The world’s first big United Nations sponsored conference on the state of the environment took place in Stockholm in July 1972. Its focus was on “the need for a common outlook and for common principles to inspire and guide the peoples of the world in the preservation and enhancement of the human environment.” Hardly radical today, but in the context of the unfettered economic development of the 1950s and 1960s, it was seen as a very bold step forward. In New Zealand it spawned the development of the Values Party, and caused the then National Government to appoint New Zealand’s first Minister for the Environment. While every party since then has been keen to parade its environmental credentials over subsequent years, much of that initial enthusiasm soon gave way to a type of well-meaning apathy. Everyone was more or less “for” the environment, but it was still seen as somewhat of a fringe issue, more the province of the Green Party and alternative life-stylers, until the reality of the climate change issue started to hit home. Now, the fringe is instead occupied by the ever declining number of climate change deniers and sceptics, and the political focus has shifted to not just environmentally friendly policies, but more actively to policies that will make a real difference in meeting the environmental challenges our world is facing.
Against that background, UnitedFuture has set out six key ideas that it believes New Zealand needs to adopt to ensure we strike the right balance between environmental guardianship and access to our unique outdoors.
First, is a proposed Conservation levy of $25 placed on tourist visas. All of the revenue derived from this levy would be used exclusively for maintaining and upgrading the conservation estate. Last year, just under 3.5 million visitors came to New Zealand. On that basis, the Conservation Levy would raise would raise around $80 million a year, to be ploughed back into the costs of maintaining our public walking tracks, rivers and lakes. This policy would allow for the costs of maintenance and upgrades to be shared amongst all the people who make use of our conservation areas. New Zealanders already contribute through their taxes, and it is only fair that visitors contribute to the costs as well.
Next, because good environmental policy and outcomes are based on good knowledge and research, UnitedFuture is proposing a $10 million per annum contestable fund for promoting innovation and research into our environment. The idea here is simple – to encourage tertiary education providers and students to undertake environmental research in areas that can benefit New Zealand. The fund could be used for particular scholarships for environmental research, specific research projects, or to establish dedicated tertiary education centres for environmental studies.
UnitedFuture is also proposing a $5 million annual grant to promote electric vehicle ownership. The grant would allow up to $5000 to be claimed or up to 30% of the cost of a vehicle, whichever is smaller. It would also apply to businesses that replace company cars with electric vehicles. In addition, businesses would be able to claim funding to set up necessary electric vehicle infrastructure, such as charging stations. This policy would give practical effect to the Government’s current nice words about doubling the number of electric vehicles each year, as well as helping develop a critical mass of electric vehicles to help reduce dependence on our currently petrol reliant fleet.
UnitedFuture is also suggesting a Household Microgeneration Fund of $10 million per annum be established for homeowners to purchase micro-generation units such as solar panels. Applicants could claim up to $5000 or 80% of the cost (whichever is smaller) of the costs of installing microgeneration onto new builds and up to $3000 or 80% of the cost (whichever is smaller) for existing homes.
With regard to the natural environment, UnitedFuture wants to see our marine environment placed under a comprehensive scheme for marine protection. This wopuld be achieved through a science-led approach to provide protections, such as more marine sanctuaries, for areas of high ecological importance within our marine environment. New protection categories would also be developed to provide for non-commercial fishing while allowing access for recreational fishing.
UnitedFuture is also encouraging more opportunities for permanent forest sinks to help mitigate our carbon footprint and extend coverage of our native forests. It wants government to take a leading role in encouraging owners of non-viable farming land to gift that land back to public ownership so that it can be planted with native trees and act as a permanent carbon sink.
These are six practical steps that can be taken now to safeguard our environment for current and future generations.