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Rio To Reality - Placebo, Panadol Or Panacea

Hon Marian Hobbs Speech Notes

"Rio To Reality - Placebo, Panadol Or Panacea"

Local Government New Zealand Conference Seminar, Little Theatre, Hutt City, Tues July 17, 9.15am

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held at Rio de Janiero in 1992 changed the way we think about our place in the world. It anticipated, and addressed, potential major catastrophes in this 21st century that would have far reaching social, economic and environmental consequences. It set us on a path of sustainable development. It set us on a path of living on this earth, as nations and communities, as if we intended to be here for another thousand years. It recognised that some facets of development were potentially fatal to that intent. - And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the reality. Rio's Earth Summit was no idealistic mantra - it was talking of the reality that faces us, unless we change our behaviour.

Rio was a milestone in our progress as global citizens. Twenty years earlier in 1972 the United Nations convened the first Conference on the Human Environment at Stockholm. That Conference focussed world attention on Environmental issues (New Zealand presented a case study on the management of the Lake Taupo Basin). Rio, the Conference on Environment and Development restated the problem to put human behaviour at the centre of the focus of environmental management. In September next year, in Johannesburg, a further milestone will be reached, as the World Summit on Sustainable Development addresses concern for each of the pillars of sustainable development - social, economic and environmental - and the inter-relationships and policy integration across those three dimensions. We have moved from seeing the environment as a single issue in the path of economic growth, to a position that recognises the inextricable linkages between social well-being, economic well-being and environmental well-being.

Your conference seminar theme is timely in testing the implications of sustainable development for local government. “Sustainable development” is embedded in the imperative “Think globally, act locally”. If “sustainable development’ has any record of achievement in New Zealand, or a future relevance, then that is most certainly at the local level. You have titled this session “The Fantasy”. To some extent, to talk about sustainable development in New Zealand since Rio, has been a “fantasy”. Previous governments have done little to support or promote the concepts of sustainable development at a national, local or individual enterprise level. They got stuck on the 1972 notion that the environment was a sufficient end in itself and did not need better meshing with social and economic dimensions. They believed that so long as we didn’t intrude on biophysical bottom lines, we could carry on with our economic and social pursuits, unencumbered. This approach overlooked the reality of the “nesting’ of social and economic realms within the environmental, and the benefits of an integrated approach to development.

At Rio, New Zealand was ahead of the game, with a prominent reference to sustainable management (not development) in our key integrating statute - the RMA. The notion of sustainable management was repeated in other legislation such as the Fisheries Act, and Forests Act, but most of the ideas that underpin sustainable development atrophied and died away through lack of pursuit and lack of foresight. Only a few councils have kept the spirit of Agenda 21 alive.

This government is committed to achieving sustainable development in New Zealand. Nowhere is that more evident than in the proposed purpose for the new Local Government Act: “to enable local decision-making by and on behalf of citizens in their local communities to promote their social, economic, cultural and environmental well-being in the present and for the future”.

But this government is not abandoning local government to sink or swim in a morass of loose thinking and contradiction. It is actually preparing to put its own house in order, to provide national leadership, and to work in partnership with local bodies, local communities and business in defining and implementing a strategic approach to sustainable development.

The government’s approach to sustainable development is anchored to a commitment to measure properly the progress of New Zealand towards a sustainable future. That means finding performance measures for government, which reflect our environmental and social goals more fully than the old single GDP measure. It means finding new approaches to keeping account of and reporting on local government progress, and it means having business report and respond on a wider basis than its financial accounts alone.

Before I explain the government’s approach, therefore, let me give you a quick stock- take of some recent environmental and sustainability reporting initiatives and how the performance of councils and central government is judged through public opinion.

Most of you, I hope, have come across the Rio+10 community programme. It has two key objectives.

The first - and more important - is getting people in the community thinking and talking about the state of our environment. The second is getting public input on the environment as a contribution to New Zealand’s report to the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

The Ministry for the Environment distributed about 13,000 Rio+10 starter packs - containing information about the environment and the conference, plus a simple response form - to organisations, families and schools around the country.

