A view of land cleared for palm oil plantation in the habitat of Sumatran orangutan (Photo: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Bleak outlook in extinction report

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Major biodiversity report paints bleak picture, Victim Support strongly rebuts claims about donated money, and expect a reeferendum announcement today. 

An alarming report into biodiversity loss and species extinction has stark implications for world. Globally, the IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystems has found that a million species are at risk of being wiped off the map. The causes vary, but human intervention plays a vast role. The official summary of the full report can be read here, but the top line is that the natural world is in the worst shape it has ever been throughout recorded human history.

Experts gathered together by the Science Media Centre have given their reactions, and what it means for the planet as a whole. And it is a seriously comprehensive, monumental door-stopper of a study. It’s 1800 pages long, and was created from analysis of 15,000 scientific and government reports from around the world. University of Auckland associate professor James Russell says we cannot ignore what it says about the need for transformational change. “The science is in and it’s no longer time to debate or deny the science, but to shift to discussions about appropriate policy responses.” This report presents the full picture.

Climate change, land use and development, overfishing and pollution all figure as extinction causes, along with invasive pests. It’s worth listing them all, because when it comes to trying to stop extinctions in New Zealand at least, a significant amount of effort is put into one area, while other considerations are largely neglected. Pest and predator control is an intensive area of focus – both the previous and current government have plowed significantly more money into it this decade. And it’s an active step available for governments to take to try and halt biodiversity loss.

But as the recent Environment Aotearoa report found, it’s passive acceptance of other developments that is doing the damage. Land in New Zealand has undergone dramatic changes, and correspondingly put huge pressure on biodiversity and native species. It’s still happening too, with urban areas increasingly creeping outwards.

Surely New Zealand is doing better than other countries though? Not really, as is shown by this recent report from Newsroom. Only 150 of the thousands of threatened species here are listed as a priority for protection, and serious efforts only tend to start when a species is right up against the wall. And as is pointed out in the story, “with more than 4000 species threatened or at risk from extinction, New Zealand holds the dubious honour of having the most threatened species of any country in the world.”

The report stresses that it is the way that humanity is living that is putting other species under so much pressure. Whether that is increased exploitation of natural resources for material production, heavy use of fertiliser and pesticides in agriculture, or over-arching greenhouse gas emissions, economic outcomes have overwhelmingly been prioritised over environmental outcomes. These are choices that have been made, and can be un-made, and as the report takes great pains to make clear, it’s not too late to halt the trend of species loss. But once those species go extinct, they aren’t coming back – and that puts humanity in a position of dangerous unknowns, as to how the loss of these species will affect the wider ecosystems that sustain our continued existence.


Victim Support have released a strong rebuttal on their website to claims made about them in the media. And if I may just apologise for not including it yesterday, it was published over the weekend. They say they are following rigorous processes, and that they have no intention of holding back money donated to those involved in the Christchurch attacks. They also say the Department of Internal Affairs are overseeing how the money is distributed, to keep it all above board.


Expect an announcement today on the process and wording of the 2020 referendum on cannabis legalisation, reports the NZ Herald. There has been a lot of confusion in recent days as to exactly what that will look like, and it follows leaks of cabinet papers obtained and released by the National party. An age limit looks likely, with 20 the age that is currently being thrown around. There’s also significant conjecture over what exactly is meant by the word ‘binding’ – Justice minister Andrew Little has said it will be binding, but that could theoretically mean a range of processes. Keep an eye out today if you want answers to those questions.


The PM has defended her government’s response to the welfare working group report. Newshub reports PM Ardern admits the response won’t satisfy those calling for more of the reports recommendations to be implemented, but says there has been a change in focus from the top down in how MSD approaches beneficiaries. She also pointed to significant boosts for those on lower incomes in the Families Package and other targeted payments.

