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State Of The Environment Report From Greens

21 April 2002

New Zealand has to ditch the "she'll be right mate" attitude towards the environment, says a Green Party State of the Environment report released today.

Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said the report, prepared for Earth Day tomorrow, shows that New Zealand is lagging behind other developed coutries on several key issues.

Ms Fitzsimons said it was stupid that when vehicle emissions kill nearly as many people as road crashes, cars don't have to pass an emissions test when they go for a warrant of fitness.

"In other countries, a faulty exhaust system is treated in the same way as faulty brakes, or faulty seatbealts - you fix it before you drive any further. It's time we caught up with the play."

Ms Fitzsimons said no time should be lost here in reassessing and banning pesticides such as Atrazine, Captan, Paraquat, and the organochlorine Endosulfan which are banned overseas.

She said fishing and agriculture industries also need to clean up their acts.

"Thousands of sea birds are drowned by commercial long-liners each year, simply because fishers are not careful enough. And dirty dairying continues to pollute rivers to unacceptable levels."

"Dependence on fossil fuels continues to rise, and our carbon dioxide emissions have risen faster than other developed countries since 1990.

"On the bright side, the Labour/Alliance Government has taken some good steps with plans to reduce sulphur in diesel and ratify the Kyoto Protocol; more funding for management of conservation land and a new national park.

"But overall we say 'Some progress, but must do better'", said Ms Fitzsimons.

The State of the Environment Report follows.

State of the Environment Report Earth Day 2002

1. Conservation on land a) More habitat has been protected, with the new Rakiura National Park (157,000 ha), and the end of all logging of native forests on Crown land.

b) However, little of the high conservation value land in the South Island high country has been protected, and both leases and freehold are rapidly being purchased by foreigners.

c) For individual species, the highlight of the year was the Kakapo Recovery Programme with a highly successful breeding season and 23 new chicks. However other birds are still in deep trouble.

d) Kiwi numbers continue to plummet, at over 5 percent per year, due to unceasing predation of chicks by stoats, cats, dogs, pigs and other wild introduced animals. Up to 95 percent of all Kiwi chicks born on the mainland are killed each year.

e) Internationally important species, like the short-tailed bat and the Blue Duck (Whio) remain very rare.

f) Another Mohua/Yellowhead population has been virtually wiped out by predators. The Biodiversity Strategy (announced in 2000) is beginning to be implemented, with substantial new funding for DOC under this Government. But predators continue to put a number of species at risk of extinction.

2. The Sea a) Protection of the sea lags far behind what we have achieved on land. Less than 0.1 percent of mainland coastal waters are in marine reserves.

b) There is no required environmental assessment or consent process for fishing technologies, or for seabed mining outside the 12-mile limit.

c) The Government is working on an Oceans Strategy, an improved Marine Reserves Act, and nine proposed marine reserves, but there are no results yet.

d) Killing of marine mammals and seabirds continues at an alarming level in the fishing industry.

e) Ministry of Fisheries closed the Auckland island squid fishery a month early after the limit imposed on sea lion deaths was exceeded.

f) All of NZ's albatross species are considered vulnerable, and some endangered, yet 18,000 albatross are estimated to die each year in Southern Ocean long-line fishing operations. 3,000 giant petrel, and 55,0000 white-chinned petrel are also drowned.

g) Hector's Dolphins continue to die in nets and there are believed to be less than 100 left of the North Island subspecies.

h) A Ministry of Fisheries ban on set netting in the North Island's Hector's Dolphin's habitat has been overturned by the courts, on appeal by the fishing industry.

Prospects for marine mammals and seabirds remain poor. Although some serious action has been taken by the Ministry of Fisheries, it is still too little, too late.

3. Biosecurity a) New pests and weeds continue to enter New Zealand with increasing frequency, putting our native ecosystems, agriculture, forests, and coastal waters at risk.

b) Recently we have seen four Black Widow Spiders in three months, Asian Tiger Mosquito, Fire Ants, Argentine Ants, Asian Paper Wasp and the noxious plant Kudzu.

c) Meanwhile Varroa Bee Mite continues its march southwards. The Painted Apple Moth and the Southern Saltmarsh Mosquito continue to spread despite belated efforts to eradicate or control them.

