New Zealand farmers are feeling overwhelmed by its government’s biodiversity proposals, according to a primary sector lobby group, as it calls for a review into the potential financial and social impacts of its policies.
“Many are mentally exhausted – there’s just been no understanding from the government or appreciation of the damage done by the scale and pace of change,” said Sam McIvor, CEO of Beef + Lamb New Zealand in a statement on Wednesday.
“As a result of the rush, many of the rules in areas such as freshwater and climate change have been poorly thought through and the economic impacts of the changes are far in excess of what is needed to achieve the desired environmental outcomes.”
McIvor pointed to the government’s proposed National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity (NPSIB) as an example.
A NPS provides national direction on sustainable management matters that fall under the Resource Management Act, and the NPSIB builds on a draft created by the Biodiversity Collaborative Group, released in 2018.
As part of the report’s recommendations, councils are directed to map “significant natural areas” of indigenous vegetation or fauna in their plans.
If the group’s recommendations are progressed, councils will also be required to work with Maori leaders, landowners, and the wider community to set a regional vision for biodiversity enhancement, and have targets and a strategy to achieve that vision.
The government ran a public consultation on the proposed NPSIB in 2019-20, receiving over 7,000 submissions, the bulk of which were in template form provided by conservation NGO Forest and Bird.
According to a government summary of submissions, 92.2% of them supported the NPSIB, while 1.9% opposed, and 1.2% opposed in part.
In its submission, Forest and Bird said that the NPSIB would help the decline of indigenous biodiversity in New Zealand, will clarify council responsibilities of the Resources Management Act, requiring the maintenance of indigenous biodiversity, and has the potential ability to increase the degree to which Maori people exercise their rights.
“The NPS will benefit landowners by clarifying what’s ‘in’ and what’s ‘out’, reducing costs and red tape for both landowners and councils. Forest & Bird’s expectation is that supporting measures will be made available to help with the process of identifying and protecting significant natural areas,” it said in a statement.
B+LNZ expects the government to make a final decision on the policy statement soon, but McIvor said this would be a mistake, and has urged the government to stop and take stock of what it’s trying to achieve.
“The NPSIB is just the latest in a succession of rushed, poorly thought-out regulation – also including freshwater and climate change – that will have economic impacts far in excess of what’s needed to achieve the desired environmental outcomes,” he said.
He argued that the definition of significant natural area is much broader than it needs to be, and would tie up productive land in red tape and compliance, and not achieve positive biodiversity outcomes.
“Around the world, many governments have been adjusting their reform agendas in light of the need to ensure their economies successfully recover from COVID-19,” McIvor said.
“Instead, this government appears hell-bent on delivering on its change agenda no matter what the cost to our people, rural communities and wider New Zealand.”
McIvor said the cumulative effect of the government’s policies was significant, which was why B+LNZ was demanding an urgent review of the financial and social impacts of the government’s agenda on farmers and rural communities.
“The government needs to stop, listen to feedback, and fundamentally change key policies before it’s too late,” he said.
However, Forest and Bird have pointed to multiple government reports which found New Zealand is in the midst of a biodiversity crisis being driven by habitat loss on private land.
“The NPSIB should uphold mana whenua, land owners’ rights and responsibilities, and the urgent need to protect Aotearoa New Zealand’s remaining significant biodiversity,” the group said.
Gazettal of the NPS is expected this month.
Complicating matters is that the government is currently in the process of overhauling the Resources Management Act to address what it describes as long-standing problems.
Environment Minister David Parker said in a statement last month as he introduced legislation that the most significant change to environmental protection would be a shift from an effects-based approach to one that is based on outcomes.
“Put simply, an effects-based approach often saw many small adverse effects accumulate into significant environmental degradation – most notably with water quality and loss of biodiversity and top soil,” Parker said.
“The NBA will focus on outcomes, setting limits to maintain current environmental levels and targets where degradation needs to be restored.”
By Mark Tilly – email@example.com