Latest state of the environment report gives cause for disquiet

A comprehensive assessment of New Zealand’s environment shows improvements in some areas but continued reduction in many aspects of environmental quality, with consequences for human health and wellbeing.

The assessment, produced every three years by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ, draws on nearly 50 environmental indicators, including 11 updated specifically for the report.

Environment Aotearoa 2022 found pressures of land use change and intensification, pollution, invasive species, and climate change were having detrimental impacts on the environment.

New Zealand’s rare ecosystems and indigenous species are under threat with 94 per cent of reptiles threatened with extinction or at risk of becoming extinct, and nearly three-quarters of terrestrial birds threatened or at risk.

The area of highly productive land that was unavailable for agriculture increased 54 per cent between 2002 and 2019. Continue reading

Why the agriculture sector should brace for action to curb greenhouse gas emissions

Climate Change Minister James Shaw says the just-published Greenhouse Gas Inventory, from the Ministry for the Environment, underlines the case for accelerated action to reduce emissions.

The report shows that the 2020 lockdowns had an impact on emissions. Gross emissions were down by 3 per cent between 2019 and 2020, mainly driven by less travel by road, air and sea, and reduced fuel use for manufacturing.

From 1990 to 2020 gross emissions have increased by 21 per cent.

The report clearly shows where New Zealand’s emissions are coming from and – by implication – the biggest opportunities to reduce them.

These include methane emissions from agriculture and carbon emissions from transport. Continue reading

Government consults ag/hort sector on freshwater farm plan

The Government is inviting farmers and growers to provide their practical ideas to help develop high-quality and workable freshwater farm plans, in line with its freshwater goals.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor and Environment Minister David Parker today released the consultation documents for freshwater farm plans and stock exclusion low slope maps.

Comment is being sought on a new, more accurate, mapping approach for stock exclusion that better reflects what farmers see on the ground.

These are part of the Government’s Essential Freshwater package. Public consultation with farmers, agricultural sector groups, iwi and Māori, councils, and environmental groups will run from 26 July – 12 September.

“I want to thank industry organisations for their input so far, which has improved on original proposals. There are many farmers and growers already committed to practices to improve water quality and it’s vital they have their say and contribute to this consultation,” Damien O’Connor said.

“Taking a farm planning approach is a flexible alternative. It also provides farmers a visible way of showing their sustainability credentials to the markets we sell in to, which will help boost value growth.”

David Parker said improving freshwater quality was important to all Kiwis.

“High-quality freshwater farm plans will provide a practical way for famers to meet the freshwater standards the Government introduced last year, while helping councils play their part.

“Everybody’s feedback will be carefully considered, and we expect the outcome to be released later this year.”

“Working together and getting good ideas from this consultation is important, and that’s why I encourage people to have their say. We believe a significant improvement in freshwater quality is achievable in five years – and we can have healthy waterways within a generation,” David Parker said.

Damien O’Connor said feedback was being sought on the content of freshwater farm plans, what outcomes could be achieved, and how plans could be certified, audited and amended.

“We will also be asking about the balance between using the low slope map and freshwater farm plans for identifying areas for stock exclusion.

“The Government is listening to, and helping farmers and growers as shown already by our work with the sector on He Waka Eke Noa, integrated farm planning and ensuring farmers are using the best practices for intensive winter grazing. This approach and these initiatives are fundamental to our Fit For A Better World roadmap,’’ Damien O’Connor said. 

David Parker said the Government would soon release a review of whether the nutrient management tool, Overseer, will be a useful long term tool. An earlier report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment called for a re-evaluation of Overseer.

“We’re committed to ensuring we have the right settings and tools in place to lift freshwater quality and help people achieve that goal,” David Parker said.

The discussion document is now available on the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Primary Industries websites.

The online submission forms will be available when the consultation opens on the week of 26 July on the Ministry for the Environment’s website in the have your say section.

Stock exclusion regulations – proposed changes

Freshwater farm plan regulations discussion document

Freshwater farm plan regulations supporting document

Source:  Minister of Agriculture

New report shows impact of demands on land in New Zealand

The land cover data in an environmental report published today, Our land 2021, provides the most up-to-date estimates of New Zealand’s land cover and associated land use and changes.

Released by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ, the report presents new data on the country’s land cover, soil quality and land fragmentation.

