COMMENT:

The Government needs to hold firm on forward-looking environmental policies.

It currently faces two big decisions – whether to ban all new mining on Department of Conservation land and whether to ban single use plastics bags.

Both will be pitched as radical by some opponents but the reality is things have to change.

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Under current climate change projections sea levels are projected to rise between 30cm and 1m by the end of the century.

Average temperatures are expected to become several degrees warmer. This will bring more floods, large damaging storms, drought, species decline and ocean acidification.

Plastic waste represents an even more visceral example of environmental degradation.

Floating islands of plastic and marine animals choked with consumer junk shock us all.

Yet despite a near consensus about the need to do something, we struggle to cope with the implementation of change.

The Government copped a backlash for banning future offshore gas and oil exploration.

Much criticism focused on the way the ban was announced - some say it was rushed.

While that's a reminder that these policies need be carefully managed, it's increasingly obvious though that neither coal nor single use plastic bags have any long term future.

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The issue is how we make the transition.

New Zealand doesn't leading the world on this. Single use plastic bags are already banned in the UK and California. A ban is pending in New York and strict controls in China have dramatically reduced their use.

Meanwhile, West Coasters marching at the weekend in protest at Government mining policy are concerned about the impact of their economic futures.

Ruling out mining of substantial coal reserves on DOC land is - as protesters fear - a signal that coal mining is in decline.

The debate might be different if we were talking about lithium or other highly valuable rare earth metals - but we are not.

The economic impact on people's lives should be mitigated. But Coasters need to understand that they are not unique in having their working world turned upside down.

Rapid social and technological change is disrupting every workplace in New Zealand from the corporate towers of Queen St to check out counters of The Warehouse - which announced big job cuts this week.

We can no longer expect that our children to do the same jobs we, or our parents, did before us.

What New Zealanders will do instead is a big question.

Coasters have natural advantages of in the tourist appeal of their region.

They should also be reassured they won't be left behind as money is invested in regional development of new technology industries.

Arguments have been made about New Zealand still needing coal to fire its power stations.

The reality is that West coast coal is exported. Coal for the Huntly power station comes from the Waikato.

Not replacing existing mines in the South Island will eventually mean higher prices.

We shouldn't hide from that.

Humans are economically driven. If coal stays cheap and abundant the we will continue to rely on it - which we can't do.

Figures from 2016 show New Zealand greenhouse gas emissions have risen by nearly 20 per cent from 1990 levels.

Yet we have committed to cut emissions to 11 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.

Without bold policy calls now we simply won't get there.