earth and the time that the species with which we share these islands have been around. In 2001, 78 years on from that bulletin, we’re still facing the same problems. The rate of extinctions may have slowed, but we are still on a slippery slope. Over 1000 of our known animal, plant and fungi species are considered threatened. The loss of natural ecosystems and habitats has turned a once-continuous range of unique ecosystems into a patchwork of isolated fragments.
We have to do better. I don’t mean simply that “the government” has to do better. I mean we ALL have to do better - individuals, community groups, pressure groups, local government, scientists, planners, journalists, central government, rural residents, urban residents¡K We all need to do better - even those of us already doing our bit through practical action, like many members of Forest and Bird.
Right now, many private landowners and community groups are becoming the heroes of our story. I know that because of the numerous award ceremonies I attend at regional councils the length and breadth of this country. They are out there working on protecting and restoring natural areas, helped by mechanisms like the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust, Nature Heritage Fund and Nga Whenua Rahui. And some do it without any financial help whatsoever. They recognise the value they are creating for their land and waterways and for future generations.
Thankfully, more and more New Zealanders are waking up to the fact that economic growth doesn’t have to mean dirty air, polluted water, dead wildlife and ruined landscapes. We have in place environmental legislation that puts the protection of the environment at the forefront. And I believe that there’s a desire out there for a more cooperative approach to tackling the causes and effects of biodiversity loss. Science and technology will play a key part in that.
I was asked to talk about the national policy statement on indigenous biodiversity. That is one mechanism that can contribute to halting the decline. And I will shortly outline what I believe are key elements that should be reflected in the national policy statement. I also want to look at the role of organisations like Forest and Bird in the protection of biodiversity and raising environmental awareness generally. But first, I want to place management of biodiversity in its broader context.
Environmental management is a huge issue, but as I’ve already said it’s one we all have a role to play in. But many of us still need the motivation and the understanding to play those roles - or no player will act.
Let's stop and look at that. You don't need any motivation to act on environmental or conservation issues. But do you have the same motivation and understanding to play the strong game you play in conservation in say disability and ACC issues, or in issues surrounding the saving of Te Reo Maori, or in issues surrounding pedagogy, curriculum and assessment; in other words, when we know through experience or contact, we tend to act.
This government is committed to action on environmental issues as well as on a wide range of other issues. My four highest priorities in environment are climate change, issues surrounding genetic modification, hazard and waste reduction, and protecting biodiversity, air and water. To look at each of these in turn:
- Climate change: We are taking action to support our commitment to ratifying the Kyoto Protocol; that is international action and local action to get our house in order. Domestically that means developing environmentally sustainable transport and energy options to reduce New Zealand’s emissions of greenhouse gases, doing the agricultural science to investigate possible ways of reducing methane, our largest source of greenhouse gas.
- Genetic Modification: We will be creating and implementing a long-term strategy for New Zealand’s approach to genetic modification once we have the report of the Royal Commission. We expect to release that report as quickly as is practical, though the Government will obviously need time to consider the recommendations and make decisions.
- Hazard and waste reduction: We are committed to making the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act work and to tackling existing contamination. We plan to implement a new strategy to move New Zealand towards zero waste - which is a noble thing to work towards, but when one includes wastewater becomes difficult to achieve.
- Protecting biodiversity, air and water: We are doing a variety of things to protect air, water and biodiversity, including setting national standards and promoting their uptake; working with industry sectors including the dairy industry to find solutions to particular problems; promoting more efficient use of water resources through guidance and assistance to local government; and developing national policy and support for action at the local level. I will talk further in a little while about the government's approach to biodiversity on private land.
Overall these priorities will not surprise you. The real question is why have we not made more progress? The consensus seems to be that New Zealand has made progress on the more obvious and easier-to-fix problems. For example, we have cleaned up most sewage discharges, installed dairy farm ponds, and closed many old rubbish tips. But we are increasingly left with more complex and diffuse problems, such as loss of biodiversity and the effects of dairy farm runoff on lowland water quality. This is where tools other than, or in addition to, regulation will be necessary to change people's behaviour.
To date I have deliberately focused the attention of the Ministry for the Environment on practical action rather than on some of the bigger questions. But there are bigger questions we need to consider. For example, are the current policies and institutions delivering the Labour-Alliance overall goals for the environment? Fifteen years on from the major institutional changes that set up the Ministry for the Environment and the Department of Conservation etc, 10 years on from when the RMA commenced and in the lead up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg September 2002), I believe it is time to address some of these bigger questions.
Over the last 18 months or so, I have worked with the Ministry on some initiatives that will motivate local government, individuals and communities to step outside their normal comfort zones and take action. For example, the Ministry for the Environment has been showing strong leadership in pursuing the Government’s goal of closing or upgrading all sub-standard landfills by 2010. This has resulted in modified operating procedures and early closure plans for some landfills. And new landfills - such as in Gisborne - are undergoing careful and open planning before they start to dig holes.
