Righting Environmental Wrongs

  • Deborah Morris
Associate Minister for the Environment

National Library, Wellington

Ladies and Gentleman, good morning, and thank you for the invitation to speak to you here today.

When speaking to Barry Dyer before this conference, I was pleased to find out about the work of the NZ Chemical Industry Council, and was pleasantly surprised at some of the initiatives the Council is involved in.

I support the policy that voluntary agreements between industry and Government are best. However, in the event that such an approach fails to deliver the necessary environmental outcomes, there is a place for Government regulation.

The Chemical Industry Council realises that environmental management and the impetus for improvement, has to come from the industry and business itself.

Being the generation-xer that I am, I grew up in the times when caring for the environment was a major issue. The green lobby was just becoming trendy.

So, I have to declare my hand: it's green. Much of my ``greenness'' came, of course, from the wave of ``it's cool to be green''.

Many expected the early environmental lobby to be just another fashionable band wagon, a short lived fad allowing young people to vent some steam.

That wasn't the case. The environmental lobby rightly have a powerful voice, and I commend them for their work.

When it comes to Government spending, social spending is always the number one priority. It seems we are lucky if environmental initiatives get a bean.

In some ways this understandable, as we have a responsibility to ensure suitable social programmes are delivered. But we need to ensure that the Government, industry, communities and individuals are improving the environment as best they can, because ultimately, the environment is our bread and butter.

The Coalition Agreement recognises this.

It states that this Government sees the preservation and enhancement of the environment as sound economics. Our vision is to create a clean, healthy and unique environment sustaining nature and the needs and aspirations of New Zealanders.

New Zealand First was committed to the environment during coalition negotiations, and this is reflected in the Coalition Agreement. I hope that the upcoming Budget will start to realise some of the promises set out in the Coalition Agreement.

The main areas within the Coalition Agreement that I have a particular interest in include:

Developing ``State of the environment'' reporting and amending the Companies Act to require statutory disclosure of environmental impacts by companies.

Developing national standards and guidelines for landfills, solid waste disposal, hazardous substance disposal including a timetable for phasing out hazardous, toxic and bioaccumulative substances.

Working with waste producers to reduce waste at source - seeking to reduce annual solid waste production to 50% of the 1990 level by the turn of the century. Encouraging reuse and recycling.

Making an effort to return all rivers, lakes and coastal waters to their natural unpolluted condition.

Establishing a National Register to record the use of pollutants and chemicals in agriculture, horticulture and industry.

Encouraging the development of environmental education modules.

Developing a comprehensive ``polluter pays''/''degrader pays'' strategy to be progressed with a view to implementation before 1999.

Phasing out persistent chemicals such as organochlorines by the year 2000 and working with the agricultural sector to develop alternatives.
I'd like to expand further on three of those particular areas:

The statutory disclosure of environmental impacts by companies.

Toxic Release Register.

Phase out persistent chemicals such as organochlorines by the year 2000.

Developing ``State of the environment'' reporting and amending the Companies Act to require statutory disclosure of environmental impacts by companies.
The state of the environment report is due to be published later this year, this will include a set of national environmental indicators. The Resource Management Act, as you will be aware, requires local authorities to monitor the state of the environment, the effectiveness of their policies, the operation of resource consents, and to make this information public.

The introduction of a statutory disclosure of environmental impact by companies is a mechanism for improving corporate governance. Not only would this increase the transparency of individual companies' impacts on the environment, allowing public scrutiny, but it would also encourage competition, with every business wanting to promote it's green credentials, vying to be the cleanest in the business!

I envisage companies having to outline their environmental impact in annual reports, and I expect that like accounts, these could be routinely audited to check for accuracy.

A National Register to record use of pollutants and chemicals in agriculture, horticulture and industry.
The Ministry for the Environment is already working to improve this nation's performance on issues of solid waste and hazardous substances. The Coalition Agreement seeks to take that work a few steps further. Including developing a timetable for phasing out various toxic and bioaccumulative substances.

The New Zealand Chemical Industry Council has an important role to play here. Obviously, we need to know precisely how much of which products are presently in use and we also need to assess which of these are our priority.

The information gathered in a Toxic Release Register would help us prioritise our attack on toxic chemicals, to ensure that if they must be used, that they are used safely, managed responsibly, and disposed of appropriately.

I will be encouraging the introduction of a register, but in the meantime I challenge the Chemical Industry Council members to consider the possibility of voluntarily declaring their use and distribution of toxic chemicals.

Some of the benefits of keeping track in this way include:

Assistance industry

Collecting accurate data allows us to determine how to eliminate or reduce the use of toxic chemicals, through substitution, process changes and other methods of reduction. Ultimately, this can assist companies to be greener, but it may also save money and produce more marketable products.