The Ministry ran a series of debates with the help of local identities in eight centres on the topic of “our environment - trash can or treasure”.

We now have close to 3,500 responses from all over the country and they are still coming in. At this stage we have some preliminary findings based on the first 2,500 responses that I want to share with you. Please bear in mind that this is not the final, nor a comprehensive, picture.

There is a clear call for everyone to take greater care of the environment. 79% of respondents claim the environment is not as healthy as it should be, with almost a quarter believing that it needs “intensive care’. Only one-tenth thought the environment was “OK’ and no one at all thought it was in tip-top condition. But I guess we should expect that, as those motivated to fill in a form are likely to be concerned about the environment.

Two-thirds of the respondents feel New Zealand has not made a strong enough commitment to progressing environmental issues in the past decade, which clearly signals a call for greater action. Around half of those who responded think that central and local government need to do more to advance environmental issues. Almost as many see that households and businesses need to do more too. Overall, the call is for all New Zealanders, regardless of who they are and where they operate, to take greater action to sustain our environment.

In terms of how we have made progress on specific issues, 60% of respondents rate global warming as the issue where progress has been least satisfactory. This was followed by approximately half who felt progress on healthy streams; rivers and lakes, clean air and clean beaches, and coastal waters had all deteriorated. Safety from pests and weeds, urban quality of life, reducing waste and healthy soils were also mentioned by a third or more as areas where progress was not great.

Most progress was thought to have been made in the areas of reducing waste, protecting biodiversity and managing toxic chemicals - each was mentioned by about a third as having improved.

In terms of priorities for the future, over 80% considered all of the issues listed to be of high or medium importance. Rated of greatest importance - by 80% of respondents - was healthy streams, rivers and lakes. This was followed closely by reducing waste, having clean beaches and coastal water, clean air and managing toxic chemicals. Energy efficiency, healthy soils, global warming, protecting biodiversity and safety from pests and weeds were all rated as of high priority by about 60%.

We have also had a quick look at the demographic information. It appears that those under 18 and those over 45 see environmental issues a little differently from others. Both groups are more likely than other age groups to think that New Zealand has made a strong enough commitment to progressing environmental issues in the last decade. But they are also more likely than other age groups not to know whether it has or not. And those under 18 appear more likely to think the environment is OK.

I must stress that these are preliminary findings and that a great deal of work still has to be done to complete the analysis of responses, especially the many detailed comments we received. However, when we have completed this work we will make sure that local government gets a full report on the findings, since it should be of great interest to you as well as to the Ministry.

My Rio + 10 survey linked to social and economic factors, but it focussed on my responsibilities for the environment. Before I leave the question of stocktaking, I’d like to remind you of two excellent reporting initiatives that have recently come to fruition and many of you will be familiar with. The first is the Social Report, produced by the Ministry of Social Policy and launched by Steve Maharey on 3 July. It contains a wealth of important information about our social well-being, focusing on social and economic indicators (although it does, for example, include two environmental indicators). It establishes a new platform of information against which we can measure the effect on society of a range of policies. It is the measuring that is important. How do we know if our policies work? -- by the results.

The second initiative is the report on the Quality of Life in New Zealand’s Six Largest Cities. I imagine many of you will be familiar with it - but let me say that I found it fascinating and - in a number of respects - concerning. It presents findings from monitoring the social, economic and environmental conditions in Auckland, Christchurch, Manukau, North Shore, Waitakere, and Wellington. This is an outstanding contribution, and gives us a picture of well-being in metropolitan urban New Zealand, where 40 per cent of our population live. What I most liked about it was that it brought together indicators on a whole range of conditions which matter for the quality of people’s lives - from involving people in decision making to “city look and feel’ to school suspensions and stand-downs, to name a few. (That involvement of people in decision making is worth considering: it's not just an exercise to be got through, but something that can give people an ownership of their community. And when you have ownership you have care and responsibility.)

