The Government is failing the environment and our youth

George Hobson is the chief policy lead for Forest & Bird Youth.

OPINION: I’m 18 years old. Studying law and science at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington. And I’ve known since I was about 10 years old that I want to dedicate my life to the protection of nature.

To me, there’s just nothing more important.

Nature is the backbone of our society; whether we realise it or not, we are relying on it every second of every day.

Healthy forests and oceans give us oxygen, stable climates allow food production, and freshwater ecosystems give us the water that comes out of our tap.

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But there’s also something more, and it’s that something which I fell in love with at 10 years old.

The inherent majesty you feel in your bones when walking through a forest of giant trees, or the spell-binding sense of awe you get when listening to kōkako song at sunrise, or the reverence that radiates from gigantic mountainous landscapes.

A kea takes flight from a building in Arthur’s Pass village. The mountain parrot is one of thousands facing the prospect of extinction.

Iain McGregor/Stuff

A kea takes flight from a building in Arthur’s Pass village. The mountain parrot is one of thousands facing the prospect of extinction.

It’s special, and it’s what drives people like me to care so deeply for nature.

That is why it breaks my heart to say that in Aotearoa, nature is unequivocally in a state of crisis.

The Environment Aotearoa 2022 report, published by the Ministry for the Environment, confirmed that native forest cover in Aotearoa has shrunk from over 80% to just 27%. Only 7% of rivers remain in pristine condition. And at least 81 animal and plant species have become extinct due to humans.

Additionally, 4000 species remain threatened with extinction. And that is without even mentioning the fact that the climate crisis is bearing down on us, set to have currently unimaginable impacts upon both people and the planet.

New Zealand’s magnificent, awe-inspiring mountain landscapes, in this case at Arthur’s Pass.

Iain McGregor/Stuff

New Zealand’s magnificent, awe-inspiring mountain landscapes, in this case at Arthur’s Pass.

The Government has acknowledged these figures.

Over the last five years, they have declared a climate change emergency; put climate targets in law; established a climate emergency fund; released Te Mana o Te Taiao (the Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy); published an Emissions Reduction Plan which acknowledges the need for the protection of nature; begun work on a National Climate Adaptation Plan; and they continue to say that they are taking unprecedented steps to address the climate and environmental crises.

Yet, despite all of this rhetoric, nature is still being destroyed.

This Government has refused to ban mining on conservation land; failed to stop the decline in crucial habitats and wetlands; been unable or unwilling to establish comprehensive marine protection; and has not taken meaningful action on climate change.

A fenced sanctuary at Mt Maungatautiri in Waikato shows a stark contrast between native forest and farmland.

Iain McGregor/Stuff

A fenced sanctuary at Mt Maungatautiri in Waikato shows a stark contrast between native forest and farmland.

And just in the last two weeks, they have released proposals* which would open up wetlands and Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) to being destroyed in order to build new quarries, mines and urban development. (These proposals are the exposure drafts of the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity, National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and National Environmental Standards for Freshwater.)

This is frankly unbelievable.

Wetlands support higher levels of biological diversity than any other habitat in Aotearoa. They are vital habitats for endangered species such as the mātātā (fernbird), matuku-hūrepo (bittern) and kōtuku (white heron), as well as many plant and fish species.

They also filter huge quantities of water, store enormous amounts of carbon, and offer nature-based solutions to climate change. We’ve only got 10% of our wetlands left, yet we are talking about opening these last bastions up to development.

SNAs are literally some of the most important areas for nature in the country. They are areas on private and public land identified by regional councils as being incredibly environmentally important.

The Elsdon Wetland at Porirua. New Zealand has destroyed 90% of its original wetlands.

MONIQUE FORD/Stuff

The Elsdon Wetland at Porirua. New Zealand has destroyed 90% of its original wetlands.

These vital areas have been continually degraded and damaged, but are still crucial homes for endangered species, and are indispensable carbon stores.

But, there’s something more to these areas, too. They’re irrefutably special, and they deserve protection in their own right.

These inexplicable proposals from the Government fly directly in the face of their own policies and statements, and jeopardise the future of both people and nature in Aotearoa.

When wetlands and SNAs are destroyed, there is a resulting increase in carbon emissions, and the already fragile ecosystem of Aotearoa is further fragmented.

It is young people of today and tomorrow who will be hurt the most. We will bear the brunt of these policy decisions for generations to come.

George Hobson is the chief policy lead for Forest & Bird Youth.

Supplied

George Hobson is the chief policy lead for Forest & Bird Youth.

My whole life I have been told, “it is so impressive that you know what you want to do at such a young age”. Maybe, but while I’m thrilled to be engaged in this crucial work, it’s extraordinarily difficult to continually see the Government refuse to listen to young people and our ideas.

We have been consistently told by MPs and ministers that they hear us, but how can that be true when they turn around and announce plans to allow the destruction of the most special places in Aotearoa?

The Government is failing nature, and it is failing future generations. Now is the time for transformative action; a paradigm shift. The Government’s words are not enough. Young people deserve better.

The Government has said that climate change is their generation’s nuclear-free moment. For the sake of my generation, and those that follow, I hope they start to act like it.

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