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Climate change most serious environmental issue for New Zealand

29 June 2016 | Mitigation

Climate change is the most serious environmental issue New Zealanders face, according to a new report by the Environment Commissioner.

Dr Jan Wright said there was "no question" climate change was worrying and had flow-on effects, in her commentary on the government's Environment Aotearoa 2015 report. That report had singled out rapid growth in dairy farmland and surging carbon dioxide levels as twin threats to the country's environment.

"Climate change will impact on the health of our sea, land, and freshwater, our unique and precious biodiversity, and our economy," she said.

Wright has previously warned communities may have to be abandoned or left to deal with major financial costs because of sea-level rise.

Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett pointed to the "momentous" Paris agreement where 175 countries signed up to lowering emissions.

"Pressure is on us now to make sure that we keep up with that momentum - that actually it's not just the signing of a document but that it's real action."

Innovations were being made in transport and electric vehicles, agri-research and renewable energy - but there was "always more" that could be done, she said.

The Government had a work underway to look at the "options" to meet New  Zealand's commitment to get emission levels down to 5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

Bennett said planning and development was primarily the responsibility of local councils and businesses.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw backed the call to bring down transport emissions, which he said was the "fastest and easiest" option.

He said the report was just another account of ever-increasing temperatures from climate change and New Zealand needed to "get our act together and do something about it".

"Under the National Government New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions have increased about 20 per cent," Shaw said.

"That is when we've had an emissions trading scheme, the whole point of which is to reduce emissions - so clearly we're going in the wrong direction."

Transport Minister Simon Bridges agreed climate change was New Zealand's biggest environmental issue, and a "definite priority" for his portfolio.

"Every year we're investing unprecedented amounts in public transport and cycleways," he said.

"We've got a significant electric vehicle policy we need to roll out and see real achievement made in."

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) had carbon reduction measures around fuel efficiency, he said. 

"It's very much a process of just trying to do more where we sensibly can."

Marine and wildlife concerns

Climate change was one of four key areas Wright outlinedshe also highlighted slow progress in sea protection, encouraged tree planting on unstable hill country, and raised concerns about New Zealand's wildlife.

"Our native birds and animals are under sustained attack from predators.

"The Government's 'Battle for our Birds' has been successful in preventing the damage from 'masts' in some areas. But we must lift our sights from battles that 'hold the line' to figuring out how to win the war."

She called for the Ministry for the Environment to put out a report outlining priorities for action in response to her findings.

The purpose of her report was to assess how the government carried out its environmental reporting.

The Environment Aotearoa 2015 report was the first of its kind, jointly produced by the Environment Ministry and Statistics NZ, using data from hundreds of sources including regional councils and Crown agencies.

Wright recommended the purpose of the environmental reporting should be to inform the public and decision-makers of the current state and long-term trends in the environment.

Environmental issues, rather than separate domains (air, land, marine, climate and fresh water), should form the basis for the structure in telling a "story", she said.

She also wanted the conclusions on domains to be "made transparently on a reasoned basis".

Source: Stuff