The lesson that a gram of prevention is worth tonnes of cure still doesn't seem to have been learned adequately by MAF. The Government seems reluctant to implement and adequately fund preventive measures for fear that they will limit trade.

4. Poisons and pollution Vehicle Emissions a) Up to 400 NZers die each year as a result of diseases caused by vehicle emissions.

b) If emission standards from other OECD countries were applied in Auckland, 100,000 vehicles would fail. But NZ has no emissions check for warrant of fitness.

c) Instant fines and publicity reduced smoky vehicles in Auckland from 13.8 percent to 9.4 percent in five months. Plans are underway to reduce sulphur and diesel from 3000 parts per million to 50 ppm, but not for five to six years.

Actions are being taken for the first time, but positive outcomes are still years away.

Dioxins d) The Government has produced a dioxin action plan and a national environmental standard for dioxin discharges to air. Some monitoring of soils and humans has also been introduced. However dioxins continue to be produced in industrial products and processes such as chlorine bleaching and polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

Pesticides e) NZ still allows the use of several pesticides already banned overseas, such as Atrazine, Captan, Paraquat, and the organochlorine Endosulfan.

f) There is no progress on spray drift legislation, yet spray drift remains a major problem with increasing numbers of people becoming chemically sensitive.

g) More councils are using non-chemical means of weed control in response to public pressure, and some industries are using low-pesticide programmes such as Kiwi Green. The rapid growth in the production of certified organic food for both export and the home market is a most positive sign.

Water Pollution h) Many discharges into rivers have been cleaned up, and regional councils are doing more monitoring. But the increase in dairy cattle with direct access to lowland streams is a severe threat to water quality, and the Waikato River was recently declared so polluted that people were advised to keep out of splash distance.

Still no register exists for contaminated sites, and at most of them, clean-up has not yet begun. Many people suspect that the health and environmental affects known from the use of toxic chemicals are just the tip of a very large iceberg.

5. Climate Change, Energy Use and Fossil Fuels a) NZ's demand for energy has increased by 90 percent since 1980, and at the same time, we have become even more dependent on fossil fuels.

b) The building of large new gas-fired power stations continues unchecked, and will increase this dependency even further.

c) NZ's carbon dioxide emissions have increased by more than 20 percent since 1990, with the largest contributor being transport. The new Transport Strategy and increased funding for public transport, alternatives to roading, cycling and walking facilities is promising but has still to deliver.

d) The Government has said it will ratify the Kyoto protocol this year, but the outcry from the large polluters may frighten it off serious implementation measures.

e) The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) with new (Green Party) legislation and funding and a national strategy is starting to make a difference. But progress on renewable energy is slow, with no targets yet, and no Government mechanisms to assist it.

Despite improved policies on transport and energy efficiency, the Government has shown little commitment to moving NZ to full energy sustainability.

6. Waste a) In Auckland waste per person has increased 73 percent since 1983. Up to 280,000 tonnes of hazardous waste are disposed of in landfills annually.

b) MfE has produced the New Zealand Waste Strategy to offer guidance and set targets for reduction in waste, but it relies entirely on guidelines and voluntary compliance measures.

c) Design for durability, reuse and recycling hardly exists.

The jury is still out on whether the waste strategy will produce real change.

7. Genetic Engineering a) NZ still maintains its GE Free status, but is poised to lose it with releases of GMOs into the environment next year if Government policy does not change.

b) There have been no new field trials approved since December 2000, but more are likely now that the Government has lifted the moratorium on field trials.

c) Recent evidence of widespread GE contamination in Mexico show that it cannot be contained outside the laboratory.

We are standing on the brink of a GE future, but there is still time to pull back and concentrate on contained laboratory application.

Jeanette Fitzsimons
Green Party co-leader

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