In the 10-part series What's the Plan? The Herald's political and specialist reporters examine the big issues facing New Zealand and how the main political parties plan to deal with them. Here, Jamie Morton compares the policies for the environment.
The last time Kiwis went to the polls, it was dubbed "the environment election".
While Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has dubbed this one the "Covid election" - and quite understandably - there's no doubt the welfare of our most treasured asset still looms large over voter sentiment.
And there's a sizeable crossover between Covid-19 and the environment anyway, as many New Zealanders see the pandemic as an opportunity to reset our priorities as we rebuild the economy.
One recent Massey University survey showed seven of 10 Kiwis are keen for the recovery to be a green one.
A glance at some nature-focused efforts targeted within the Government's Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund (CRRF) does show some hope that is happening.
The Government has earmarked another $430 million to help people put out of work by the pandemic into around 1800 "green jobs" like cleaning up rivers, restoring wetlands and busting pests.
It's pumped more than $100m into initiatives for six regions to shield themselves against the increasing impacts of climate change.
While the Green Party has made much of such policies, environment groups have sounded an alarm that many of those fast-tracked, "shovel-ready" projects to boost the economy could lead to more emissions, not fewer.
What about climate issues, more broadly?
Ardern once famously called climate action this generation's "nuclear-free moment" but whether the Coalition Government properly rose to the challenge this term is debatable.
It halted new offshore oil and gas exploration permits, overhauled the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to make it a more effective carbon price tool, and invested in alternative energy efforts, namely green hydrogen.
It set up an advisory Climate Change Commission, and can boast about finally putting in place binding, climate-targeted legislation.
Yet the Zero Carbon Act's net-zero 2050 target doesn't apply to biogenic methane, which makes up a third of our gross emissions, and instead needs to come down by between 24 and 47 per cent by mid-century.
And Ardern's Government can also be called out for falling short in other obvious areas where some meaningful, swift action could and should have already happened.
That includes failing to bring in repeatedly recommended "feebate" schemes and emissions standards for vehicles – there's also no sign of any future ban on fossil fuel vehicles – and walking away from a previous pledge to electrify the government fleet by 2025.
The Government has drawn further scorn from environmentalists in opting against bringing agriculture - our biggest emitting sector - into the ETS, in favour of an industry-government partnership.
And if agriculture is eventually forced into the ETS, that won't happen until 2025, when it would receive the same 95 per cent discount deal "carbon-intensive" industries like steel have been given.
It already looks unlikely New Zealand's climate pledges under the Paris Agreement will be strong enough to meet the UN's aspiration to limiting warming below 1.5C.
National, which made those pledges five years ago, is meanwhile sticking by those generally conservative priorities that underpinned them - that's reducing emissions "in a manner that does not threaten food production".
While it largely backed the Government in getting the Zero Carbon Act through Parliament, the farmer-friendly party still has an issue with methane targets, and would ask the commission to review them.
It's no surprise Shaw's Green Party, which has been restrained by government partner NZ First this term, wants to go harder on climate change with a clean energy plan to end coal use by 2030 and industrial fossil gas use by 2035.
It wants to boost renewable electricity generation - installing solar panels on all suitable state homes is one example – and put tough transport and agriculture policies in place to hit those 2030 Paris goals.
One of its strongest pieces of climate policy only just arrived, in an election pledge requiring the finance sector to disclose climate risks - something that would be a world-first.
At the opposite end of the political spectrum, Act would tear up both the Zero Carbon Act and the ETS in favour of a new plan tying carbon prices to those of our five biggest trading partners.
For the other headline green issue troubling Kiwis - the worsening state of our waterways – Labour hits the campaign trail with a clutch of freshly sealed reforms.
It has vowed high health standards at swimming spots, cleaner city rivers, farm plans, and new controls around winter grazing, nitrogen pollution and fertiliser use.
Some freshwater advocates and some scientists contest the bar has been set far too low - particularly because new limits on one critical pollutant, dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN), has been kicked down the road.
While NZ First claimed credit for blocking that - arguing it would have hit rural communities too hard - Labour instead cited division further down the chain, on its science and technical advisory group.
Again, the Greens want to go further, rolling out tougher DIN rules, while supporting a long-argued resource rental scheme, developed with Maori and charged on commercial users.
The party remains opposed to Crown-funded irrigation projects, but still supports helping agriculture with small-scale, on-farm water storage.
Along with sorting out Auckland's water woes and investing in provincial schemes, National also supports the idea of "more sustainable agriculture" but at the same time views the new regulations as impractical for farmers.
It would either repeal or review them, and work with farmers and environmentalists to put in place alternatives that are "practical, science-based, and achievable".
Whether that collaborative approach could succeed isn't clear. Even the diverse Land and Water Forum fell short of a consensus on nutrient allocations before it went into recess two years ago.
And National would also $600m a year over three years on water infrastructure projects across the country, such as storage and drinking water projects.
Parties are slightly less divided when it comes to reversing the onslaught of pest predators on our cherished native species, of which some 4000 are either threatened with or at risk of extinction.
It was National, after all, that set New Zealand on its course of wiping out rats, possums and stoats - and saving some 26 million native birds each year - by 2050.
Labour and the Greens are still committed to that goal, and, as Conservation Minister, Eugenie Sage has also implemented a 30-year road map, a long-overdue funding bump for the Department of Conservation, and cash for green jobs and smart tech like lures.
But National has accused the Greens of having an ideological aversion to biotech tools like gene-editing, which, despite being nowhere near ready, are seen by many scientists as a necessity to realise the 2050 dream.
A much less visible issue - yet one that commentators like the Environmental Defence Society's Gary Taylor see as the king issue this election - is what the next government does about the Resource Management Act (RMA).