I want now to talk about my leadership as Minister for the Environment, my vision and my priorities. My vision is to
Make our clean, green image a reality in our cities, towns and rural places.
At the end of the day, I think New Zealanders want relatively simple things, such as being able to swim at a clean beach, to see the horizon on a clear day, to live in healthy and pleasant cities, and to hear native birds singing in their backyards. Unfortunately many people do not recognise that these are under threat. If they do, they are often daunted by the increasingly complex solutions or by the need to limit their own expectations (such as curbing coastal subdivisions). They see environment as "over there" in - for example - a national park¡K but not in their own backyard. And that reflects itself in government expenditure: $100 million for West Coast forests, but $25 million to run the Ministry for the Environment.
My vision, therefore, acknowledges the gap between New Zealand’s clean green image and its somewhat clean, still green around the edges reality. I want to use that acknowledgement as the first step towards motivating change. And I want to involve all New Zealanders in working on the solutions. I want us all to be the heroes of this story, or else we fail!
I am aware that publicly acknowledging we have environmental problems is a "double-edged sword". New Zealand relies on this clean, green image for so much of our trade and our attraction to visitors. But unless we get people to recognise the threat - and to see that there are do-able solutions - we won’t get people to act.
We must also recognise that we are better off than most other countries; there is some really good work already under way - and many of you are part of it. Keep it up! But as I said earlier, we must do more, faster and on a wider scale. And we must - absolutely must - develop new innovative solutions for our more intractable problems.
This vision is my contribution to the whole-of-government pursuit of sustainable development. In my view there is huge potential in promoting innovation and seeking economic growth that is both environmentally sound and creates jobs. New Zealanders' future prosperity is about smart growth. This needs to be based on innovation and knowledge, and on both using and sustaining our natural assets. Smart people, the New Zealanders who can work anywhere in the world these days¡Keven from Wellington or Waimate¡K want a country where the quality of life makes it attractive to stay and bring up their families. Investment in environment is therefore a strategic investment in our prosperity.
I am pursuing six broad objectives to make this vision a reality:
- To motivate and empower people to own the problems and the solutions. (This is a huge task. Environmental issues are characterised by single-issue campaigns - your letters¡Xand from distinct groups. The issues are not owned by people - that's why waste minimisation is a great issue. People have to change their behaviours¡Xall of the people, not just the enthusiasts.)
- To reduce risks to people and the environment - hazardous substances
- To promote environmentally friendly economic growth -- economic growth does not have to mean environmental degradation.
- To cement a close working relationship with local government and iwi
- To forge a strategic alliance with clean, green business to promote sustainable development - to work with the leaders here, the energy savings in The Warehouse
- To streamline rules and regulations (without compromising the above) so that they are owned and understood and not something left to lawyers and planners..
The previous government had a "level playing field" approach. I want to tip the playing field in favour of the clean, green players. We need to move beyond the "end of the pipe" mentality to policies that decouple environmental damage from economic growth. “What does that mean?” It means not assuming that economic growth must always be linked with harming the environment. It means smart growth that protects our environment while improving our economy. If we come up with more intelligent designs for industrial processes, for example, that result in less waste, more efficient use of materials and less energy consumed in the process, then that’s smart technology that we can export. A little Kiwi ingenuity can go a long way. (Pete Hodgson gives the example of the benefits from solving methane - great to export that solution)
And I want the Ministry for the Environment to take a very close look at whether the whole system is operating in a way that will help us deliver on these broad objectives. There are four key areas I want the Ministry to focus on: 1. performance in environmental management, 2.promoting community action, 3. business innovation, and 4. environmental laws and institutions. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Performance and monitoring : I want to know how we can best monitor environmental results and the performance of local and central government agencies. We need to look at how we provide incentives to councils and other agencies to meet the government’s overall environmental objectives;
Community Action: I want to examine how we promote environmental awareness and action in the community; so that we can set up more effective long-term communication and education programmes.
Business innovation and bio-economy: I want to create new approaches to encourage environmental innovation in business. We need to look at how we can “tip the playing field” for those players that are willing to embrace sustainable development.
Environmental legislation and institutions: I want better integrated management of waste and hazardous substances under RMA and HSNO (and I am willing to go "up the pipe" to achieve this rather than stick slavishly to looking at environmental effects). I want less litigation and more alternative dispute resolution. I want new mechanisms for promoting national policy, consistency and standards. I also want to think about alternative institutional models that will improve capacity and leadership at the national level.
So that's my broad vision for the environment.
