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NZ's clean, green image at risk

Published: 11:58AM Thursday January 31, 2008 Source: ONE News

New Zealand's clean green image is looking murky according to our latest environment report card.
In the first environmental assessment in 10 years, water quality and transport have been identified as key challenges.

The 450-page report  is the first summary of the New Zealand environment since 1997 and reveals "the pulse" of the physical wellbeing of New Zealand's land, water, air and biodiversity.

It looks at areas such as the impact of waste, transport, energy consumption and identifies trends to assist with local and central government decision making.

Experts say the state of New Zealand's environment is nothing to celebrate and our clean, green image is at risk.

"If we continue the way we are in a number of areas, yes it would be under threat," says Trevor Mallard, Environment Minister.

Over half the population is breathing sub-standard air, 15% of our fish stocks are over-fished, roadways are increasingly clogged with more, older vehicles, and a fifth of our ground water is unsafe to drink.

"What's worrying about the report is the rapid rate at which our water quality is going backwards," says Nick Smith, National's environment spokesman.

The government says plans to clean up our waterways are in the pipeline.

"Things are not at crisis point. But let's be clear about this - I don't want to say oh everything's all right, we don't have to do anything," says Hugh Logan of the Environment Ministry.

But it's not all doom and gloom. New Zealand leads the world in recycling, and ozone levels have stabilised, while ultra-violet levels have actually decreased.

"I'm absolutely certain we can take the action to reverse out, but that will involve sacrifices for all of us," says Mallard.

So what does the government want you to do to help save the environment? They want more of us to take the train or bus to work. They say it's one way to improve air quality and save fuel.

Those at the ministry are already practising what they preach. Officials at the news conference to release the environment report say they cycled, walked or used public transport to get to work on Thursday. It's an example they hope others will follow.

Report welcomed but action wanted

The New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development says the State of the Environment Report is a welcome stock take and helps define the priority issues the country needs to address.

"Most of the report's findings are not a surprise. It's a welcome stock take because so much of our economy and quality of life is underpinned by our environment," says Business Council chief executive Peter Neilson.

Neilson says the report shows that New Zealand can enjoy major economic growth while in part uncoupling this from energy demand.

However, the council says there are areas of concern, such as decreasing water and air quality in the country's major centres, where up to 53% of the population can at times suffer poor quality air.

Neilson says the report gives the country a chance to develop a national list of priorities to be addressed during the next five to 20 years which include cash incentives to replace high emission gas guzzlers; new ways to allocate and manage fresh water; upgrading housing and making them more sustainable and healthy; and introducing user pays for the environment, through measures like emissions trading.

Meanwhile, the Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ (ECO) has issued a call for more action to protect the New Zealand environment in response to the report.

It says the report highlights the impacts of dairy farming and fishing in the marine environment and the continuing distress of New Zealand native species.

"The Ministry for the Environment is to be congratulated for pulling together so much information - it is a huge effort. But now we need to act," says ECO Co-Chairperson Barry Weeber.

"Fishing by trawling and other methods that drag on the seafloor is by far the most damaging activity in the marine environment. New Zealand needs to follow international leads to effectively control this damage," he says.

The organisation says the report makes it clear that land and water use absolutely has to change. It says intensified farming, especially dairying, is "putting our basic life support systems and climate and water in great jeopardy".

It has called for more monitoring of the environment and impacts on it - and says the government needs to increase funding to allow this to happen.