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Global woes mean challenge for New Zealand

Media Release

30 March 2005

Global woes mean challenge for New Zealand

A researcher specialising in sustainable land use says a major survey on the state of the Earth has clear implications for New Zealand’s primary production sector.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is the most comprehensive survey ever into humans’ impact on the planet, and was drawn up by 1300 researchers from 95 nations over four years. It reports that human activity is putting so much pressure on ecosystems that continuing life on Earth cannot be taken for granted.

Nearly two-thirds of the services provided by nature are in decline, due to the way humans have sourced their food, fresh water, timber, fibre and fuel. The report quantifies declines in the global fishery and in the abundance of most wildlife species, with 12% of birds, 25% of mammals and 32% of amphibians threatened with extinction over the next century. The decline in the number of insects and birds available to carry pollen for flowering plants has serious implications for many crops. Fresh water is being used up faster than rain can replace it. The report also examines the commercial pressure for ever-more intensive farming, and the extent of the impact through desertification, deforestation, loss of wetlands, and the build-up of fertilisers such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

Landcare Research Operations Manager and Science Manager – Rural Land Use, Dr Maggie Lawton, says many of these problems are evident in New Zealand. Dr Lawton says despite the bleakness of the message our response must not be to put the problem into the “too hard” basket.

“The Millennium Assessment provides a number of responses at the global scale. In New Zealand our beautiful bounteous environment and low population means that the global problem is not yet starkly apparent but it is there and action must be taken.

“We need to consider our response to this Report, not only for our individual or collective well-being but also for our contribution towards ongoing global health. We must consider our key contributors to economic and social health and nurture them to ensure their long-term survival.

“The primary production sector should be at the heart of that strategy. Agriculture is, for a variety of reasons, becoming a less attractive option for new entrants. We currently run the risk of downsizing our production sector or having it develop in ways that will make our produce unattractive to our markets.”

Dr Lawton says New Zealand needs to develop agricultural systems that maximise efficiency with minimal waste, maintain the soil and landscape without degradation, and restore our rural centres to vibrant social communities.

Sustainable water use

Dr Lawton says New Zealand should also continue its push towards sustainable fishery resources. “Because of the international nature of fishing boundaries, maintaining fish stocks is one of our greatest challenges. Aquaculture provides one response and New Zealand has the opportunity to establish a flourishing fish-farming industry but it must be well managed so as not to damage aquatic ecosystems.

“Our water resource requires to be managed better. In many localities water requirements are outstripping provision. Hence, the wise management of water will continue to be the focus of economic and environmental interest in New Zealand.”

Sustainable forests

Across the globe forests provide for so much more than just timber, or pulp or paper or even fuel. They help the earth breathe, and provide habitat for fauna and other flora. We still seem to struggle to add value to our virtually monocultural forestry industry in a global market; an issue, which may deteriorate as transport costs rise as oil starts to run out. Diversifying into a range of other tree crops, both high value timber species and short-term biofuel species, may not bring the short-term return we have come to expect from radiata pine but will help provide a much more viable forestry industry in the longer term.

“In a country with such a small population we seem to be creating real problems in the design of cities,” Dr Lawton says. “Transport, infrastructure and construction problems are common. Better urban and building design must include a strong commitment to reducing the demand on world resources, energy sources, and excess material use and must provide a better sense of community and well-being.”


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