Forest and Bird boss Kevin Hague. Photo: Supplied
Forest and Bird boss Kevin Hague. Photo: Supplied

OPINIONPoliticsOctober 23, 2020

Kevin Hague: Labour and the Greens must work together. Nature can’t wait

Forest and Bird boss Kevin Hague. Photo: Supplied
Forest and Bird boss Kevin Hague. Photo: Supplied

The crises of climate, biodiversity and Covid are urgent enough that politicians in both parties need to overcome their reservations and make it happen, writes former Green MP and Forest & Board CEO Kevin Hague.

Forest & Bird is strictly politically independent. It’s not our role to say what is best for political parties. It is our role to say what is best for nature. Looking at the capabilities of ministers, their track record, and the way Labour and Green Party ministers have been able to work together over the last three years, it’s Forest & Bird’s view that they should continue to work together for the next term.

New Zealand needs a nature-centred recovery. Our economy is nature-based, and so is our way of life. We need nature, but nature urgently needs our help first.

Together Labour and the Greens bring have the skills, experience, and passion needed to seriously address the climate, biodiversity and Covid crises facing New Zealand. The experience they have of governing together in the Covid crisis is invaluable and should not be wasted.

This is not just about the headline health response that we all see, but also the work behind the scenes that delivered a $1.1bn conservation fund as part of the Covid response and the practicalities of both parties working together during one of the biggest crises New Zealand has ever faced. Both people and nature need that skill and experience to help carry the nation through.

This means that Labour might need to let go a little bit of understandable post-election hubris and the Greens may need to recognise that they can be part of government for some things, but able to hold the government to account for others; it’s not a binary choice.

Nature is in crisis, and it needs help now. It cannot wait. Twelve out of 13 native habitats in New Zealand are in decline at human hands, and of the habitats defined as rare, two-thirds are threatened with collapse. Four thousand precious native species are in a bad way. Antipodean albatross are among the many animals and plants predicted to disappear forever on our watch unless we get our act together fast. Wetlands continue to be drained, and important forest remnants felled or sprayed because nature on private land is defenceless against human greed. Cray and tarakihi are in a state of collapse in some parts of the country through overfishing. Our gross greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 20% since 1990. Things are not OK out there. They are very bad. When Forest & Bird says that nature is in crisis it is not rhetoric. It is a fact.

Important progress has been made, but now is not the time for the Green Party to bank political capital for a rainy day in three years, or for Labour to claim a policy monopoly. The Zero Carbon Act is now law, but the country’s carbon budget and national adaptation plan is yet to be written. New Zealand has a new biodiversity strategy, Te Mana o te Taiao, but it is yet to be implemented across government. Our environmental management law – the RMA – is under desperately needed review. Our management of the marine environment needs an overhaul to phase out destructive fishing practices, bring abundance back to our oceans and deliver large scale marine reserves.

We need to see nature placed at the centre of government decision making, and the Green Party and the Labour Party can achieve this together.

Protecting nature and our unique way of life is as near to being a universal value for New Zealanders as is possible to get. Survey after survey has shown this for many years. The climate change report released by Statistics New Zealand and the Ministry for the Environment says explicitly, confrontingly, that our way of life in New Zealand is under threat. Governing for all New Zealanders means governing for nature now. We can’t wait three years, and nor can nature.

Keep going!