National has laid out what its "bluegreen" policy would look like if the party was elected to government – but environment groups have been quick to point out shortcomings.
The party's just-released discussion document, launched at its BlueGreen Forum in Raglan today, proposed a range of policies, including a proposed new national park.
"National's ambition is to be the party that is best able to deliver a clean environment with a strong economy," party leader Simon Bridges said.
"It doesn't have to be one or the other. We know we can deliver a better environment without imposing a whole series of unneeded environmental taxes."
Its proposals for freshwater included a new and more efficient water allocation method; looking at whether water management should either be carried out nationally or catchment-by-catchment; ensuring measurement tools were consistent across town and country; and adopting environment watchdog Simon Upton's recommendations to improve the Overseer system used by farms.
National also supported a new "Water Infrastructure Fund" that would support water storage schemes in rural areas – a move that contrasted with the Government's decision to scrap public subsidies for irrigation schemes.
To encourage more people to take up greener transport, the party said it was open to such ideas as subsidies for electric vehicles, increasing regulations on older, less efficient vehicles, or encouraging older cars to be scrapped.
National advocated an overhauled Litter Act, a nationwide zero-waste timetable and target, along with a goal of 90 per cent of beverage containers being spared from going to landfill.
That could be achieved either through a bottle deposit scheme that ran alongside existing kerbside or recycling programmes, or by making industry responsible.
In conservation, National proposed upping funding for Department of Conservation rangers to help them deal with biosecurity incursions – and also encouraged them to help identify potential opportunities for businesses approved to use the conservation estate.
A proportion of revenue from those concessionaires would be directly re-invested into conservation projects, and the businesses would also be expected to support the conservation estate through predator control or advocacy.
National further proposed a review of National Park management plans – and creating a new national park in the Catlins.
The party also wanted to establish three new marine reserves – including the long-stalled Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary; updating the Marine Reserves Act; creating a new oceans management policy; and requiring observation cameras on fishing boats, but "in consultation" with industry.
Notably, National proposed updating restrictions around biotechnology to bring the rules in line with the latest science – specifically referencing its benefits in eradicating pests.
The party this week criticised Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage for directing DOC to avoid research into the role of genetic modification in pest control.
However, National stopped short of proposing that agriculture – the biggest contributor of methane, which accounted for nearly half of New Zealand's greenhouse gas inventory – should be folded into the Emissions Trading Scheme.
That's something which was currently being assessed by the Interim Climate Change Committee – and which has already been suggested by the Productivity Commission and the Tax Working Group's new report.
Instead, the party held its view that agricultural emissions were best managed down by "improved farming efficiency" and "direct investment in new technologies as they appear".
Speaking from the conference, Greenpeace senior campaign advisor Steve Abel said the proposals for a new marine reserves and a new national park in the Catlins as well as a countrywide bottle deposit scheme to address plastic pollution were good to see.
Abel was also heartened to see National environment spokesperson Scott Simpson remark that the environment and economy should be seen as equals, and that short-term economic gain shouldn't come at the cost of nature.
But he said National remained "lost" on climate change and agriculture.
"The Nats are still looking for fictional future tech fixes for our agricultural problems when there are very practical solutions available right now if they would only seize the nettle," he said.
"National is focused on biotechnology as a silver bullet but these fixes are underwhelming add-ons that fail to address underlying problems, and are not what our export customers want."
"National are still not willing to face the practical reality that to prevent industrial agriculture's degradation of New Zealand's waterways, soil and the climate we need systemic change.
"That means changes in land use, fewer cows, and a cut to damaging inputs like synthetic nitrogen, and shift to regenerative farming."
Abel also noted that National was still advocating for more oil and gas exploration, "rather than the huge opportunities that exist in clean solar and wind energy industries".
"The party still wants to keep two of the most potent greenhouse gases - methane and nitrous oxide - out of the Emissions Trading Scheme."
Environmental Defence Society chairman Gary Taylor described the discussion document as "high on aspiration and good intentions, but not much detail".
"With a lot of it, there's not much difference between what they are saying and what the current government policy is."
But Taylor said National appeared less hamstrung than the Government in being able to move on improving fisheries management and creating marine reserves.
"The other big point is that they are wanting to roll out a process for assessing new biotechnology at a faster rate than the current Government is.
"But the area where National is still prevaricating is climate change – we are not getting a solid sense of direction of where they are wanting to go, and they seem to still be relying on science to deliver a solution, despite the fact that 15 years of investment has seen nothing of any substance.
"Overall, it's a credible discussion paper at this point in the electoral cycle, but we'll want much more definition and commitment as we get closer to the next election."