The Greens are calling for $1 billion to be poured into a conservation package to create "nature-based jobs" to revive the Covid-19-riddled economy.
The package, unveiled today, is designed to quickly generate up to 7000 jobs - particularly in hard-hit industries such as tourism, while enhancing the environment and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
It comes as the economic impacts of Covid-19 escalate, with massive job losses in tourism-heavy areas such as Queenstown, and responds to Government calls for "shovel-ready" projects to bring the economy back to life.
The "nature-based" package is part of a push to ensure the recovery is both climate and environment-friendly, and follows a Green Party proposal last week for a $9b investment in rapid electric trains to transform travel between towns and cities across the country.
"An economic response fit for the long-term challenges we face as a nation means investing in nature as Aotearoa's essential infrastructure", said co-leader Marama Davidson.
"This will make sure generations now and in the future have healthy streams and rivers. It ensures native birds and wildlife are thriving, and wetlands and bush are regenerated."
The $1b package over three years would support proposals from communities, iwi, businesses, NGOs, councils and the Department of Conservation.
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Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage, speaking in her role as Green Party environment spokesperson, said many of those who had lost jobs in tourism could easily transfer their skills into environmental projects.
"These work opportunities are well suited to those who have worked outdoors such as tourist guides currently out of work, have people and project management skills or who want to quickly retrain and get their hands dirty helping nature.
"Our tourism industry depends on the health of our nature, and culture, and so it is important to invest in this critical infrastructure, rather than just bulldozers and asphalt."
While the four-week lockdown has heavily reduced air pollution and seen some urban areas revert to nature, the reality is because of human actions much of New Zealand's indigenous flora and fauna now relies on interventions for survival.
"Shovel-ready" projects that could benefit from the funding include an iwi-led plan to save the Raukūmara Conservation Park, dying under a plague of introduced deer and possums.
Te Whānau ā Apanui and Ngāti Porou has been crying out for support for its four-year vision to care for the wounded ngāhere and bring back native birds while creating dozens of jobs, with a long-term goal of providing unique tourism opportunities.
"There are all sorts of exciting projects across the country that are planned and ready to go, and this funding could see them get started immediately," Sage said.
The funding would also ensure New Zealand's economic recovery did not "lock" the country into a high greenhouse gas emissions pathway by focusing on carbon-intensive projects such as motorways, as previously warned by the Climate Change Commission, and a vast array of NGOs.
Native forests were shown to be massive carbon sinks, meanwhile left unprotected - such as the Raukūmara Forest Park - could turn into net carbon emitters, as the vegetation rotted away without new growth.
Sage said their package drew on existing ideas from councils, iwi and environmental organisations over the past few weeks.
"This investment creates thriving native forests and wetlands, assets that last centuries and suck carbon out of the atmosphere.
"It will avoid future pest control costs, better buffer coastal areas from sea level rise and provide corridors for birds to come back to neighbourhoods."
It would also include projects to improve the country's dire water quality, weed and pest control, scale up native plant nurseries, expand Predator Free 2050 and upgrade tramping tracks.
The package was a party policy, and had not been unveiled yet to the Government, Sage said.
In the past, coalition partners have not been particularly friendly to some Green Party environmental proposals, including the electric vehicle "feebate" scheme, opposed by NZ First.
But with the economic impacts starting to bite from Covid-19 and job losses mounting, Sage said they would be pushing hard for support.
"We are already seeing headlines around job losses. The Government moved immediately with its wage assistance, and is now looking at a wider programme, so our ministers and MPs will continue to campaign for low-emission, climate-friendly investment in nature."
The $1b conservation 'nature-based' stimulus package
• $1 billion invested in nature-based jobs over 3 years creating an estimated 6000-7000 jobs directly, with potential for flow-on support to local suppliers and contractors.
• $100 million available through a 50 per cent wage subsidy per employee for councils, community organisations, iwi and government agencies to employ people in a revamped Taskforce Green scheme on projects which meet scheme criteria.
• Funding available to support iwi, councils, NGOs, businesses wanting to undertake shovel-ready nature restoration or predator-free projects.
• Funding divvied up across regions based on the level of impact from Covid-19 and the need to restore nature, so areas with more people out of paid work would get more support.
• Training hubs would be established in regions to quickly retrain people as needed.