The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) released a damning report last week on New Zealand’s environmental sustainability performance.
The report compares our performance to the pledges made by New Zealand at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
At the historic summit New Zealand signed up to a series of agreements to tackle climate change, conserve biodiversity and live more sustainably.
However, despite greater awareness of living and doing business sustainably, the report slams successive New Zealand governments for failing on all of the commitments made in 1992, from biodiversity to greenhouse gas emissions and water quality.
WWF’s chief director Chris Rowe says real political action is needed.
“As world leaders prepare to meet again in Rio this June, we urge John Key’s government to heed this report’s wake up call and, regardless of new agreements, take immediate steps to honour our existing international commitments."
The report says a hands-off approach taken by successive governments has led to significant overshoot of the carrying capacity of our soils and water.
Dr Mike Joy of Massey University says the failure to legislate for a ‘polluter pays’ model meant “a subsidy was given whereby freshwaters were sacrificed for short-term economic gains, and now the cost to society and our clean-green image is becoming obvious".
Environment minister Amy Adams rebutted accusations that National had failed to meet the commitments, citing the Land and Water forum as an example of its proactive approach.
"The report picks and chooses what it wants to highlight and ignores the good things the government is doing. New Zealand can go back to Rio with its head held high."
Issues of water use and quality were priorities, but also some of the most difficult challenges the government was facing, she said.
“However, I am pleased with the progress that has been made by the National-led government. We have put a plan in place to improve the quality of our rivers, lakes and aquifers, insulated more homes, recycled more waste, and enhanced environmental governance, all while helping our economy grow.
“We have an enviable environment compared to many countries and we want to keep that way, but there is always room for improvement."
The report says threatened water and land species now total more than 3700.
Chris Te Rua from the Department of Conservation says the number of species classed as ‘threatened’ had increased over time, particularly where they are not managed.
However he also said “the more we look, the more we know – in 1992 DOC had 17 protected species programmes, significantly fewer than the 336 we will be implementing in 2012/13".
Adams and a New Zealand delegation will head to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro from June 20.