Conservation Department Director-General Al Morrison has challenged New Zealand to change public policy, alter economic thinking and redefine business practice in order to put the country on a path to truly sustainable prosperity.
Speaking at the 12th Lincoln University State of the Nation’s Environment Address, on the theme “Building Biodiversity: Building New Zealand”, Mr Morrison said New Zealand was “trashing” the environment, degrading ecosystems and destroying species to the point where the “services that nature provides, that we rely on for our sustenance, and that determine our prosperity, are being run down and out.”
He said we had to “save ourselves from ourselves”. The economy was “dangerously exposed” and “seriously out of balance”.
“The ecological services we rely on to survive and thrive - the quality of our air, the amount of water, the stability of soil, the supply of fibre, the pollination of plants, the functioning of nutrient cycles and so on are not limitless,” he warned.
Mr Morrison said that credible international research pointed to a “relationship with the land” as a defining characteristic of “New Zealandness”.
“Our cultural identity and spirituality are linked to the landscape,” he said, “but while we seek to tread lightly on the land, we too often do so in a clumsy way”.
Turning to the good news, Mr Morrison said New Zealand was “rich in natural capital” and that was the “advantage point” from which the country must work.
“This is where we must look to build our base of international appeal for greater prosperity.”
“Conservation, along with other environmental and natural resource agencies, has a critical role in maintaining the integrity of the New Zealand brand. Protecting our biodiversity, which means maintaining the ecological integrity of the places our native plants, birds, animals, freshwater and marine species need to survive, is the sleeping giant of the conservation economy.”
“Nature plays a role in sustaining economic development, and it is in our interests to ensure our natural environment is healthy so that the systems we rely on are in good working order.”
“It is a necessary investment in the natural capital that sits at the base of our economy. Water, soil, air, nutrient cycles, climate regulation, pollination ... these and other services are the natural capital we need to survive and prosper.”
“Nature’s systems lie at the base of any economy,” he said.
Mr Morrison said that the Department of Conservation was “gearing up” for an awakening by New Zealand business that “nature-friendly practices down the whole value chain are our market advantage. A business sector that understands that conservation is good for business, and business is good for conservation.”
He said the Department had established a commercial business unit to seek out opportunities and work with business leaders who were committed to achieving greater prosperity for New Zealand through an enhanced environment.
Presenting the challenge for change, Mr Morrison said the work required would be complex and difficult, but the business case for it was simple: “If we look after the land, the land will look after us”.
Lincoln University’s series of annual State of the Nation’s Environment addresses was founded in 1999 by the University’s Professor of Nature Conservation Ian Spellerberg and associates. For the past six years the event has been organised by Tara Schoenwetter of the Isaac Centre for Nature Conservation. The 2010 address was chaired by Lincoln University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Chris Kirk.
Audio of Al Morrison's one hour State of the Nation Environmental address.
NOTE - question time sound quality is very limited