28 May 2012

NZ fails to meet Earth Summit commitments - report

10:31 pm on 28 May 2012

A report issued weeks before a global summit claims New Zealand has failed to meet any of the major commitments agreed to at the world's largest environment conference 20 years ago.

New Zealand, along with 178 other countries, made a commitment at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions and protect water quality, biodiversity and fisheries.

The World Wildlife Fund has collated its report as world leaders prepare to head back to Brazil to report back on what has been achieved since then.

Chris Howe, WWF executive director for New Zealand, says New Zealand has failed to meet even one of the commitments.

Among the failures are a 20% rise in emissions and a quadrupling in the number of threatened species to almost 4000.

Mr Howe says this should serve as a wake-up call to New Zealanders and encourage them to lobby the Government for better environmental legislation.

"We have a clean green image, it's 20 years since Rio, I think many people will expect some progress to be made but what we see is pretty much declines across the board."

The Earth Summit is being held in Rio de Janeiro from 20-22 June.

Trade warning

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment says National and Labour-led governments have dropped the ball when it comes to the environment - and if that does not change, it could affect trade.

Dr Jan Wright says the WWF report's findings are similar to that she has made over the years in areas including water quality, greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity.

"The environment is very important and our whole economy is built on this image of being clean and green.

"Tourism is our biggest export earner - people come to this part of the world because we're an unusual, green country and we need to protect that. I think over time the image on which we trade is going to be eroded."

But Prime Minister John Key believes New Zealand's record on the environment is good and says it is hard to believe the country is doing worse than the others that went to the Earth Summit.

Mr Key says New Zealand has an Emissions Trading Scheme, is planting more trees, insulating more homes and pouring money into science and innovation.

Environment Minister Amy Adams says the report paints a misleading picture of the country's environmental situation.

"These are difficult issues and I think we have an excellent record of tackling them," she told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Monday. We certainly don't claim these issues are sorted; we have a long way to go and we're working very hard on them."

Ms Adams says the work the Government is doing will continue to improve the position.

Tim Groser, the Minister Responsible for International Climate Change Negotiations, says New Zealand's Emissions Trading Scheme is the only such scheme at a national level outside Europe and will support emissions reductions over the long term.

The Government has set a long-term target of a 50% reduction in emissions from 1990 levels by 2050.

Labour's environmental spokesperson Grant Robertson says New Zealand has gone backward in several key areas in the past four years of National-led Government. The Green Party says there is more the Government could do to improve environmental situation.

Dairy farm role

The WWF report says dairy farmers have played a large part in New Zealand failing to meet any of the major commitments.

Since the 1992 summit, the number of dairy cows has increased by 86% and the average herd sized doubled to 386.

WWF says that intensification is responsible for the deterioration of New Zealand's lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater.

However, Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills says farmers have worked steadily over the past decade to clean up their act. He said farms now have high-tech systems to deal with effluent that previously would have gone into streams or rivers.

Mr Wills says improvements in science and technology will mean that, in the years to come, farmers will no longer be the scapegoat of environmental groups.

An agri-business professor says the increase in New Zealand's population is the cause of a 20% jump in greenhouse gas emissions over the past two decades, not the dairy industry.

Jacqueline Rowarth, from Waikato University, says that results in more cars on the road, an increase in electricity and more technology.