Parties are being urged to come together and act on the recent Randerson report's recommendations of scrapping the outdated and increasingly dysfunctional act, and creating two new ones - one focused on natural and built environments, the other on strategic planning.
Labour has already signalled its own tweaks, including replacing the RMA with the two acts as suggested, and slashing the number of local government resource management plans to one for each region.
National's Judith Collins has also made it clear the RMA would be "gone" under National.
Beyond our shores, National wants the long-delayed Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary finally opened.
It backs cameras installed on fishing boats – a highly vexed issue between Labour and NZ First this term, that only just saw progress in funding for cameras for some of the commercial fleet.
The Greens want much wider reforms than Labour has committed to.
They include a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining – something also favoured by the Maori Party – and at least a third of New Zealand's oceans protected by 2030.
The party would ban bottom trawling on seamounts and set-netting in special habitats and answer environmentalists' calls to review the Quota Management System for fisheries.
It also takes to the election a detailed package of policies to transform the waste sector, where it has been a strong player this term.
Sage has overseen a raft of big reforms, notably the single-use plastic bag ban and mandatory product stewardship schemes that put the responsibility of e-waste back on to makers.
Those would be followed by moves to ramp up local recycling capacity, make manufacturers design products that can be fixed, and progress bottle-return schemes.
National has protested at what the Government has brought in already – its environment spokesperson, Scott Simpson, likened significantly raising the waste levy to putting "another tax" on Kiwis, who were already paying close to $200 per tonne at some landfills.
Farmer: 'This challenge cannot be under-estimated'
For four decades, Tokoroa dairy farmer George Moss has always tried to do the right thing by the environment.
He and wife Sharon have kept imported feeds to a minimum, and made heavy use of
industry-support tools to farm more sustainably.
Rather than following an intensification model often blamed for freshwater and climate pollution, they stock their paddocks at a lower than average rate, with a focus on above-average profit and performance for each cow.
"The focus for us is to use the timelines we have to reduce and manage our footprint to as an efficient level as we can," he said.
"In essence, we are restructuring our farming business with a view to improved resilience."
Still, they face the same economic pressures and uncertainties all farmers have to grapple with, on top of adapting to a changing climate and new environmental reporting requirements.
There's concern about how the industry-led effort to slash emissions, He Waka Eke Noa, will be put into practice at the farm gate or whether agriculture will instead be folded into the Emissions Trading Scheme with other sectors.
"Knowing one's greenhouse gas numbers and understanding how that can be influenced is a big challenge," Moss said.
"Most importantly, how does one maintain profitability while reducing the greenhouse-gas footprint?
"This challenge cannot be under-estimated because if we get it wrong, the nation as a whole suffers."
As for just signed-off reforms aimed at cleaning up our lakes, waters and streams, Moss was reasonably comfortable with the intent of the policies.
He saw much practical sense in the approach of each farmer developing their own farm plans to better manage their impact on the environment.
"A hold-the-line approach, while regional council get policies in place that align with [the reforms] makes sense as well."
But again, he had worried about how some of the new policies would be practically implemented, along with what resourcing there would be available off-farm to ensure compliance.
And he questioned whether a new 190kg cap on synthetic nitrogen use would deliver the environmental result the Government wanted it to.
"I have seen high-input farmers with excellent environmental outcomes, and conversely, low-input farmers with [poor] outcomes - the operator attitude and knowledge is everything," he said.
"The farmers doing the right thing are probably reasonably comfortable but most have not had time to digest the rules fully."
Ultimately, he felt environment policy should treat all primary production equally, whether that was animal farming, forestry or horticulture.
"I would also like to see greater focus and support for communities to come together and decide what are the right environmental outcomes for their catchment. A rule for one catchment is maybe inappropriate for another," he said.
"I am hoping a number of the regional plans will reflect a catchment-based approach."
Environment: The policies
• Continue applying five-year budgets set by Zero Carbon Act.
• Continue to support the Predator Free 2050 strategy and develop new tools.
• Implement freshwater reforms that set higher health standards at swimming spots and new requirements for farmers.
• Repeal and replace the Resource Management Act with two new acts.
• Ask the Climate Change Commission to review methane targets.
• Advocate use of new technologies in wiping out pest predators.
• Repeal and replace new freshwater rules, work with farmers and environmentalists on new ones.
• Spend $600m a year over three years on water infrastructure projects across the country, such as storage and drinking water projects.
• Scrap the RMA and give effect to review recommendations within first term.
• Implement the Predator Free 2050 Strategy and Biodiversity Strategy.
• Advocate a resource rental for commercial water users, along with a bottom line for dissolved inorganic nitrogen.
• Implement a Clean Energy Plan to help end coal use by 2030 and industrial fossil gas use by 2035.
• Require the finance sector to disclose climate risks.
• Set a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining and protect a third of New Zealand's oceans by 2030.
• Replace Zero Carbon Act and Emissions Trading Scheme with a new climate plan.
• Repeal ban on new offshore oil and gas exploration permits, allow mining in "low conservation" areas.
• Repeal and replace RMA with new law.
• Require councils to commit to short- and long-term water quality objectives.
• End new onshore oil and gas permits and withdraw existing onshore and offshore oil and gas permits within five years.
• Establish fund for Māori-owned community energy projects.
• Stop mining on conservation land, reserves and significant natural areas.
• Advocate Māori proprietary, customary, and decision-making rights and interests to freshwater.
• Ban new consents for water bottling plants until a new allocation system is developed.
• Supports the planting of one billion trees to earn carbon dollars under the Provincial Growth Fund.