The Prime Minister dubbed the 2023 budget the ‘no frills’ budget – a promise to focus on the essentials and sacrifice the ‘nice to haves.’ This budget, they say, reins in spending to ‘get the basics right.’
However, ‘the basics’ of this budget don’t include the fundamentals we need to survive: urgent and transformational action needed to address the twin crises of climate change and nature loss. This budget, like too many before, is myopically focussed on alleviating near-term inflationary pressures and financing vote-winning short-term fixes rather than investing in the transformational action needed to address the existential challenges we now face. Why? Because it’s hard to get people excited about something that is necessary but intangible.
Why must New Zealanders be forced to sacrifice tomorrow in order to survive today? There is no argument that Kiwis struggling with cost of living pressures need to be supported. But, we also need to urgently invest in the transformational action needed to address the environmental crises we now face, because it can no longer be credibly argued that climate change and the loss of nature are ‘tomorrow’ problems. We’re seeing their impacts in New Zealand now, today – with climate-related weather events of increasing scale and frequency, and a third of our native species – roughly 4,000 – threatened or reaching the brink of extinction.
Yes, we have seen a huge investment in this budget to support the installation of a clean Electric Arc Furnace to significantly reduce our emissions. This is fantastic – and long overdue – but is still tinkering at the edges. Addressing the alarming and sustained decline in the ecosystem — the system on which our economy, ways of life, and wellbeing depends – like the health of pollinators, wetlands, our soils and rivers, and the long-term viability of marine ecosystems – has, once again, been kicked down the road. This budget makes the restoration of nature a ‘tomorrow’ problem.
Research shows the longer we delay addressing these challenges, the more cost and risk we will inflict on ourselves in coming years, and upon our children and grandchildren. WWF-New Zealand says this near-sighted approach is not only uneconomic, but also unethical.
Since 1970, we have witnessed a 69% drop in the world’s wildlife populations. Despite the international commitment to limit warming to 1.5C, global temperatures have already reached 1.1C higher than pre-industrial levels. New Zealand has one of the highest species extinction rates globally and our emissions per capita are one of the highest in the world.
The situation is dire, and remedying it will be both expensive and complex – but it is still possible, and it will be far cheaper to act now than later.
A recent report by BloombergNEF shows it will take around USD $166 billion annually to protect and restore our world’s most fragile natural resources. However, if we keep doing nothing, this cost will skyrocket to nearly $1 trillion per annum in less than a decade. By 2030, $166 billion will look like a bargain.
If we fail now to respond to the rapid decline of wild pollinators, the collapse of fisheries stocks and marine foodwebs, and the ongoing decline of our native forest ecosystems, we will see global GDP $2.7 trillion lower in 2030 than projected levels. The math is unequivocal: in relatively short order, we will be significantly worse off if we continue to do nothing.
It’s an increasingly common refrain that “the best time to plant a native tree was 30 years ago.” Decades of inaction on climate change and biodiversity loss means we are out of time; we simply cannot afford to kick the can down the road any longer. We need Government to invest in urgent, transformational action to prevent the runaway loss of nature across all land tenures, and in our ocean – as well as greater action to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
In the near-term, this requires large-scale investment to implement Te Mana o te Taiao – Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy; sufficiently funding the Department of Conservation to fulfil its mandate to protect New Zealand’s native species and ecosystems; delivering a fit-for-purpose approach to meet our commitment to protect 30% of New Zealand’s ocean territory by 2030; implementing the long overdue National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity; and creating a world-leading biodiversity incentives scheme to drive the protection and enhancement of indigenous biodiversity on private land.
We simply cannot afford not to.
Dr Kayla Kingdon-Bebb
CEO, WWF-New Zealand, May 2023