Wellington teenager Brittany Trilford is off to Rio to deliver the world leaders at the Earth Summit a good bloody dressing down on behalf of young people. But she might like to pop in at the Beehive along the way and give them an earful – for a World Wildlife Fund report out this morning presents a damning assessment of New Zealand’s efforts in meeting its commitments from the last Earth Summit in Rio 20 years ago.
The report examines six areas that required action in the wake of the original meeting: greenhouse gas emissions; water quality; education for sustainability; biodiversity (land); biodiversity (marine); and fisheries.
Morgan Williams, chair of WWF NZ, introduces the report (available here in PDF format) this way:
There is little to be proud of. In all six [areas] many of the problems that existed 20 years ago remain, and are often worse. Successive governments have failed to put in place the policies and mechanisms required by our Earth Summit commitments. I see this report as a wake up call for New Zealand.
We cannot afford another 20 years of inaction. For our most critical sustainability issues – freshwater, greenhouse gases, native biodiversity and fisheries – this Government, and its successors, must not only make good on the promises made in 1992, but significantly step up efforts.
The report made a decent splash this morning, leading news bulletins on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report.
The environment minister, Amy Adams, fronted to answer questions. She managed to both assert that the claims in the report were wrong and that she hadn’t fully read the report.
The environment spokespeople of the Labour and Green parties appeared later in the programme.
But Labour, of course, was in charge for nine of those 20 years. And while the Greens are obviously the most environmentally minded party, they did much less than they might have to make the environment – and climate change particularly – a talking point in the last election campaign, presumably because the subject was not seen as a big vote-winner.
The argument most likely to get New Zealand governments to take environmental concerns seriously might be a pragmatic one – an appeal to how it all looks to people overseas, for matters both of commercial interest and basic pride.
It was Adams’ predecessor as environment minister, Nick Smith, who spoke in the context of Rio+20 of “leverag[ing] off our strong clean green reputation”. That idea is enshrined in the tourism slogan “New Zealand 100% Pure”.
That slogan and that reputation risk being made to look skin deep.
Remember the skewering of John Key on BBC Hard Talk last year (“I think for the most part, in comparison with the rest of the world, we are 100% pure”)?
And then there was Fred Pearce in the Guardian. The admired environment writer wrote, as part of his Greenwash series, ahead of the Copenhagen summit at the end of 2009:
My prize for the most shameless two fingers to the global community goes to New Zealand, a country that sells itself round the world as “clean and green”.
New Zealand secured a generous Kyoto target, which simply required it not to increase its emissions between 1990 and 2010. But the latest UN statistics show its emissions of greenhouse gases up by 22%, or a whopping 39% if you look at emissions from fuel burning alone.