Address At The Launch Of Auckland City Council's Environment Policy

  • Simon Upton

Thank you Sir Hugh Kawharu for your kind words of welcome and thank you Councillor Yates for your introduction.

Since 1972 the United Nations Environment Programme has invited people around the globe to celebrate World Environment Day on 5 June. In the United Nation's own words, the aim of this annual day of commemoration is to:

raise environmental awareness and to encourage global action in the protection of the environment; give a human face to environmental issues; empower people to become active agents for sustainable and equitable development; promote an understanding that communities are pivotal to changing attitudes towards environmental issues; and advocate partnerships which will ensure all nations and peoples enjoy a safer and more prosperous future.

Not so long ago I might have been tempted to dismiss these rather bland and general platitudes as another example of the UN's irrelevance. A year of chairing the United Nation's Commission on Sustainable Development has impressed upon me that the efforts of UN bodies in this area can add value although they are forever at risk of producing nebulous or lowest-common-denominator outcomes.

There are some genuinely global issues that need to be addressed at the global level - climate change and oceans issues are the prime ones. Global institutions and international dialogue need to be maintained if they are to be addressed. That's why New Zealand put such an effort into its chairmanship of the Commission on Sustainable Development recently.

Most environmental issues, however, have to be dealt with locally. World Environment Day vision is a convenient moment to reflect on the current state of our own physical environment.

We've learnt a lot about the reality here in New Zealand in the last few years. The State of New Zealand's Environment which the Government launched in 1997 pointed to the areas of particular need. The loss of biodiversity is the most alarming.

The State of New Zealand's Environment's pre-eminent policy conclusion was that our environmental information needed considerable upgrading if the state of the nation's environment is to be accurately described and trends - for better or for worse - properly detected. There's plenty of anecdotal or fragmentary data washing around but there is rarely enough to say anything authoritative about whether we've stopped the rot, we're making progress or still trading on a reputation that can't be justified.

To rectify this problem the Ministry for the Environment has been tasked to lead the Environmental Performance Indicators programme. Its purpose is to develop and use a full suite of indicators to measure how well we are looking after our environment.

Indicators for land, air, fresh water, climate change and ozone are now being implemented. The Ministry will soon be confirming indicators for the marine environment, terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity, and waste. It plans to draft indicators for transport, energy, and pests, weeds and diseases. And it is exploring potential indicators for urban amenity and landscape values, and toxic contaminants. The success of this programme, of course, relies on the support and involvement of councils throughout the country.

A number of new environmental initiatives were provided for in last month's budget. I want today to announce one of them which relates to biodiversity. We have committed $2.3 million over two years to develop marine, freshwater and land-related biodiversity indicators.

The current state of New Zealand's biodiversity isn't widely monitored at the moment. Our understanding of biological diversity on land and in the water, and the diversity of territorial habitats and eco-systems is patchy. Existing monitoring, aside from a few iconic species, is very limited. We know virtually nothing about the eco-systems of our huge marine environment, beyond one or two prominent fish stocks.

Air and water quality are key issues all over the world and so indicator programmes have been developed elsewhere which we can draw on. Biodiversity doesn't figure so prominently as a priority in countries that we have traditionally looked to. Britain, for example, has never enjoyed the wealth of endemic life that New Zealand still has a chance to retain. It's an area, therefore, where we have to do a lot of the ground-breaking work. This money, provided for in the budget, will help fund the necessary development work: doing the science and trialing various approaches across a wide array of agencies.

Gathering biodiversity indicators may be as simple as developing a standard methodology and check list for researchers to take to bush areas. At the other end of the scale, it might involve working towards techniques that can use satellite images to indicate the health and extent of eco-systems.

The final aim is to develop a template of meaningful indicators of biodiversity. In time they will be used, predominately at the local level, to gather information that will feed into State of the Environment reporting throughout the country. We'll know, on better authority, where the problems are and what the priorities are for action.

The $2.3 million biodiversity indicators programme is a well focused initiative that will make a difference to New Zealand's environment.

There is a limit to what can be achieved from the National level. The drive for environmental action more often comes from the community, local and regional levels. Today Auckland City is doing its bit with its new Environmental Policy.

It's good to see strong environmental leadership by one of the largest city councils in New Zealand. In a practical sense launching this policy is just the first step in an ongoing process. The policy is both complex and comprehensive, and will take a sustained commitment to implement. I wish you well. The development of an annual report on the state of Auckland's environment will be a powerful discipline here.

As recognised in its new Environmental Policy, Auckland City is a significant energy using business in its own right. Accordingly it has chosen this occasion to officially join the Energy-Wise Councils Partnership.

The Partnership is an initiative led by the Government's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA). The Partnership centres around a Memorandum of Understanding under which EECA agrees to provides technical and management support to councils taking practical moves to improve their own energy. The Memorandum also acknowledges and builds on Council's important resource and transport management functions which can have a profound effect on the community's energy use and CO2 emissions.

In joining the Energy-Wise Councils Partnership, Auckland City Council has committed to implementing cost-effective energy efficiency measures in its own facilities. It will also commit to fostering energy efficiency and renewable energy in the community it represents.

I congratulate Auckland City on staking out the moral, and practical, high ground by committing itself to making cost-effective improvements to the energy efficiency of its own operations and that of their community. I would urge all other local authorities to become Energy-Wise Council Partners in their own economic interests, and that of New Zealand.