Our land 2021 continues the second cycle of environmental reporting by Stats NZ and the Ministry for the Environment.

It updates Our land 2018 and the second theme ‘How we use our land’ from Environment Aotearoa 2019, which was the most recent report on the state of the environment as a whole.

Overseas markets are a significant driver of land use, and with global populations projected to reach 10.9 billion by 2100, market-based pressures on land are set to increase.

Most of our agriculture and forestry products are exported and these activities currently cover about half our land area, the report says.

While urban land cover continues to make up 1% of total land area in New Zealand, urban and residential expansion is outwards onto productive land, which creates tension between the use of land for housing and land for agriculture.

This results in a complex trade-off, because using land that is not highly productive for food growing results in lower yields unless more intensive land management approaches are used. Intensive land management brings with it the risks of degrading the quality and health of the soil and the wider environment. Continue reading

B+LNZ welcomes MfE report on sequestration as an important contribution

We learned of an important new report for the farm sector and its scientists not in press statements from the Ministry for the Environment  (which published the report) or its minister, but from Beef+Lamb NZ.

The report, posted on the ministry’s website without fanfare today, is titled Net emissions and removals from vegetation and soils on sheep and beef farmland.

The  report estimates the net emissions and removals from vegetation and soils on New Zealand sheep and beef farmland, using methods consistent with New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory (MfE, 2020) and the 2006 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidelines for reporting (IPCC, 2006b).

Woody vegetation and drained organic soils on sheep and beef farms are estimated to be a net sink, removing 5487 kt CO2-e from the atmosphere in 2018.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) removals were driven by large areas of natural (indigenous) forest and planted (exotic) forests. Emissions from vegetation were driven by deforestation and harvesting of planted forests. Continue reading

Review panel appointed as Overseer improvements continue

Eight independent experts have been appointed to lead a technical review of the Overseer environmental modelling software, the ministries for the environment and primary industries announced today.

The Overseer work is a major part of efforts to improve decision-making tools for use on-farm.

Panel members were selected based on their depth of knowledge and their collective range of skills and perspectives.

“The eight  independent and internationally-recognised environmental specialists will look ‘under the bonnet’ of Overseer to critically assess its modelling capability and explore potential improvements for its use,” says Ministry for the Environment deputy secretary – water and climate change, Cheryl Barnes.

“The panel’s conclusions and assessments will be critical to New Zealand’s future approach to land management. We must be confident that Overseer is the right tool to drive sound land management decisions and improve freshwater quality.” Continue reading

Economist and soil scientist at odds over moves to protect some land from developers

The release of Our Land 2018, the Ministry for the Environment’s report which deals with the state of New Zealand’s land resources, has triggered a debate between an economist and a soil scientist on Sciblogs.

The report shows the extent to which New Zealand’s urban sprawl is eating up some of the country’s most versatile land.

Dr Eric Crampton, Head of Research at the New Zealand Initiative, said he just doesn’t get the fixation with making sure nobody builds a home on agricultural land.

He sees no need for some land to be protected from developers, arguing that market mechanisms do the job well enough, thank you.

Pierre Roudier, a scientist in the Soils & Landscapes team at Landcare Research and a Principal Investigator at Te Pūnaha Matatini, disagrees.  Banning the development on our best soils makes sense because it acknowledges resources values that can’t be measured in economic terms.

Dr Crampton’s opinion post, syndicated from Offsetting Behaviour (it originally appeared HERE), cites a Radio New Zealand report (HERE) which said the Government plans to make it harder for councils to approve new homes and lifestyle blocks on productive land near urban areas.

The ministry report highlights that between 1990 and 2008, 29 per cent of new urban areas were built on some of the country’s most versatile land.

The Radio New Zealand report went on to note that lifestyle blocks were also having an impact – in 2013 those blocks covered 10 per cent of New Zealand’s best land – and quoted Environment Minister David Parker’s concerns.

Continue reading

EPA closes the shutters after its CEO is cleared by select committee majority

Environmental Protection Authority board chair Kerry Prendergast has announced – in effect – that her agency’s chief executive, Dr Allan Freeth, has been cleared of misleading Parliament’s Environment Select Committee during a session on 15 February.

She then said the EPA will be making no further statements or accepting any requests for interviews on issues raised during a briefing of the select committee.