But I imagine you want to know more about the issue of biodiversity outside the conservation estate and what I’m doing there. Firstly I want to talk about the National policy State, but I certainly don’t see an NPS as the be-all and end-all of our policy response. It is just one part of a package of measures I announced last December to tackle the issue of biodiversity on private land.
That package also established two new contestable funds. One provides support for providing information and for biodiversity advisory services. The other will help fund ongoing, day-to-day land management activities to improve the condition of biodiversity being protected on private land. At the same time we are funding a significant new partnership programme with local government to support pilot projects and build capacity.
There has been significant increases in funding for the Nature Heritage Foundation, Nga Whenua Rahui and the QEII Trust. And we have clarified the role and mandate of local government on biodiversity issues through the Resource Management Act Amendment Bill. The package I have just outlined is in turn just one facet of the $187 million dollar over five years the Government has committed to the Biodiversity Strategy.
It is no secret that the Government did not accept the recommendation of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Biodiversity and Private Land that we should not proceed with a national policy statement at this stage. The Advisory Committee was concerned that the NPS might make some key parties angry enough to just opt out of the process, which would then make it pretty impossible to reach the challenging goals set out in the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy . The Committee was also concerned about the costs to central and local government of preparing and giving effect to the NPS. They thought that this money would be better spent on direct protection and restoration measures.
The Advisory Committee did not dismiss preparing a National Policy Statement out of hand. It regarded it as “useful but not critical”.
The Government, however, has taken a different view and a bold step. We believe that the NPSs are a valuable way to make a collective statement about what is important - to set clear direction at a national level about what are priorities. I want to do more of them, starting with biodiversity. We all need to know where we are heading under the Resource Management Act before we get too far down the implementation track.
There are other reasons as well. The difficulties encountered with managing biodiversity are similar around the country. A national response helps to avoid duplication of effort in designing policy solutions. It will encourage integrated planning for biodiversity protection. And it says very clearly that the Government is serious about halting the decline of biodiversity.
What, then, might such an NPS on indigenous biodiversity look like? I would like to highlight five essential ingredients.
First, the policy has to mean something. There is no point writing a national policy statement that is so woolly that nobody has any idea what to do with it. By definition, national policy statements are at the top of a hierarchy of policy documents prepared by central and local government under the Resource Management Act. The words have to be clear and direct and strong. Local authorities must know what it is that they are being required to turn their attention to. That's why we have been working closely with local government in designing this NPS.
Second, it has be flexible enough to allow councils some discretion on how best to achieve good biodiversity outcomes. Having a strong policy statement should not translate into prescription. I believe the NPS must give local authorities the power to decide how they will achieve the policies in the statement. I expect that a range of methods would be considered by decisionmakers to achieve the provisions of the NPS. These would probably include incentives, voluntary mechanisms, education, rules, the preparation of strategies and active management.
Now I know that some of you hold strongly to the view that the NPS should make councils put in place rules protecting biodiversity. Let me be clear, though. I fully expect that rules will be an important part of any council response. But I do not accept that central government is better placed than local councils to determine the most appropriate responses to local situations.
In fact local decision-making is one of the principles of Agenda 21. I had an argument last night with someone nervous about local government legislation. He didn't trust local councils. But if you don’t trust local government, why trust central government? Isn't it about democracy? Isn't it about getting the appropriate people elected onto councils? Isn't it about having more politicians understanding and acting on the issues you care about?
Having a blanket requirement for rules removes any discretion or incentive for a council to develop its own solutions suited to its own biodiversity and its own community.
There is also a risk associated with regulation if it provokes resistance and undermines goodwill from those who are prepared to change their behaviours voluntarily. Whether the risk is worth taking requires an assessment of likely acceptability and enforceability.
And some of you will think I'm a wimp. Not so, but I am and always will be a teacher and I know that you cannot force people to learn, or force them to change behaviour. You win those changes by a variety of methods. And as I say that, I remember ruefully that I was arrested four times in 1981.
I foresee that after the NPS is made operative many, if not most, plans will contain bottom line rules for the protection of indigenous biodiversity - just as some do now. But if a local authority chooses other methods to achieve the outcomes in the NPS - and can demonstrate they are effective - this should be supported.
Third, we have to recognise that halting the decline of indigenous biodiversity is more than just protecting museum pieces. And that property lines don’t mean much to birds and bats, so retaining and restoring connections between properties is very important.
For too long resource managers dealing with indigenous biodiversity have been caught up in debate about section 6(c) of the Resource Management Act - the protection of the so-called “significant areas of indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of significant fauna” - to the exclusion of other important matters. I do not want to downplay the importance of section 6(c). The danger in focusing on that section exclusively, however, is that we can forget that biodiversity encompasses more than just the top-drawer areas. Making progress requires us to look at the wider environment to see how various components can assist in halting the decline of indigenous biodiversity. It also means restoring connections between isolated fragments of natural ecosystems.
