Monday, May 28, 2012

Breaking our word on the environment

Twenty years ago, New Zealand attended the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. While there, we signed up to the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the "Agenda 21" sustainable development plan, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in the process making a host of promises on the environment. Twenty years on, WWF is examining whether we have kept those promises [PDF]. Their assessment is not good:

A World Wildlife Fund report claims New Zealand has failed to meet any of the major commitments agreed to at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 20 years ago.

New Zealand was among 178 countries at the summit which committed to cutting greenhouse gas emission, improving water quality and protecting biodiversity.

However the Beyond Rio report, which document progress since the summit, said New Zealand has little to be proud of.

To give just a few examples:
  • In 1992, we promised to limit greenhouse gas emissions - a promise we reaffirmed in Kyoto in 1997. We then did nothing for two decades while they increased (now we have an ETS, but it excludes our biggest polluters - farmers - while subsidising the rest).
  • In 1992, we promised to preserve our lakes and rivers and protect them from pollution. We then did nothing, and allowed the dairy boom to turn them into open sewers.
  • In 1992 we promised to conserve our native biodiversity. We then did nothing to do so, with the result that the number of threatened or at risk species has quadrupled in the last decade.
  • In 1992 we promised to sustainably manage our fisheries. We then set fishing quotas too high, and according to industry lobbying rather than the science. The result has been a collapse of important fisheries, and a rise in the number of species that are known to be over-exploited.
Looking at this record, I really wonder why anyone accepts our word on anything. As a country, we are cheats and liars, and our promises are worthless. We "commit", then we do nothing, while wearing that worthless commitment like its some sort of badge of honour.

As a small country, with a mana-based foreign policy, the importance of keeping our word on the international stage should be paramount. We need to start living up to these commitments. And that means holding politicians to account for doing so.