In the past month, two reports have found the Government's economic strategy is pushing our world-renowned natural environment beyond repair, hurting the country and threatening our future.

The first report came from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Its 2017 Environmental Performance Review found New Zealand lacks a long-term vision to address the worsening problems we have of polluted water, dying wildlife and disproportionately high greenhouse gas emissions.

The OECD identified that these mounting problems are driven by the Government's tunnel-vision economic policy, focusing on the export of primary products. We have put all our eggs in one basket, the report was saying, and that basket is breaking.

The OECD was firm in its advice that New Zealand needs a comprehensive strategy for transition to a greener economy in order to "defend the green reputation it has acquired at international level".


I would take that further and say, given the consequences of contaminated water, loss of biodiversity and climate change, the reason we need a comprehensive strategy for transition to a greener economy is to protect the health of New Zealanders, this beautiful place we live and the lives of our children.

The second report arrived last week from the desk of the Prime Minister's chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman.

When interviewed on his report on the state of the country's freshwater, Sir Peter said, "The reality is we cannot keep going as we have been."

These are strong messages to the Government that it has vital and urgent work to do because of the significant environmental and economic risks we face. So, it is reasonable to think that they would have been followed by considered comment from the Prime Minister and his caucus.

Instead, the response from Bill English has first been to deny responsibility, dig deeper into the same hole and then to disappear.

Following the release of the OECD report, English is quoted as saying he didn't agree that the report's findings were an indictment on National's economic strategy.

"I don't agree with that," he said. "We've got economic growth, which was always going to have a strong agricultural production base."

The Prime Minister utterly misses the point. Yes, we've got growth but what the OECD and Gluckman are saying is that this growth is permanently eroding the very thing its built on, the natural beauty of our country and once relatively intact environment.

English went on to say that the threats we face don't justify reducing livestock numbers, changing land use or limiting agricultural expansion.

"We are not willing to make rules that slash our agricultural community."

Effective rules won't slash. As the OECD explains, new rules are needed to support our communities to move their eggs to multiple and sustainable baskets rather than doing nothing and just letting them fall and smash.

Didn't someone say recently to the Prime Minister that the reality is we cannot keep going as we have been? On his chief science adviser's report, we have heard nothing from the Prime Minister.

Steps can and must be taken to deal with our problems. The OECD recommends "the transition of New Zealand to a low-carbon, greener economy, taking into account the opportunities to diversify the economy and reduce its reliance on agriculture and the use of natural resources".

It recommends encouraging more care and efficiency in the way we approach water by introducing pollution charges, a thorough review of support for irrigation projects subsidised with public money and whether water quality and quantity limits in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management are "ambitious and comprehensive enough to achieve ecosystem and human health objectives and public expectations".

The clear implication of these recommendations for policy review is that, despite the Government's devotion to spending public money on irrigation and stubborn defence of its weak fresh water standards (including their redefinition of what can be considered swimmable), current policies would lock the doors on a runaway train so that no one can get off.

The public needs to hear more from the Prime Minister on these reports and, better yet, hear a commitment to implementing the OECD's recommendations.

As Professor Paul Tapsell of Otago University said recently, "The canaries have stopped singing and the silence is deafening."

• Marnie Prickett is an agricultural sciences student at Massey University and spokeswoman for Choose Clean Water NZ.