Nature is in crisis. Around the world a million species are sliding towards oblivion, and in Aotearoa New Zealand some 4000 species are at risk of or threatened with extinction.
In our country invasive species are among the reasons for native species loss, but here and everywhere else the biggest threat is human activity.
There can be no doubt we are living well beyond nature's limits with our over-extraction, destruction of habitats like wetlands, drylands and lowland forests, pollution of our fresh water and oceans, and greenhouse gas pollution.
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Put simply, we have taken from nature more than it can safely give. And we have used nature, our land, sea, rivers, and atmosphere, as the dumping grounds for our waste. But something is changing.
Right now, the Government is consulting on its plan for freshwater reform. Let me be honest: I was expecting to be disappointed by the proposed reforms. I thought the Government would probably succumb to "politics as usual" and deliver measures that would be only a modest improvement on the status quo.
I was wrong. The proposed rules have the potential, if they are adopted as scientists have recommended, to make huge improvements in the health of our fresh water. If the Minister for the Environment and Cabinet implement the proposed science-based limits on pollution, new rules will protect both human and environmental health.
We could see fish, insects, and birds return as streams and rivers are better protected and restored.
The proposed changes will work in combination with the $229 million put aside in the Budget for the transition of farming practices towards sustainability.
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The mostly positive responses to new freshwater proposals show that even many industry groups are relieved the Government intends to do what is necessary to clean up our fresh water.
Last month, the Government also consulted on a discussion document for a new biodiversity strategy. It's titled 'Te Koiroa o te Koiora: Our Shared Vision for Living with Nature', and it's really good. It sets out a realistic approach to going beyond just protecting what's left of nature, and working towards restoration of our natural world, without dodging or glossing over some of the hard issues.
Finally, the Zero Carbon Bill is currently in Parliament. It doesn't go far enough in reducing emissions, but it does set an ambition of meeting the Paris target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. It sets up a structure to guide us there, which may be able to withstand the ebbs and flows of parliamentary politics.
These environmental initiatives fit alongside the "wellbeing budget" our Government delivered this year. The change in approach seems modest to me, but internationally it has grabbed attention, with headlines focused on its balanced approach, in which economy, society and environment all have equal billing.
I am beginning to get the sense of how a bundle of separate Government programmes will combine to achieve something greater than the sum of their parts.
It's a big change. The economy should serve the environment but historically we have had this contrary to logic, with the environment serving the economy as raw materials or waste disposal. It seems bizarre to continue to focus on GDP growth, pursuing more and more economic activity, if this is achieved at the cost of growing environmental degradation and social inequality.
It will be great if the Government can cement in a new approach.
Seen separately, any one of these new initiatives is impressive. Seen together they are the first glimpses of a transformation to a modern economy that serves the environment, not the other way around.
Any ecologist or economist worth their salt will tell you a healthy environment leads to healthy people. This is pretty much the entire basis of the brand we trade on internationally.
There remain powerful vested interests campaigning for the status quo and the Government has been slow to implement some promises, such as stopping new mines on conservation land and taking action to protect marine environments. It is important we hold them to their promises because those promises offer a new way forward.
A different world is possible, and it may be right around the corner.
• Kevin Hague is the chief executive of Forest & Bird.