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Mallard: Charting progress towards sustainability

Hon Trevor Mallard
Minister for the Environment

31 January 2008 Speech Notes

Embargoed until:midday

Charting our progress towards sustainability

Speech to the launch of Environment New Zealand 2007, Environment House, Wellington

Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to join you here today.

I am very pleased to accept this important report prepared by the Ministry for the Environment.

Environment New Zealand 2007 is significant as it provides a check up on the health of our environment, and charts New Zealand’s journey towards sustainability.

As Hugh Logan has said, this is the first State of the Environment report released under the ministry’s new environmental reporting framework, signed off by Cabinet just over a year ago. I look forward to the next national report in five years, and the planned annual updates on specific topics.

This report builds on the earlier 1997 report which I understand is the equivalent of a "bestseller" and has continued to be well used.

Environment New Zealand 2007 capitalises on huge improvements in environmental reporting tools since that earlier report. By capturing benchmark indicators, we will build up a clear picture of trends and pressures on our environment.

As a nation we strongly value our environment – our clean green environment is an integral part of our lifestyle and a cornerstone of who we are and how we are seen around the world.

Never before has there been such interest in the well-being of our environment.

Research shows that nine out of ten New Zealanders consider our environment to be important or very important. We rate the quality of our natural environment as the third most important aspect of New Zealand.

As a nation we are also aware that the environment underpins our economy – the top 15cm of our topsoil alone earns 17 per cent of our GDP.

Our farms, horticulture, fishing and tourism sectors are our bread and butter as well as our jam.

This report will guide us so we can continue to leverage off our valuable natural resources and maintain the kiwi lifestyle that we are all proud of, but in a sustainable way. A sustainable economy cannot be built on plundering the natural environment for short term gain.

As a nation we recognise the importance of New Zealand’s clean green reputation to our international markets – it’s not only a source of pride, it is also critical to our present and future economic well-being as consumers the world over seek out environmentally friendly and climate friendly products and services.

But there are many challenges and opportunities ahead for us to be sustainable and retain access to our key markets.

The Labour-led government has put sustainability at the heart of our thinking and decision-making.

We are taking leadership on sustainability and climate change issues through a substantial range of initiatives to help us reduce or mitigate our impact on our environment – from the proposed emissions trading scheme, support for households' energy efficiency and solar heating, waste reduction and recycling initiatives, environmental standards on air and water through to the multi million dollar funds for research into sustainable primary production and for sustainable land management.

The list is too huge to for me to go into but the full range of initiatives covering each area of focus in the report is set out in the Cabinet paper being released today.

Our quest for sustainability and to be the first truly sustainable nation could well become a defining characteristic of our unique national identity – just as our call to be nuclear-free defined us over twenty years ago.

And we will have a fantastic opportunity to show our leadership and commitment to smart sustainable actions when we have the honour of hosting the United Nation’s World Environment Day on the 5th of June this year. The theme, "Kick the Habit! Towards a Low Carbon Economy", encourages us to focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

While this report has been formally presented to me as minister, it really is a report for every one who has a stake in our environment – not just policy analysts, lobbyists, farmers and business.

That's because the report shows the impacts of our everyday activities and choices: whether we’re in central or local government, primary production, industry, iwi, communities or as families and individuals.

In particular, I would like to urge decision-makers from every sector, including everyone here today, to think about how they will respond to the valuable information in Environment New Zealand 2007. The report contains a wealth of information and key indicators which enable us to chart where we are now and to help us plan where we are going from here.

So how are we tracking?

As the Secretary for the Environment has said, the report shows there have been significant improvements in some areas.

But we need to do other things better, to retain our clean green reputation. We simply cannot afford to be complacent.

That is the point of reports like this – they enable us to target our policies and programmes towards the emerging areas of concern while ensuring we continue to gain rather than lose ground on areas where things are tracking well.

I am optimistic that by working together we can reinforce our environmental standing and respond creatively and with kiwi ingenuity to areas where more work needs to be done. This of course is not a job for government alone - we are all stakeholders in and guardians of New Zealand's precious natural environment.

Already, significant leadership is also being shown by local government, our industries and communities.

And we have some great examples of collaboration in communities around New Zealand. For instance, I’d like to acknowledge initiatives like the Fiordland Marine Guardians – made up of commercial and recreational fishers, tourist operators, dive clubs and conservationists. Together they have developed a plan to protect and sustain their unique marine environment and established eight new marine reserves of 9250 hectares.

The Dairying and Clean Streams Accord is another excellent example where central and local government, dairy farmers and Fonterra are working together to achieve clean, healthy waterways in dairying areas.

And you will find many more examples in the report of local actions that are making a difference.

Of course, more can be done, and we hope that this report leads to even greater action.

I am confident that by enhancing our environment credentials New Zealand will remain internationally competitive. New Zealanders are an innovative "can do" lot; we’re techno savvy, we work smart and hard, and we have huge natural competitive advantages. If we can’t do it, then who can?

In closing, I would like to thank the ministry for its leadership and commitment to this work. It was good to hear you've won a national award for the comprehensive and groundbreaking mapping information the report contains.

Thanks also to all the individuals and other organisations who have contributed to this report.

I want to reiterate that we are keen to work collaboratively and constructively with you about how we can meet the challenges and rise to the many opportunities that true sustainability and carbon neutrality offer New Zealand.

I hope Environment New Zealand 2007 becomes another bestseller and is still being used up until the release of the next report in five years. Enjoy the read.


ENDS

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