It's an incredibly exciting time to be an environmental advocate. The election of the Labour Government and the recent Cabinet appointments promise a period of fundamental reform of the way we manage our built and natural environments.
The next three years should see changes that address many of the pressing issues that concern so many New Zealanders. We are really looking forward to engaging with ministers across the range of legal and institutional reforms in prospect.
First of these is the reform of the resource management system, which is set for the most far-reaching changes in 30 years. The Government has committed to replace the Resource Management Act with a new piece of legislation and to implement two additional new statutes for regional spatial planning and climate change adaptation, following the recommendations from the expert Randerson panel.
Those changes should reduce red tape, lower compliance costs, speed up and simplify plan-making and better protect the environment. The new system should better enable housing provision while setting clear biophysical limits to turn around our still-declining environmental indicators. It will also include national direction on addressing climate change.
These changes to the present system are deep and wide-ranging and delivering them in three years is a heroic challenge. That is especially so when you consider that the present resource management system will keep trucking on, meanwhile a National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity is imminent and the freshwater reforms are now in implementation mode. Transitioning seamlessly from the old to the new will be complex.
David Parker is clearly the best person to provide ministerial oversight of all of this.
Secondly, we now have a new Minister for Oceans and Fisheries – also David Parker. This was unexpected but reflects a longstanding interest by the Prime Minister in having a fresh look at the way we manage and protect these natural assets.
This is long overdue. Our fisheries management system is no longer fit for purpose and we are seeing significant degradation of our coastal waters. Many seabirds and marine mammals are threatened. It's definitely time to have a look at the myriad fragmented and outdated laws.
We favour a full-blown independent Inquiry into fisheries management, which was actually promised by Labour at the previous election but thwarted by New Zealand First. And it's time to push ahead with new marine protected areas legislation, implement the Sea Change Tai Timu Tai Pari marine spatial plan for the Hauraki Gulf and deploy marine spatial planning more widely to resolve conflicts over sea space.
Thirdly, much of the legal framework for the conservation estate, which covers one-third of Aotearoa, is hopelessly out-of-date. It provides inadequate guidance as to the role of iwi and reflects an earlier generation of thinking about biodiversity. It does not deal adequately with tourism and doesn't even mention climate change.
We favour a wide-ranging look at the panoply of conservation law as the first step in working out a better way forward. Kiri Allan has been given this portfolio and we expect her to step up quickly to embrace the reform agenda on land and sea.
Finally, it was pleasing to see James Shaw reappointed as Climate Change Minister. He was able to work across party lines during the last term of government and will need to do so again, but this time the challenge will be getting the relevant Labour ministers on side.
Achieving our 2030 target and getting to net zero emissions by 2050 will require all government ministers to actively support the programme. We can really crack on (as the Prime Minister said) and get to 100 per cent renewables, electrify the entire transport fleet, and push harder for robust pricing signals via the ETS. There's unfinished business with respect to agricultural emissions and a need to take a clear look at whether science really can deliver on methane emissions or whether that's a pipedream.
With Covid-19 recovery still front-and-centre for the forthcoming term, it seems imperative to ensure that the deployment of all stimulus funding is subject to mandatory climate change mitigation and adaptation considerations. In this regard, the pandemic presents a historic opportunity to leap ahead towards a zero-carbon economy.
New Zealand's Covid-19 response, and the Prime Minister's handling of a number of painful events for our nation, has garnered considerable global attention and praise. With key international conferences on biodiversity and climate change set down for 2021, there is huge scope for New Zealand to actively push for more ambitious outcomes in those areas.
We need global action to align with our domestic efforts.
Leading with ambition will be critical to the overall success of this Government. We have high expectations.
• Gary Taylor is chairman and executive and Olivia Grainger, programme manager of the Environmental Defence Society.