For those of you interested in what sustainability means, and where the priorities for action may lie, I commend both these reports

Now at the mid-point in this term of Government, we are turning our minds to the longer term and to reinforcing the strategic connections between policy areas.

Before I explain our broader approach to sustainable develoment, I want to talk about my vision, objectives and my priorities for the environmental. My vision is to:

Make our clean, green image a reality in our cities, towns and rural places.

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 and to live in liveable cities. Unfortunately many people, apart from those who fill in Rio + 10 forms, do not recognise that these things are under threat, or if they do, are daunted by the increasingly complex solutions or the need to limit their own expectations (such as curbing coastal subdivision). They see environment as "over there" in, for example, a national park but not in their backyard.

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.

Unless we get people to recognise the threat to the things in the environment that they value we will not get purchase on the problems. It is not about halting the good work already under way but about doing more, faster - and developing new innovative strategies for our more intractable problems.

In my view there is huge potential in promoting innovation and seeking economic growth that is environmentally sound and creates jobs. New Zealander's future prosperity is about smart growth, based on innovation and knowledge, and using and sustaining our natural assets. Similarly, New Zealander's future health depends on safe water supplies, breathable air and strict controls on hazardous substances and organisms. The smart people we want to retain and attract want to live in a clean, green country. Investment in environment is therefore a strategic investment in our prosperity.

At the recent SoE conference “information for motivation” I outlined six broad objectives to make this vision a reality:

- To motivate and empower people to own the problems and the solutions

- To reduce risks to people and the environment

- To promote environmentally friendly economic growth ie "decoupling"

- 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 streamline rules and regulations (without compromising the above).

The previous government's approach was very much a hands-off, minimal central government, approach.

My approach is partnership underpinned by strong government leadership.

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 will always harm the environment. It means not accepting dangerous emissions from a factory in return for jobs in the area. It says clean air and jobs are equally important. 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. If we can find the answer to reduction of methane in our agricultural industry - then that's a solution we can sell and help the global environment. A little Kiwi ingenuity can go a long way.

In the longer term I have asked the Ministry to review four strategic areas over the next year:

- Performance and monitoring : I want to know how we monitor environmental results and performance of local and central government agencies with the aim of providing incentives to councils and other agencies to meet the governments overall environmental objectives; it will no longer be limited to how quickly the resource consents were processed. But were they monitored. Were communities involved?

- Community Action: I will review how we promote environmental awareness and action in the community; so that we can set up new long term communication and education programmes.

- Business innovation and bio-economy: I will create new approaches to business environmental innovation and seek alliances with key sectors who are willing to embrace sustainable development; (eg the dairy industry)

- Environmental legislation and institutions: I want better integrated management of water and waste under the RMA and HSNO (and I am willing to go "up the pipe" to achieve this rather than stick slavishly to environmental effects); reduced litigation and alternative dispute resolution; new mechanisms for promoting national policy, consistency and standards; and alternative institutional models that will improve capacity and leadership at the national level.

The previous government had a "level playing field" approach. I want to tip the playing field in favour of the clean, green player - in favour of sustainable development.

This vision is my contribution to the whole-of-government pursuit of sustainable development. But, as you know, sustainable development is about the whole of government establishing a framework that makes coherent and makes connected all the diverse areas of policy development right across government.

Yesterday, in opening this conference, the Prime Minister announced that the Government has agreed to take the first steps towards the preparation of a New Zealand Sustainable Development Strategy. Today, I want to explain a little of what that means.

We have adopted a two-pronged approach consisting of some immediate practical steps which will improve current government practice, and alongside that the longer term and collaborative development of all of the elements of a strategy.

Throughout the process of strategy preparation there will be opportunities for your local level of government, and for business and others, to participate in and contribute to the strategy. I am hopeful that by the time your new Act comes into force, local government will be well versed and confident in the guidance given to them by the strategy.

While the government will take the lead in initiating the process of strategy development, it will not be just a government strategy. It will be a strategy for all New Zealanders.

