It is all very well criticizing the unworkable environmental regulations but what are the alternative solutions?
At Groundswell NZ we have put a considerable amount of thought into developing a solution that combines all environmental issues under one integrated policy framework while significantly reducing duplication, cost, and the overwhelming burden on people.
The first step we started with was a vision that all NZ farmers could embrace and aspire to – To be the worlds most environmentally sustainable food and fibre producers.
A major failure of the current approach to environmental issues is multiple regulations operating in silos conflicting with each other and delivering perverse outcomes.
An example is climate change policies incentivising large scale pine planting at the expense of productive land, landscape values, native shrublands and the viability of rural communities.
Another failure of the existing system is the extensive number of rules, many of them impractical, or unnecessary.
We propose retaining regulation for activities that can have major environmental effects such as effluent ponds, discharges to waterways, and irrigation takes.
However, for other issues such as indigenous biodiversity, wetlands, emissions, and cultural values we propose these all become part of a nationwide industry and community led advisory and action programme.
How would this look on farm?
Our proposal would not seek to override existing initiatives such as Catchment and Landcare Groups but would empower farmers and all the different industry and community led initiatives in taking an integrated approach to environmental issues.
A key feature would be a nationwide advisory and support service that complements existing programmes and resources identified gaps.
At an individual farm level advisors would understand and consider all aspects of the environment – freshwater (including the individual catchment context), indigenous biodiversity, cultural values, emissions, erosion, and weeds and pests.
An action plan for each farm would address the key environmental risks and priorities.
This plan would need to be tailored to each farm’s vision, needs and resources, and flexible to adapt to climatic events and sudden changes in markets.
The action plan would be reviewed regularly – maybe annually or earlier if the need arises.
Farm plans would be industry led rather than a one size fits all prescriptive Government mandate.
The governments single issue focused Freshwater Farm Plan would be replaced by an industry led approach that integrates all environmental issues into one action plan.
Rather than ticking boxes the goal of an industry led farm plan would be to empower farmers as custodians in environmental sustainability/Kaitiakitanga.
The Significant Natural Areas (SNA) policy would be gone and along with it the projected millions of dollars wasted on tick box surveys.
In its place would be a system that complements the QEII Trust by focusing on what are the key threats to existing indigenous biodiversity and habitats on each farm.
Opportunities to enhance or restore is also important, particularly in more intensively farmed areas where wetland restoration and protecting waterways would be a focus.
Farmers have been undertaking a huge amount of environmental work that benefits emissions and the climate.
This would continue with a focus on emissions efficiency and best practice.
The new emissions tax proposal would be binned, but farmers would continue to fund emissions research and new technology through the simple existing industry levies structure as they have done for the past 20 years.
However, there would be more rigor around establishing research needs that aim to deliver cost effective tangible environmental outcomes that can be practically applied on farm.
We see substantial benefits from our proposal and have received strong interest across the political spectrum.
Groundswell NZ welcomes feedback on our proposal and would like to see a future government adopt it as a proposal for wider public consultation.
by Jamie McFadden
Groundswell NZ environmental spokesperson.