by Gareth Hughes
In Brazil the Rio +20 Earth Summit officially starts today. It’s great that Kennedy Graham is there from the Greens and blogging on his experiences. As I told Parliament today, 20 years on it is a good time to look back at our environmental record over the last two decades since the first Rio earth summit in 1992.
Despite the promises made 20 years ago by National and 10 years ago by Labour, it is clear New Zealand has failed to protect its environment for future generations. Our emissions are up, rivers and streams are still not swimmable, our oceans still not adequately protected and species are still going extinct.
Looking at the greatest environmental threat, climate change, our emissions haven’t decreased, in fact they’ve increased markedly, but now we’re also subsiding polluters over a billion dollars annually to keep polluting. The New Zealand Government has blocked progress at international forums to address climate change and failed to adopt the right science-based targets for cutting emissions, or draw up a low carbon development plan, which it said it would do in 2010.
Our lakes and rivers are now more polluted than ever. In Rio in 1992 Governments, including NZ, promised to address water quality and maintain and preserve aquatic ecosystems. Instead the quality of our water has declined significantly, directly impacting on aquatic species and human health. Kiwi kids can’t even safely swim in most of our lowland lakes and streams.
Looking at our oceans, our fisheries are mismanaged and endangered species are on the rise. There are at least only 55 Maui’s dolphins left yet the Government is failing to protect endangered species such as these or the New Zealand Sea Lion from unsustainable, indiscriminate fishing practices.
Our oceans and coastlines are at risk more than ever from risky oil exploration at depths greater than that of the Deepwater Horizon’s blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. Successive governments have failed to act on marine protection – the Marine Reserves Bill has been languishing in legislative limbo since 2002.
We have had a 10% marine reserves target since 2000 yet we still only have 0.41% of our waters protected and the Minister is actually declining reserve applications. Meanwhile Australia is pushing ahead with the world’s largest network of marine reserves.
Today in Rio the Government announced it has signed up to a global partnership on oceans with nine other countries. It is great that we are signing on to an international partnership on oceans but action begins at home and it’s a hollow promise when the Government is failing to protect the waters which we love. Twenty years on its clear we haven’t lived up to the original promises made in Rio.
Tens of thousands of people are going, however not our prime Minister. We are sending the world the message; NZ does not care about sustainability both through his absence, but more graphically for a failure to act to protect our environment. Likewise, Labour, isn’t sending an MP sending an equally telling message.
It’s good the New Zealand Government is supporting fossil fuel subsidy reform in Rio, which globally is estimated at around $1 trillion, which is great. However, we need to see action at home. NZ directly subsidises, gives numerous tax exemptions and has the forth lowest Govt ‘take’ from oil and gas of producer nations to aggressively promote risky deep sea drilling. For all the environmental risk from deep-sea drilling we’ll see hardly any jobs, hardly any royalties and hardly taxes. This Government’s only economic plan is ‘drill it, mine it, frack it, cut it and sell it.’
However, we can change course.
I met a young New Zealander named Brittany Trilford before she left for Rio, where she’ll be addressing world leaders at the summit tomorrow.
Yesterday she spoke to negotiators at the conference and said, ‘Give me a future I can look forward to’. Our Government can listen to her message. Our Government can protect our environment and in doing so, develop our economy and build jobs. As the Pure Advantage report shows there’s a huge business opportunity that we’re missing. We can invest in clean energy, healthy waters and a green economy. We can give Kiwi kids a future they can look forward to.