On the topic of substitutes, I would put it to you, that in the future, we will see more substitutes for toxic chemicals. This, together with better production practices will help ameliorate our environmental impact. It will also meet consumer expectations as the demand for chemical free products increases.

If they are cost effective, and of near or equal quality, then we should certainly use substitutes.

Preventing pollution

Public disclosure promotes pollution prevention, by capturing the attention of the decision makers who will not want to see their company with a poor rating. Industry needs to be more responsive to the public's desire for a cleaner way of manufacturing and delivering products to the doorstep of our homes.

Longer term saving money

Pollution prevention means business can also avoid any potential clean up costs in the future.

Reducing environmental impacts

According to the OECD, New Zealand had almost double the average number of pesticides in the early 1990s.

Informing the public

Reporting emissions fulfils the public's right to know the types and quantities of pollutants that may be being released in their locality. While some businesses perceive this as controversial, I do think the public has rights in this regard. This allows the opportunity for the public to make an informed choice about where to purchase their goods from, perhaps opting for the manufacturer who can prove they are the "greenest".

Phasing out persistent chemicals such as organochlorines by the year 2000 and working with the agricultural sector to develop alternatives.
It is important that we in Government, and you, the leaders in industry, recognise the importance of progress in this area.

We are quite lucky in New Zealand that most of the organochlorines recognised internationally, and agreed to be phased out, are already out of use. However, there are still some in use, and we of course have the stock piles, orphan sites and dumped chemicals to deal with.

We have set an ambitious target for phase out, and this can only be achieved through the co-operation of central and local government together with those in industry who are using organochlorines or other persistent chemicals.

We have realised the delicacy of our bio-system, and we need to ensure that we minimise damage now, while looking forward to restoring the eco-system to its original state.

It is important that we recognise what ever we use on the land, whether it be spray, spills, additives or dumps, it will eventually end up in our water ways or marine eco-system.

The earth is too fragile a resource to damage like this, we must all work to ensure that we take a responsible approach to our futures. I would hope that that responsibility will be on everyone's shoulders, and not just those of Government.

It is important to note too that the phase out of persistent chemicals, such as organochlorines, will have a greater impact than just making New Zealand a "greener" place; this includes:

Possible Savings on health expenditure

Greenpeace suggest that health care costs associated with the effects of organochlorines in the USA were estimated at $50 to $100 billion per year in 1994. This is expected to reduce with phase out.

Reducing environmental costs

River and marine resources such as kaimoana have been polluted. The river water affected is polluted with these chemicals, posing a liability for the future and a human health problem where consumption is proposed, such as with Waikato River water.

Environmental benefits

A phase out would reduce organochlorine contamination of the aquatic and marine environment, resulting in cleaner water, air and soil; enabling us to live up to the "clean green" image we cherish as a nation.

Competitive advantage

Internationally we will be seen as environmentally responsible, benefiting tourism, trade and exports. I think that as we look to international markets for our produce and hear the expectations of consumers, the ability of New Zealanders to market chemical-free products will become a priority.

I see us having to identify and prioritise key pollutants, so that we can focus on phasing out the most harmful and prevalent toxic chemicals.

Finally, I'd like to touch on environmental education and our roles within this area.

As you will be aware, I am also Minister of Youth Affairs, and within that portfolio I am very keen to promote the advantages of environmental education. However, environmental education is not solely the domain of young people.

We all know that education is life-long, and environmental education is no different.

I see the Chemical Industry Council playing a role in environmental education, both for the users and manufacturers of chemicals.

The Chemical Industry Council already plays a valuable part in linking environmental care and education, with safety and health.

I need only site the example of the school girls being carted off to hospital last week after a classroom experiment went wrong, to demonstrate that the work of the Chemical Industry Council is relevant to a wider population than most would initially expect.

I applaud you for your "Responsible Care Programme", encouraging worldwide agreement on environmental, health and safety responsibilities.

Your programme, aimed at the big as well as the small, will hopefully play a large part in the work I have already mentioned. It will certainly assist us all to become more aware of the hazardous substances that we work with; not only being aware of their immediate harm to us, but also the associated environmental risks too.

I congratulate you on your moves to clean up not only your own companies or organisations, but the whole environment, safety and health in New Zealand and for all New Zealanders.

I will look forward to your co-operation in carrying out the Coalition Government's ambitious environmental plan, and hope that your initial enthusiasm through projects like the Responsible Care Programme", is maintained and gains further momentum.

We're increasingly in an age where, if you're not a green company, then you're a bad one. That's good.

Thank you for your time today.