NZ’s ‘war on nature’ flouts terms of European trade deal, warns WWF

Image of a shipping container in Lyttelton
© Bernard Spragg
Press Release

The Government’s rushed programme of environmental deregulation aimed at driving export growth is putting New Zealand’s ground-breaking Free Trade Agreement with the European Union at risk, says the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) New Zealand.

The NZ-EU Free Trade Agreement enters into force today (1 May) and contains a commitment that neither Party will “weaken or reduce the levels of protection afforded in its environmental law in order to encourage trade or investment.”

WWF-New Zealand’s CEO, Dr Kayla Kingdon-Bebb, says the Government’s unrelenting pursuit of cutting ‘red-tape’ and repealing environmental laws to spur growth directly contravenes this binding commitment.

“This Government has shown us time and time again that its first priority is economic growth at all costs, whatever it takes – even if that means trampling all over the few protections in place for our degraded landscapes or condemning our threatened native species to extinction,” she says.

“The terms of New Zealand’s deal with the EU are absolutely clear that we must not weaken our environmental laws in order to boost trade, yet this Government is pushing forward shocking cuts to environmental protections and recklessly pursuing the expansion of extractive industries like coal mining at the expense of our native species and habitats - many of which are already on the brink of extinction.

“Continuing on this dangerous path means we are failing to meet the terms negotiated and potentially sabotaging huge export opportunities for New Zealand’s businesses and primary producers.”

The centrepiece of the Government’s systematic war on nature is the Fast-track Approvals Bill, which overrides critical environmental laws in New Zealand, places unbridled decision-making power in the hands of three Ministers, and removes the democratic rights of New Zealanders to have input into decision-making processes that affect them, their communities, and our environment.

While nature in New Zealand is already at a tipping point, the Government is also rushing through a raft of other changes that will weaken protections for our natural environment. This includes suspending the need for councils to comply with Significant Natural Area rules, which have been in place since the creation of the Resource Management Act 1991; unwinding safeguards for freshwater; and failing to back-up their commitment to meet our climate targets with any meaningful investment or policy improvements.

WWF says the combination of these policies and the Government’s overarching agenda of removing environmental protections to drive export-led economic growth constitute a breach of the FTA.

The NZ-EU FTA also establishes a sanctionable commitment for both parties to “effectively implement” their 2030 climate targets under the Paris Agreement.

WWF argues that the Government’s ‘slash and burn’ approach to climate policy could undermine this.

“The Prime Minister has said that he is committed to meeting our international climate change targets, but we’ve seen no clear pathway to doing so, and a host of backwards policies like encouraging new coal mines and repealing the ban on offshore oil and gas exploration,” says Dr Kingdon-Bebb.

“In the middle of the climate crisis, our Government has slashed public transport initiatives and incentives for electric vehicles, delayed pricing agricultural emissions, pledged to reopen the door to offshore oil and gas exploration, and is now expanding coal mining. These absurd decisions are completely out of touch with what’s needed to address the climate emergency we face.”

Dr Kingdon-Bebb says the Government is rushing through its programme of environmental destruction with little thought to the international ramifications.

“Christopher Luxon has bemoaned red and green tape and called New Zealand an ‘obstruction economy’. But by backsliding on our environmental and climate policies, he’s the one who is actually obstructing our country’s growth.

“Brussels sees this deal with Aotearoa New Zealand as one that sets a gold standard for sustainability requirements in its other trade deals - such as the negotiations underway with Australia - and it will be paying close attention to whether we live up to our commitments,” she says.

“I suspect Simon Watts, our Climate Minister, heard as much from the European Union Commissioner at Climate COP28 back in December.

“But Europe isn’t the only market demanding strong environmental standards and climate action. New Zealand’s war on nature is quickly putting us out of step with the rest of the world and with the demands of our international consumers. Our primary producers who are at the leading edge of sustainable production are all too aware of this.

“I can only hope our political leaders wake up soon to the international ramifications of their ill-conceived and environmentally disastrous set of policies.”