OECD Environmental Performance Report – Pathways for improvement
21 March, 2017
The OECD international peer review of New Zealand’s environmental performance shows we are doing much less than we could to improve the environment, the Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ said.
“The OECD review gives some valuable advice about how to do better,” says Cath Wallace, who is the policy Vice-chair of ECO.
“The OECD is diplomatically polite and conservative, but makes it clear that the government’s growth strategy is faulty and should be abandoned”, says Wallace, herself an economist and public policy expert.
“The Review is clear that the policy of expanding primary production and largely disregarding the impacts of agriculture and irrigation on water quality, on climate change and on biodiversity is misdirected, inadequate and environmentally damaging,” says Wallace.
The OECD recommends decoupling economic growth from increasing resource use. This is an idea that has been accepted elsewhere for decades, and is much more inclusive of the recognition of the environmental and economic costs of pollution and biodiversity loss than New Zealand’s approach.
An important recommendation is that biodiversity protection should move to whole of ecosystem and habitat protection and that individual species protection makes protection of biodiversity more difficult. ECO recently made this point in submissions on the proposed Kiwi Recovery Plan.
Co-chair of ECO, Barry Weeber, noted that “the government’s roading fixation is also criticised as misdirected – something most of us already know. The lack of attention to public transport and the failure to charge or price greenhouse gas and environmental harms of transport and agriculture is underscored by the OECD which recommends pricing transport emissions and other costs.”
The need to support (but not over ride), local government and to restore public participation in resource management, are both highlighted in the Review. The Review notes the tiny 4% of resource consents that are publicly notified and clearly finds this unfortunately small.
“The government’s contradictory and environmentally lax approach to water and air pollution control, to waste management, and to greenhouse gas emissions are noted.
Suggestions include pricing pollution and resource use but also regulations, for instance of dangerous fine air particle emissions. Higher standards for many aspects of our environmental limits are recommended.
This Review does not comment on Nick Smith’s recent debasement of water quality definitions and measurement – it was clearly written prior to that.
“The Review for some reason says little about our marine and fisheries management. Many of the criticisms of the disregard for environmental consequences in New Zealand primary production management apply there too”, says Barry Weeber.
The government’s policy failures identified also include subsidies to irrigation and the failure of the government to implement most of the Land and Water Forum’s recommendations.
The government’s lack of commitment and policies of subsidising irrigation were important reasons that ECO withdrew from LAWF in November 2016, and other groups including Fish and Game, Forest and Bird and Federated Mountain Clubs withdrew from the LAWF process.
This OECD Review is important for its attention to problems of the government’s growth strategy and policies and particularly ECO welcomes its suggestions to tackle these.
“We see here a call for a rethink of our economic growth strategy of more primary production and disregard of environmental costs and the erosion of public participation. “
“The report gives very explicit advice for controlling environmental harms. Central to this is reversing the incentives so that environmental harms have to be faced by those who do them”, says Cath Wallace.