Fourth, the NPS needs to actively encourage cooperation and collaboration involving central and local government, resource owners and users, non-governmental groups, tangata whenua and others. The job of stopping the slide of our native plants and animals toward possible extinction is bigger than any one agency, group or individual - or central government itself - can handle. Everyone, including individual landholders, communities, district and regional councils and central government, has an important role if we are to achieve biodiversity goals. Your organisation, I recognise and applaud, has been doing its bit for years.
We all need to acknowledge that an NPS cannot force people to cooperate. But I would like it to encourage the processes that will help build better relationships. Whenever I learn of the real success stories of biodiversity conservation, the activities that really make a difference on the ground, I am struck by the power of people working constructively together with a common goal in mind.
Fifth, there is a need for government direction on the gathering and use of information. We need good information in order to make plans that will help us achieve the goal of protecting our biodiversity. Unless there is a good information base, monitoring of habitat condition and threats, and monitoring of the effectiveness of methods put in place, we are not going to make progress. Information about the distribution of species and the extent and health of ecosystems is needed, as well as information about the human-induced impacts on them.
That brings me now to the second issue you have specifically asked me to speak about - what role do I see for your organisation in biodiversity on private land? There are two parts to my answer. On the technical front I see your perspectives as being very important in the drafting of the NPS from here on. You will be aware that officials have developed preliminary wording - I’m not even going to call it a draft! It’s a draft of possible draft wording for the national policy statement, developed in conjunction with local government. That draft wording was presented to the Central/Local Government Forum for discussion yesterday.
This is only a starting point. A great deal of discussion and consultation is needed before a document will be ready for notification. Your views and involvement will be actively sought in the drawing up of the proposed NPS.
I am sure I don’t need to remind you that everybody will also have a further opportunity to make submissions to a Board of Inquiry once an NPS is notified. My hope is that we can reach that milestone around the end of this year.
When the NPS comes into effect after the Inquiry - which will take several months to complete - I expect there will be a transitional period to allow local authorities to give effect to its provisions. I will certainly be asking the Ministry to take an active interest in making sure that the provisions of the NPS are taken up.
Now, on the practical front there are a number of ways in which your members can become involved. Practical action to protect our biodiversity is something that Forest and Bird has long demonstrated. And I applaud that.
But I also want to sound a note of caution. I believe that the best way forward with biodiversity, as with almost all issues involving conflict, is by engaging people rather than confronting them or pushing rules and regulations down their throats. I have spent far too long as a classroom teacher and school principal to fall into the trap of thinking imposing rules from the top are a good way to create responsible behaviour. We must be mindful of the sensitivities that go with the issue of “perceived” property rights. If people think they are being unfairly singled out, or are being forced to do unreasonable things against their will, then they’re just going to dig their heels in and stop listening.
Many landholders with little (or not so little) pockets of indigenous biodiversity on their properties recognise that it is in their best interests to protect them. Just look at the number of farmers who have entered into covenants with the Queen Elizabeth II Trust to protect biodiversity on their properties. For some of them a motivating factor is the personal satisfaction of handing on those taonga - and they are treasures - for the enjoyment of their children and grandchildren. There’s a clear signal here about motivating people to want to protect biodiversity rather than in always trying to force them to do it.
Over the past month we have been asking people around the country some broader questions about the environment: Is our environment as healthy as they would like? What are their priorities for action?
The strong level of interest shown in the Rio+10 community programme indicates to me that many people do care. To a very large extent New Zealanders' cultural identity is intertwined with our landscape, our outdoors lifestyle, and our perceptions of the quality of our environment. People want to be involved in thinking about our environment and its essential connection with our quality of life.
If you have not yet come across the Rio+10 programme, let me tell you a little about it. It has two key objectives.
The first - and most important - is getting people in the community thinking and talking about the state of our environment. That is related to one of the priorities I talked about earlier. The second is getting public input on the environment as a contribution to New Zealand’s report to the World Summit on Sustainable Development next year.
The Ministry for the Environment has now distributed more than 10,000 Rio+10 starter packs to organisations, families and schools around the country. We have close to 1,000 responses, with dozens more arriving every day. We now have less than a month to go in this programme. I would urge you to contribute your views, either on the simple response form or in more detail if you prefer.
Finally, I want to say thank you to all Forest and Bird members around the country who are involved in practical action to sustain our environment.
I can’t emphasise strongly enough that we need to see more of this if we are to have the quality of environment that most of us want and expect. It is that engagement in the life of our local community that will really make a difference on the ground - and in our water and air too.
You lead by example. But talk to others, engage, make it fun. Your Sunday outhings (Chch). I always intended to join in because they looked fun and that's a great way to learn.