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Environment Specialist Calls for National Agency

Media Release
26 August 2004

Environment Specialist Calls for National Agency

New Zealand Lacks Institutional Arrangements for Progress

One of the key architects of New Zealand’s resource management laws says it’s time to consider taking responsibility for environmental protection away from the Government and handing it to an independent national board.

Guy Salmon, a third generation conservationist and international advisor on environmental policy, says New Zealanders have high aspirations for environmental protection but are being let down by a series of Governments failing to provide direction and clarity for regional councils.

Speaking at Lincoln University’s annual State of the Nation’s Environment address, Salmon said New Zealand must question why it consistently fails to reach its environmental goals and why other nations, such as the Nordic countries, are consistently more successful.

“It’s not a question of culture or one country having a superior set of environmental values to the other,” he said. “National environmental attitudes in Sweden, Denmark and Finland are very similar to our own, but the Nordic countries are much better at actually achieving their environmental goals, while achieving high levels of investment and wealth creation at the same time.”

Salmon said the difference rested in the institutional framework and the delegation of responsibilities to implement national objectives.

“In Sweden the role of the parliament is to set a small number of high level objectives to achieve over an extended time frame – such as making all rivers fishable by 2020. Implementation of those goals is then the responsibility of an independent administration, led by a Board which is at arms’ length from Ministers.”

He said New Zealand should consider a similar system. “I believe we would make much more progress towards our environmental goals if we had a national body, like the Environmental Protection Agency of Sweden, to provide consistent leadership and standards. Currently there is not enough direction being given to regional councils and there’s a fuzziness and variability in the regional plans.

“The result is a lack of clear standards and too many applications going to discretionary hearings – which is a major cause of complaint from the business sector. On the other hand, the environmental sector is frustrated that the RMA is not particularly effective at improving environmental protection.”

He said regional councils were reluctant to take a stronger regulatory approach, with most favouring voluntary compliance for fear of alienating their major stakeholders. But in the Nordic states there was much greater acceptance of strong regulations.

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“I would like our regional councils to also consider a middle ground – something in between the hands-off voluntary approach, and outright regulation – an approach called persuasive policy. Regional councils need to develop a greater range of incentives, especially in the rural sector. A couple of regional councils, particularly in Waikato and Taranaki, are using some of these measures and achieving significantly better outcomes.”

Salmon also challenged the leaders of policy groups to work together more constructively. “The Nordic societies seem to be attuned to consultation and debate, and are less inclined to walk away from the negotiating table. Again that’s not about culture - it’s about management style and leadership.”

About the Lincoln University State of the Nation’s Environment

The Isaac Centre for Nature Conservation introduced the annual State of the Nation’s Environment addresses in 1998 to fill a gap in sustainability reporting. This event is believed to be an international “first”. The concept was lifted from the traditional political leaders’ “state of the nation” addresses that typically deal with political, economic and budgetary matters. Speakers have included the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Ministers for the Environment and Conservation and the CEO for the Ministry for the Environment. The aim is to provide a commentary on the 'state' of the environment and discuss progress.

About Guy Salmon

Guy Salmon is a third-generation conservationist, who co-founded the Native Forests Action Council in 1975. He led the native forest conservation movement in many successes, culminating in the abolition of the Forest Service and creation of the Department of Conservation in 1987. Later, as chief executive of the Maruia Society (now the Ecologic Foundation), he broadened his environmental interests.

Guy has represented environmental interests on policy working parties for successive governments, notably on the reform of the government’s environmental administration system, the development of the Resource Management Act, and the development of policies on forestry, climate change, electricity markets, energy efficiency, and land transport. His Board memberships have included the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, Landcare Research Ltd, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Environmental Advisory Committee. www.ecologic.org.nz

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