Meanwhile, more state houses are being built, while demand continues to grow, reports Radio NZ. It’s not clear exactly how many people need social housing, but at last count it was just above 10,000. Tens of millions are being spent every year on motels, and progress is also being made on emergency housing places. Overall though, homelessness has not decreased.


A stand-off around the road to Ihumātao reached boiling point last night. Māori TV reports police were preparing to clear protesters who had blockaded the road, to prevent the ancestral Māori land from being developed for housing. Fletcher Building, the developer, owns the land, and the dispute has been going on for years. It is unclear, at the time of writing, whether there have been any developments overnight. For a background on why the protesters are there, read this from former Green MP Catherine Delahunty on The Spinoff.


Refugees will soon be able to be resettled in Ashburton, reports Radio NZ. There are strong job prospects in the area, and relatively low demands on public housing. A range of new settlement locations have been announced this year, including Whanganui, Timaru, Blenheim, Masterton and Levin. The decision to resettle people in provincial centres could have interesting economic benefits for those regions. As economist Shamubeel Eaqub pointed out in 2015, with good resettlement processes, taking in refugees becomes a positive net investment, rather than a cost.


A class action lawsuit against Southern Response has received major funding from Australia’s leading firm in this area, reports One News. Thousands of claimants are alleging that the people of Christchurch have been underpaid insurance they were entitled to by hundreds of millions of dollars, since the earthquakes. Southern Response is owned by the government, so whatever comes of it will have big implications for taxpayers. Incidentally, the story puts paid to suggestions that John Campbell will never report again since moving to Breakfast – the show broke the story as an exclusive.


The NZ Herald have released a significant new video documentary on the impact meth is having on smaller communities. It’s called Fighting the Demon, and involved long-term, on the ground work from journalists like Kirsty Johnston, Chris Reed and Jared Savage. It also represents a shift in thinking around how meth should be tackled in New Zealand, a topic that I discussed with Jared Savage for this piece. One thing he mentioned jumps out at me this morning – Savage said that throughout his career, he kept on reporting on bigger and bigger drug busts, without it ever really making a dent in the trade. Well, a few hours after the doco was released, news broke that four people had been arrested at Auckland Airport with more than 20kgs of cocaine and meth. It all rather underlined the point.


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Tuatara is a living dinosaur, only survivor of the order Sphenodontia which lived 200 million years ago. Only survived on 32 offshore islands

Right now on The Spinoff: Don Rowe looks into the efforts of Auckland zookeepers to save the tuatara from extinction. Jihee Junn looks at the environmental and social benefits that could come from a big reduction in food waste. Graham Cameron offers a thoughtful but forthright critique against those who question the Māori identity of others for political gain. Emma Boyd has a recipe for turning your excess feijoas into delicious smoothies. And I report on the latest outbreak of hostilities embroiling the upper ranks of the Opportunities Party.


The local fashion industry is under severe strain, with brands either folding or struggling with production. Those are among the details in this excellent feature in Fashion Quarterly. One significant issue is that local production is almost always prohibitively expensive compared to that which takes place overseas. Here’s an excerpt:

Carly points out that in recent years this percentage has softened significantly. With labour costs rising sharply, ‘Made in China’ is no longer synonymous with ‘cheap’, and increasingly designers not just in New Zealand but globally are moving production to emerging and more competitively priced producers such as India, Bangladesh and Vietnam (which also raises important questions around the ethics and sustainability of what we wear).


Alas, the Pulse’s perfect season in the ANZ Premiership has been ruined. They were beaten by the Southern Steel 62-52 last night. But a bigger problem looms for the league leaders. Stuff reports that because of scheduling clashes, they might not actually have access to a home venue on the day that the final is currently scheduled to be held. It was an issue last year too, with the final staying in-region in Palmerston North – but this time that’s not even an option.


From our partners: Climate change has already affected how electricity gets delivered to customers, and it’s only going to get more challenging. Vector’s Chief Networks Officer Andre Botha outlines what the lines company is doing to respond.


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