Align Polices and Regulation to achieve Climate Change

20 Jun 2019 Align Polices and Regulation to achieve Climate Change image

Climate change mitigation, new environmental regimes and more restrictive access to water will, in the next few years, have a major impact on the primary sector in New Zealand.  The outcome being sought is environmental sustainability and the reduction of our greenhouse gases.  What will be needed however is a balanced approach that not only achieves environmental sustainability but also financial and social sustainability.  It is an essential fact of business that to survive. you need to make a reasonable living.  If our rural businesses cannot remain profitable then there will be a massive social impact as they go out of business, stop producing food and employing people.  This will not only impact the rural communities but also urban communities that rely on the primary sector to feed them. There would also be an increase in demand for urban housing.

The primary sector is being asked to make significant changes in how just about everything is done on-farm.  To meet some of the climate and environmental requirements there will most likely need to be some land use change into trees and horticulture.  But for land use to be effective it needs to be supported by the farmer getting scientifically sound advice about what to change their land use to, how to do it and, there needs to be a market to successfully sell the produce to.  In addition, with each different type of land use there are different water, nutrient, labour and infrastructure requirements.  All of this comes at a cost and are complicated and risky.

The next issue is that council requirements for land use change can either be an enabler or an inhibitor.  Restrictions on water and nutrient access have the potential to inhibit land use changes and frustrate climate change mitigation and environmental sustainability.  Critically, they will certainly impact New Zealand’s ability to feed itself, taking vegetables as just one example.  Urbanisation, the spread of life style blocks and council regulations both taking away growing land and, making it illegal to grow vegetables are a very real threats to our ability to feed ourselves with healthy locally grown food.  The answer to this conundrum is to first recognise that we need to make provision for vegetables to be grown across the country. 

The second, and most important factor, is for the Government and councils to work in partnership with industry so that as a country we can achieve climate change mitigation and environmental sustainability. This has to be achieved while ensuring that the primary sector remains profitable and able to feed New Zealand and earn valuable overseas income.  This will not be an easy task as the various policies and regulations that both central government and councils are working on are more often than not mutually exclusive. For example, if climate change mitigation will require land use change, then we need all other policies and regulations to assist and enable that.  If the land use change requires different quantities of water and different nutrient regimes for the new crop to be economically sustainable, then the government and council regulations needs to permit that.  It would certainly frustrate climate change mitigation, if land use change was not permitted under government and council rules.  This is not a dire predication, it is a reality today in a number of regions, especially when it comes to growing vegetables where quality land and regulatory permission to grow vegetables is non-existent.

Now is the time, before it is too late, for rampant urban and lifestyle block growth to stop and for high quality land close to cities to be retained for feeding New Zealand.  Feeding New Zealand and permitting urban and lifestyle development are policies that need to be urgently aligned rather than being mutually exclusive as they are today.  The climate change advantages of growing on high quality soils are numerous - less fertiliser is required and there is less trucking to the adjoining city.  One of the disadvantages of growing next to cities is that city’s pollution of the environment and aquifers.  So not only does the rural sector need to work on environmental sustainability, but so does urban New Zealand and very urgently.  Then in addition to saving the high-quality soils for growing high quality healthy food, the regulations need to enable growing food.

So, if we are going to successful tackle the challenges facing the whole country Government and council regulations and policies need to line up and be cohesive.  We need to move away from mutually exclusive policies as they will prevent New Zealand reaching its targets.  If land use change is needed, then all policies need to support sensible land use change.  This lack of cohesion is in my view the single biggest road block to New Zealand’s sustainable future.

Mike Chapman, Chief Executive