Speech by Associate Environment Minister Nanaia Mahuta to NZ Association for Environmental Education conference

Speech notes for Associate Environment Minister Nanaia Mahuta to NZ Association for Environmental Education conference, Wellington, 18 April 2018.

It takes a great deal of effort to organise a major conference and I would like to start by acknowledging the voluntary effort from the conference committee:

  • Wellington branch of NZ Association for Environmental Education
  • Department of Conservation
  • Enviroschools, Victoria University, Hutt City Council, Wellington City Council, Wellington Sustainability Trust and Wellington Gardens

Without sponsors, these events could not take place – so thanks to your sponsors  University of Auckland, UNESCO, Auckland Council, Greater Wellington Regional Council, Victoria University, MPI and Zealandia

This kaupapa is important because it is vital to provide everyone in our country with the tools and knowledge they need to make the best decisions for their environment, community and future.

Learning about real issues and taking action at the grassroots level can help whānau, communities and organisations, as well as local and central government.

Many people are involved in educating young people and communities to enable a sustainable, resilient, equitable and prosperous future. Many of you are in this room today and I want to recognise your efforts.

The Government’s focus

The coalition agreement between Labour and New Zealand First, and Labour’s confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party; both share this mission statement:

“Together, we will work to provide New Zealand with a transformational government, committed to resolving the greatest long-term challenges for the country, including sustainable economic development, increased exports and decent jobs paying higher wages, a healthy environment, a fair society and good government. We will reduce inequality and poverty and improve the well-being of all New Zealanders and the environment we live in.”

The Prime Minister has set an agenda for our Government to deliver shared prosperity, removing the social and infrastructure deficits that have emerged, and to shifting the focus to improving the wellbeing of all our people, especially those most vulnerable – our children. We can only do this if we pay equal attention to our environment: Papatūānuku, Ranginui, Tangaroa and all that sustain us.

In recent years we have seen continuing degradation of our freshwater and waterways. The decline is caused by effluent and nutrients from intensive rural land use, land use practice in activities like forestry and housing development earthworks, and waste water getting into our storm water. We have also seen contamination of drinking water.

Community action involving councils, marae, local business and schools is important if we are to clean up local waterways. For example, the WaiRestoration programme by the Toimata Foundation and Northland Regional Council has made good progress. The Government helps by co-funding projects. The funds we use are sourced from: Mana o Te Wai, the Community Environment Fund and the Freshwater Improvement Fund. Together we can mobilise the immense power of informed and active communities.

Climate change

I think most of us understand that climate change is the greatest environmental challenge facing the world. Its impacts are already becoming evident. If we do not urgently reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, warming will increasingly disrupt the climates that our society depends on, sea level rise will impact our coastal cities and towns, and ocean acidification will disrupt the marine food chain.

Our Government intends to return New Zealand to being a leader in the global fight against climate change, and Climate Change Minister James Shaw is leading this work programme. The Climate Change Educators forum yesterday heard from him, and he will join another forum at your conference this afternoon.

One of our government’s key ongoing priorities is shifting New Zealand’s economy towards a more sustainable model. This is one where we add value to products and services without further damaging the environment, and ultimately, invest in restoring our natural capital.

Government can’t achieve this change alone, and we shouldn’t try to – we must work together, smarter and in collaboration.

The scale of change needed is significant. It will require co-ordinated and decisive action right across central and local government, iwi and hapū and businesses across a range of industries. It will also need scientists, academics and educators like yourselves and of course our communities.

Our future generations need the knowledge and awareness, the skills and creativity, and the motivation and determination to continue to protect and restore the environment. At the same time they will need to grow the economy by finding innovative, sustainable solutions. 

The national strategy – Environmental Education for Sustainability

I am pleased to see that this conference is themed around the national Environmental Education for Sustainability Strategy and Action Plan - Te Mātauranga Whakauka Taiao Mahere Rautaki.

This strategy was launched last year, and builds on principles that your network has helped to give vibrant life to. It is a solid foundation that we want to continue to build on.

The strategy envisions collaboration to create better opportunities for all New Zealanders. It is intended to be for everyone in our communities - young and old - to learn and take local action for the environmental and community issues most important to them.

The next important step is finding how best to implement this strategy. Gathered here today are some of the best and brightest minds who can help answer that question.

I am also pleased to see that officials from Conservation, Environment, Education and Primary Industries that helped to shape the strategy are here to participate.

This conference can support two of the four strategy action plan objectives which are, firstly, to celebrate success to raise awareness and demonstrate value and, secondly, to strengthen networks to foster collaborative action

We need to be creative with how we share and weave together our aspirations and resources, to ensure a prosperous and sustainable future for us all. I have every confidence we can continue to do this.

There is a saying: Ki te kotahi te kākaho ka whati ki te kapura e kore e whati – work together.

Finally, it is my great honour and pleasure to open this timely and important conference: An Ecosystem for Environmental Education - He Pūnaha Hauropi mō te mātauranga a taiao.

I wish you all the best, and hope you return to your homes, marae and schools invigorated and inspired.