The first step will be for the government to work in-house to clarify the goals and principles of sustainable development in New Zealand. No longer is this work for the Ministry for the Environment alone. Treasury and the Ministry for Economic Development are in step, as are Education and Health. That in-house work should be completed in draft form in about three months. This is not an easy task, but we will draw on the best international practice and examples and incorporate essential values of New Zealanders, the New Zealand identity, and of course the Treaty. We are seeking to make a distinctively New Zealand statement about well-being.

I am pleased to advise you that Cabinet has directed officials to work with Local Government New Zealand in a collaborative approach to this work so that, at the local level, we can progress social, economic and environmental outcomes equally.

The Government is committed to wide consultation on the Goals and Principles of the Strategy. One of the first tasks your councils, and your National Council, will have in their next term is to consider, and contribute to expanding or modifying, the draft goals and principles, or preparing a parallel statement for local government to be set alongside that of the government.

I hope that after receiving input from local government and others, it will be possible for the government to adopt a well-considered set of goals and principles for sustainable development by about this time next year. These will form the core of the New Zealand strategy.

By that time too, the other elements of the strategy should be defined and adopted, recognising that the process of strategy formulation will be a continuing one, and extend well beyond the life of any one government.

Over the next year work will be undertaken on the elements of a strategy that will include:

- a framework for implementing the strategy through its application to specific policy programmes, such as regional development;

- adoption of a programme to measure progress towards the attainment of New Zealand’s sustainable development goals;

- communicating with New Zealanders about progress using Headline Sustainable Development Indicators which draw on social, economic and environmental information;

- a single web-based information clearing house to assist in understanding and implementing the strategy;

- trialing and testing Triple Bottom Line Reporting within government at a central and local level, and in businesses as a step towards measuring and assuring the contribution of different parts of society to the achievement of sustainable development goals; and

- as part of the preparations for the World Summit, we are completing a stocktake of New Zealand’s performance against the 40 chapters of Agenda 21. Agenda 21 is a product from Rio intended to reorient activities away from adding to the potential collapse of global social, economic and environmental systems, and towards the elimination of persistent problems such as poverty, illiteracy, and disease. This work will underpin the strategy, providing us with a snapshot of where we are today, an indication of gaps in our performance and priorities for the next decade.

To bind this work together, and to elevate it to a prominent and overarching position within the government, the cabinet has agreed that the principles of sustainable development should underpin all the government’s economic, social and environmental policies. Officials have been directed to ensure that all policies are consistent with the emerging principles.

Other significant initiatives that underpin the government's overall approach to sustainable development are:

- the waste minimisation and management strategy

- the energy conservation and efficiency strategy

- the biodiversity strategy; and

- the oceans strategy.

It promises to be a busy and exciting few months as we move towards a fuller expression of sustainable development in New Zealand. It is a time for all of you to ensure that we are guided towards a strategic statement that recognises your role and your potential as agents of sustainable development.

I am asked for my prognosis for the corpus of sustainable development - the programme for the day has called that a “Pre-Med Check”. I’ve got to say, that after a ten-year-long malaise the vital signs are still weak, but the patient has turned the corner, and if the proposed treatment works its future health is assured. That is a very exciting prospect!

2002 is the year for sustainable development. Its time has arrived. The World Summit, and its preparations will provide an international focus. Here at home, the preparation of the New Zealand Sustainable Development Strategy will get underway. It will draw on the retrospective stocktake of our Agenda 21 performance, including the performance of local authorities. It will link into other work like climate change policy, oceans policy, the taxation review, and social policy. It will be forward-looking, with both medium and long-term objectives

At last we have the necessary leadership from government. We have a Prime Minister and Ministers who understand the issues, and have the political will to map out a practical path to sustainable development for all New Zealand.

I am proud too, that you have a government that understands that it needs to travel down the path to sustainable development in partnership. Some others, including many businesses and local authorities are actually further down the path than we are - we need your help. I recognise that in the process of strategy formulation and implementation, we must communicate with, and enlist as partners, all the hues of New Zealand society. I am sure that in this endeavour, local government is a key partner.

I look forward to embarking on this journey with you.

© Scoop Media

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