Budget 2024: ‘Assault on nature’ as government cuts funding for environmental programmes

The only new money in the Budget earmarked for the environment will go towards resource management reforms, an area which so far has relaxed rules for natural protection.

The government has committed $92 million over four years “to deliver the government’s resource management reforms, including fast-track consenting legislation, Resource Management Act (RMA) 1991 amendments, updates to national direction and RMA replacement legislation”.

The Fast-Track Approvals Bill would give three ministers, none of them the environment minister, the final say on whether or not to green-light infrastructure projects, even those denied resource consent or halted in the courts.

Proposed freshwater amendments have been criticised by environmental groups as a continuation of a “war on nature”, as they would relax rules for farmers and instruct councils to deprioritise the natural environment when issuing consents.

Overall, the cuts in Budget 2024 are larger than the gains.

Job cuts at the Ministry for the Environment will save $22m by 2028, and by reducing funding for freshwater programmes the government would save more than $23m within the same timeframe.

Greens' Banks Peninsula candidate Lan Pham and Greens' Ilam candidate Mike Davidson at the tree planting event in Christchurch on 16 September, 2023.

Green Party environment spokesperson Lan Pham said that was “a real hit” to both the projects it funded, and the economy.

“It means less jobs for people, it means less connection with nature.”

A further $9m has been cut from funding for evidence and data, in the form of consultants, external agencies and specialists that supply a range of services, including updates to environmental standards, monitoring, reporting, policy work and science assurance.

Greenpeace was critical of the move, saying it would make it “harder to document the impact of the government’s policies”.

While conservation is being funded to the tune of nearly $32m, there is no new spending on the table.

Rather, more savings will come from the decision not to continue funding Jobs for Nature, a programme set up by the former government to create nature-based jobs to improve native biodiversity and employment prospects, following Covid-19.

It was due to wrap up in 2026, but by stopping the programme now and returning the funding not yet committed to any specific project, the government saved $55m.

Read more on Budget 2024:

The government is going to save another $17m by deciding not to go ahead with the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, almost a decade after former prime minister John Key first announced plans for the 620,000-square-kilometre project in 2015.

Another $6.5m was saved by cutting funding for legal and regulatory services, among other things, at the Department of Conservation, which Forest & Bird said would reduce the department’s ability to advocate for nature through the legal system.

Forest & Bird conservation advocacy group manager Richard Capie said the government was “effectively raiding the conservation budget to pay for its assault on nature”.

Pham said the budget showed the government had misunderstood its role and duty of care in protecting the environment.

“When these agencies that are so critical to the protection and restoration of our natural environment are so underfunded, they just can’t respond, they’re essentially crippled,” she said.

“And that’s exactly what this government wants, because they are pushing ahead with really environmentally damaging, and actually very anti-democratic bills … which they don’t want anyone to be able to challenge them on.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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