George Hobson is the senior policy leader of Forest & Bird Youth.
OPINION: I am 18 years old. Studied law and natural sciences at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington. And since I was about 10 years old, I’ve known that I want to dedicate my life to protecting nature.
For me there is simply nothing more important.
Nature is the backbone of our society; Whether we realize it or not, we rely on it every day.
Healthy forests and oceans provide us with oxygen, stable climates enable food production, and freshwater ecosystems provide us with the water that comes out of our taps.
* This is how it ends: Nature can protect us from climate change
* Coastal areas considered potential new Blue Carbon credit locations
* Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) in the Far North: What you need to know
But there’s something more, and it’s something I fell in love with when I was 10 years old.
The inherent majesty you feel in your bones as you walk through a forest of giant trees, or the mesmerizing sense of awe you get when you hear kōkako chanting at sunrise, or the awe that emanates from gigantic mountainous landscapes .
This is something special and drives people like me to care so much about nature.
So it breaks my heart to say that nature in Aotearoa is clearly in crisis.
The Environment Aotearoa 2022 report, released by the Ministry of Environment, confirms that native forest cover in Aotearoa has shrunk from over 80% to just 27%. Only 7% of rivers are still in pristine condition. And at least 81 animal and plant species have become extinct due to humans.
In addition, 4000 species remain threatened with extinction. And that’s not to mention the fact that the climate crisis is upon us and will have an unimaginable impact on people and the planet right now.
The government has recognized these figures.
In the last five years they have declared a climate emergency; anchor climate goals in law; establishment of a climate emergency fund; published Te Mana o Te Taiao (the Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy); publishes an emissions reduction plan that recognizes the need to protect nature; work started on a National Climate Adaptation Plan; and they continue to say they are taking unprecedented steps to address the climate and environmental crises.
But despite all this rhetoric, nature is still being destroyed.
This government has refused to ban mining on protected areas; failed to halt the decline of important habitats and wetlands; were unable or unwilling to establish comprehensive marine protection; and has not taken any meaningful action to combat climate change.
And just in the last two weeks they have released proposals* that would open up wetlands and significant natural areas (SNAs) to destruction in order to build new quarries, mines and urban developments. (These proposals are the exposure drafts of the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity, National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, and National Environmental Standards for Freshwater.)
Honestly, that’s incredible.
Wetlands support a higher level of biodiversity than any other habitat in Aotearoa. They are vital habitats for endangered species such as matuka (fern bird), matuku-hūrepo (bitter bittern), and kōtuku (white heron), as well as many plant and fish species.
They also filter vast amounts of water, store massive amounts of carbon, and provide nature-based solutions to climate change. We only have 10% of our wetlands left, but we’re talking about opening up these last bastions to development.
SNAs are literally some of the most important natural areas in the country. These are areas of private and public land that have been identified by regional councils as being of tremendous environmental importance.
These vital areas have been continuously degraded and damaged, but are still important habitats for endangered species and vital carbon sinks.
But these areas have something more to offer. They are irrefutably special and deserve their own protection.
These inexplicable government proposals are in direct contradiction to their own policies and statements and endanger the future of people and nature in Aotearoa.
When wetlands and SNAs are destroyed, carbon emissions increase and Aotearoa’s already fragile ecosystem becomes further fragmented.
It is the young people of today and tomorrow who will be most affected. We will bear the brunt of these political decisions for generations to come.
All my life I’ve been told, “It’s so impressive that you know what you want at such a young age”. Maybe, but while I’m thrilled to be involved in this crucial work, it’s extraordinarily difficult to see the government’s consistent refusal to listen to young people and our ideas.
We’ve been told time and time again by MPs and Ministers that they hear us, but how can that be true when they’re turning their backs and announcing plans to allow the very special places in Aotearoa to be destroyed?
Government is failing nature, and it is failing future generations. Now is the time for transformative action; a paradigm shift. The words of the government are not enough. Young people deserve better.
The government has said that climate change is the non-nuclear moment of its generation. For the sake of my generation and those to come, I hope they start behaving this way.