George Hobson is the Senior Policy Officer for Forest & Bird Youth.
OPINION: I’m 18 years old. Studied law and science at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University in Wellington. And I’ve known since I was about 10 years old that I want to dedicate my life to the protection of nature.
For me, there is nothing more important.
Nature is the backbone of our society; whether we realize it or not, we rely on him every second of every day.
Healthy forests and oceans give us oxygen, stable climates enable food production, and freshwater ecosystems give us water from our taps.
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* Significant Natural Areas (SNA) of the Far North: what you need to know
But there’s also something more to it, and that’s something I fell in love with when I was 10.
The inherent majesty you feel in your bones as you walk through a forest of giant trees, or the haunting sense of awe you feel as you listen to the kōkako song at sunrise, or the reverence that emanates from gigantic mountainous landscapes .
It’s special, and it’s what drives people like me to care so deeply about nature.
This is why it breaks my heart to say that in Aotearoa, nature is unequivocally in a state of crisis.
The Environment Aotearoa 2022 report, released by the Ministry of Environment, confirmed that native forest cover in Aotearoa has fallen from over 80% to just 27%. Only 7% of rivers remain in perfect condition. And at least 81 animal and plant species have disappeared because of man.
In addition, 4000 species remain threatened with extinction. And that’s without even mentioning the fact that the climate crisis is upon us, with currently unimaginable impacts on people and the planet.
The government has acknowledged these figures.
For the past five years, they have declared a climate emergency; enshrine climate goals in law; created an emergency climate fund; published Te Mana o Te Taiao (New Zealand’s Aotearoa Biodiversity Strategy); published an emissions reduction plan that recognizes the need to protect nature; started work on a national climate adaptation plan; and they continue to say they are taking unprecedented action to address the climate and environmental crises.
Yet, despite all this rhetoric, nature is still being destroyed.
This government has refused to ban mining on protected lands; failed to halt the decline of critical habitats and wetlands; unable or unwilling to implement full marine protection; and has not taken meaningful action against climate change.
And in the past two weeks alone, they have released proposals* that would open up the destruction of wetlands and Important Natural Areas (SNAs) in order to build new quarries, mines and urban developments. (These proposals are the exposure drafts of the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity, the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, and the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater.)
It’s frankly amazing.
Wetlands support higher levels of biological diversity than any other habitat in Aotearoa. They are vital habitats for endangered species such as mātātā (fern), matuku-hūrepo (bittern) and kōtuku (white heron), as well as many species of plants and fish.
They also filter huge amounts of water, store huge amounts of carbon, and provide natural solutions to climate change. We only have 10% of our wetlands left, yet we are talking about opening these last strongholds to development.
The ANS are literally among the most important areas for nature in the country. These are areas on private and public lands identified by regional councils as extremely important environmentally.
These vital areas have been continually degraded and damaged, but are still crucial homes for endangered species and are much-needed carbon reservoirs.
But, there is also something more to these areas. They are irrefutably special, and they deserve full protection.
These inexplicable government proposals go directly against their own policies and statements and jeopardize the future of people and nature in Aotearoa.
When wetlands and SNAs are destroyed, carbon emissions increase and Aotearoa’s already fragile ecosystem is further fragmented.
It is the young people of today and tomorrow who will be most affected. We will bear the weight of these political decisions for generations to come.
All my life I’ve been told, “It’s so awesome that you know what you want to do at such a young age.” Perhaps, but while I am delighted to be engaged in this crucial work, it is extraordinarily difficult to watch the government continually refuse to listen to young people and our ideas.
MPs and Ministers have constantly told us that they hear us, but how can that be true when they turn around and announce plans to allow the destruction of the most special places in Aotearoa?
Government fails nature, and it fails future generations. Now is the time for transformative action; a paradigm shift. Government words are not enough. Young people deserve better.
The government has declared climate change to be their generation’s nuclear-free moment. For the sake of my generation and those to follow, I hope they will begin to act accordingly.