Why New Zealand’s Environment is in Serious Trouble

Think New Zealand, and you probably picture a place of outstanding natural beauty, and for good reason. From its soaring mountains to its lush forests, New Zealand is renowned the world over for its picturesque environment. However, a new government audit on the state of that environment reveals that New Zealand’s wondrous surrounds are in serious trouble.

The report, “Environment Aotearoa 2019“, is the first major look into New Zealand’s environment in four years. It uses data from official government sources and uses 80 environmental indicators which were broadly summed up by parent categories like biodiversity, land use, pollution due to human activity, freshwater and marine environment use, and New Zealand’s changing climate.

The report finds that far from the pristine wilderness many of us think of when we think of New Zealand, a great deal of that beauty is under threat. Human encroachment on New Zealand has manifestly reduced biodiversity.

Thanks to human habitation on the island, 75 species have gone extinct, while the report says that birds have been particularly vulnerable as a result of this diversity loss. Estimates suggest that as many as 90 percent of seabirds and 80 percent of shorebirds are now threatened or at risk of extinction.

Habitat loss and continued encroachment into ecosystems means that wider species loss—not yet at threatened or extinction levels but heading that way—should be a source of real concern.

In addition, scientists still haven’t catalogued many of New Zealand’s animals and plant species, so it is quite possible that some species are teetering on the edge and we don’t even know about it. Currently, around 4000 of New Zealand’s known species are under threat or facing extinction. Conservation efforts are helping to safeguard some of the most vulnerable on that list, but that doesn’t make the problem go away.

This species loss is compounded by several other factors.

New Zealand’s farming sector continues to use more and more land, and with that come the attendant problems of more slurry and more emissions. The report finds that the rise in dairy herds has had a particular effect on the country’s freshwater courses. Meanwhile, New Zealand’s coasts and sea beds are seeing rapid degradation due to over-trawling.

Together, industrial farming and overfishing create a significant issue: New Zealand is losing its natural carbon trapping systems both on land and in the ocean. For example, native forests once spanned 80 percent of New Zealand’s land mass but today take up just a quarter. In the sea, carbon sinks are being raked up and altered. This, of course does, not even touch on how all this feeds back into driving extinction and species loss, either.

Perhaps not so surprisingly though, the report finds that in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, New Zealand is ranking unfortunately high, even when breaking down to emissions at the per-person level. This stands to get worse with increased urbanization, which has risen over the past few decades.

The report notes that “the area of urban land increased by 10 percent between 1996 and 2012,” and because cities often developed in some of the most fertile areas, this means that so-called “versatile” land is being swallowed up by our increasing urban sprawl.

What emerges from the report is a complex web of factors that are choking New Zealand’s natural resources and degrading the environment, but in large part they come back to one thing: human activity.

Environment Minister David Parker echoes this thought, saying that “We’ve known for years about the pollution and damage we’ve been causing to our oceans and freshwater, climate and biodiversity.”

Parker says that the government is hard at work looking at tighter regulations on things like emissions and more money for conservation, adding, “If, with all our advantages, New Zealand can’t overcome its environmental problems, then the world won’t.”

Can New Zealand turn this around? New Zealand does have certain advantages that make it well-placed to tackle some of these problems.

For one thing, New Zealand is a wealthy nation, coming sixth in the global wealth list for 2018. This means it has the economic power to fund accelerated change, should it muster the political will.

The nation has another key driver that could help spur its action: New Zealand’s natural beauty is a tourism draw. It is also important for film and television companies, who adore its vistas for sweeping fantasy epics. All this makes those natural wonders valuable, both economically as well as in terms of natural beauty.

The case is clear that for New Zealand to continue to thrive, it must urgently address the problems laid out in this report, and that it should accelerate plans like those made under the Zero Carbon bill which would put emissions reductions into effect by the mid 2020s.

Photo credit: Shellie Evans.

50 comments

Richard B
Richard B18 days ago

thanks

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Shae Lee
Shae Lee26 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Diane E
Diane E26 days ago

Thanks. Extinction is always so sad. Nations need to co-operate to save the world environments.

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Carla G
Carla G26 days ago

Thanks for posting

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Christine Stewart

thanks

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Ruth S
Ruth S26 days ago

Thanks.

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Ruth S
Ruth S26 days ago

Thanks.

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Laurice Gilbert
Laurice Gilbert27 days ago

:(

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Leo Custer
Leo C27 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Leo Custer
Leo C27 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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