But the report on the briefing (HERE) suggests there’s more to be explained or clarified.

First, Government members of the committee used their majority numbers to vote down an opposition request to have the Ministry for the Environment’s chief executive, Vicky Robertson, answer questions about her involvement in the departure of EPA chief scientist Dr Jacqueline Rowarth from the authority.

Second, a minority of the committee’s membership believe the independence of the EPA “has been compromised with the early departure of a highly competent and respected Chief Scientist”.

The minority contends the timing of this departure can be directly connected to concerns raised by new ministers soon after their appointment.

Kerry Prendergast has brushed over the schism within the select committee and the questions raised by the dissidents.

According to her press statement (HERE), the select committee concluded in its report, released on 4 May 2018:

“We are satisfied Dr Freeth did not mislead us at the EPA’s 2016/17 annual review hearing. The majority of us do not have any concerns to raise after reviewing the written evidence and our hearing with Dr Freeth.”

Ms Prendergast’s statement excluded the next significant chunk of the conclusion:

Continue reading

National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry take effect

New plantation forestry regulations will better protect the environment while improving productivity within the forestry sector, Forestry Minister Shane Jones says.

The new National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry come into effect today.

Mr Jones says they provide a nationally consistent set of regulations to manage the environmental effects of plantation forestry activities undertaken in New Zealand’s 1.7 million hectares of plantation forestry.

“Forestry is our third largest primary industry but its efficiency has been hindered by variation in planning rules across New Zealand’s multitude of councils,” he says.

“Many large forests cover multiple council boundaries, resulting in different rules for the same forest.

“From today that forest will be governed by one set of rules.

“Greater certainty around the rules should encourage more investment in the forestry industry, providing a boost for regional economies. The regulations also create a consistent operating environment for any plantation forestry established under the One Billion Trees programme.”

The standards are based on existing good practice standards for the forestry industry and include three risk-assessment tools developed to manage the environmental impacts from forestry, covering the issues of erosion, wilding conifers and fish spawning.

“The benefits of these tools are that the restrictions on forestry activities are related to the environmental risk rather than which council area a forestry operation is in,” Mr Jones says.

“The regulations cover eight core plantation forestry activities: afforestation, pruning and thinning to waste, earthworks, river crossings, forest quarrying, harvesting, mechanical land preparation and replanting. Councils may apply stricter rules for these activities in specific circumstances to manage locally significant or sensitive areas.”

The standard was developed jointly by Ministry for Primary Industries and the Ministry for the Environment. It was gazetted in August 2017 with a delay in commencement to 1 May 2018 to enable councils and foresters to understand their responsibilities under the regulations and put in place processes to meet these responsibilities.

Foresters and councils have been supported in this process through a series of regional workshops. These were attended by more than 600 foresters and council representatives throughout New Zealand.

The National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry will be reviewed in 12 months to ensure they are being successfully implemented.

Source: Minister for Forestry

Inability to assess extent of land contamination fortifies case for better data

This relates to a report released this week by the Ministry for the Environment, Our Land 2018 (HERE), which showed the overall extent of land contamination was unknown, but 19,568 sites have been confirmed as contaminated.

As Radio NZ explained, regional councils keep records of specific sites where contamination is confirmed from pesticides, timber treatment chemicals, mining run-off, fire-fighting foam and other hazardous substances.

But the report said many regional councils estimated that up to three times as many sites could be identified in their areas with “further work”.

It noted there was currently no integrated overall dataset showing the extent of confirmed contaminated sites across the country.

“We know what kind of land contamination can happen in New Zealand and how these chemicals may impact on human and environmental health but we are unable to report on the overall extent of land contamination,” it said.

The chairman of the Environmental Defence Society, Gary Taylor, said the report showed a major overhaul of the resource management system was needed.

Too often regional councils were highjacked by vested interests and conflicts of interest, he said.

“We need to look at a whole range of things, not just the RMA [Resource Management Act], but the agencies that administer it, and free them up from conflicts and perverse pressures that can produce bad outcomes.”

The lack of a standardised, integrated reporting system meant no-one knew how bad the contamination problem was, he said.

The ministry’s report was honest about the gaps and communities can’t manage what they don’t know about.

Source: Radio NZ