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Has RMA future proofed NZ for sustainable growth?

 

Looking at the question from a broad perspective Kit made the case that at a very fundamental basis, the Part 2 Principles and Purpose of the Act - to protect the “life supporting capacity of air, soil and water, New Zealand was not performing well.

 

From an industry perspective significant drivers to this had been and still were a failure to remove economic distortions in land use created through taxation and an unwillingness to implement and use economic instruments to encourage endpoints and behaviours the nation needed or discouraging those that caused problems. Combined with the history of the RMA, Kit argued that the practical reality had seen huge effort and time devoted to “sweating the small stuff” while the big issues deteriorated.  Rules and laws were needed he said, but the challenge still before us was how to develop better means to better conversations, how to support rule making with tools, data and models that put an understandable context before people and how to integrate those public and goal setting conversations with economic instruments that very often would drive change faster than the law and plan making.

 

New Zealand’s history in this area in relation to the forest industry had led and would continue to lead to significant opportunities being lost for NZ both in terms of economic efficiency and rural environmental performance.

 

Other themes of relevance to the primary sector that came out strongly from other presentations were the pressing need to get control of the issues around water quality, the national environmental and biodiversity benefits that could accrue from a nationally restored riparian network and the challenges facing the nation over its response to carbon emissions and climate change. On this topic Simon Upton (previous Minister for the Environment  in1990, and now Director of the OECD Environment Directorate) made clear the challenge facing the world to get carbon neutral. In the NZ context, Upton argues that the ETS had not served us well and there was a case to split the market to deal with short lived gases such as CH4 and long lived gasses such as CO2 and N2O.  Forestry he said, could play a useful role in the former but due to the lack of stability and permanence in the estate (as evidenced by the conversions of recent years) its impact on the long term gasses was modest. In respect of agricultural emissions, agriculture needed to be brought into such a modified Emissions Trading Scheme.