Eco-warriors up in arms over climate neglect in Budget 2024

Environmental groups see a gaping “climate hole” in Budget 2024 (Photo credit: Kevin Grieve)

Venu Menon
Wellington, June 1, 2024

Budget 2024 has raised the hackles of environmental groups in New Zealand.

They say funding cuts to the Department of Conservation, the Ministry for the Environment, Environment Legal Aid, and the Climate Change Commission are “enabling the Luxon Government’s ongoing war on nature.”

“Without enough funding, these agencies cannot respond to the anti-nature policies this government keeps throwing at them,” says Russell Norman of Greenpeace Aotearoa, which has called a ‘March for Nature’ in Auckland on June 8.

Environmental groups fear that proposed freshwater amendments would relax rules for farmers, and the natural environment would lose priority when councils issue consents.

The Budget provides for the government’s resource management reforms, including fast-track consenting legislation, the Resource Management Act (RMA)1991 amendments.

The Budget earmarks $92 million over four years to effect these reforms.

The government is prioritising savings. Environment Ministry job cuts are expected to save  $22 million by 2028, while fund cuts to freshwater programmes will save over $23 million within that timeframe.

Other savings come from discontinuing funding for consultants and external agencies, as well as the Jobs for Nature programme set up by the Labour Government to create nature-based jobs that promote native biodiversity.

Green Party Co-leader Marama Davidson has lashed out at the coalition government, criticising the move to cut funding for “initiatives that protect the environment” in order to free up money for tax cuts.

Cutting $178 million from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA), which funded the Warmer Kiwi Homes programme, has resulted in making “homes colder and more expensive to heat.”

Finance Minister Nicola Willis (left) was targeted  by Green Party Co-leader Marama Davidson in Parliament over cuts to the Emissions Trading Scheme in the Budget (Facebook photo)

Davidson cites Minister of Finance Nicola Willis as saying that she expects the Emissions Trading Scheme to play a bigger role. “But they’re even cutting the funding for that,” Davidson points out.

Davidson references the greenhouse gas figures released by Stats New Zealand on Thursday as “proof that the green initiatives of the last two terms were working.”

But Climate Change Minister Simon Watts affirms the government is “committed to meeting emission reduction targets, including the overall goal of carbon net-zero by 2050, while continuing to prepare New Zealand for the more frequent severe weather events that climate change will bring.”

But the government’s decision to “discontinue the practice of ring-fencing revenue raised through the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) in a Climate Emergency Response Fund,” has left environmental groups non-plussed.

“It’s incredibly short-sighted to be looting ring-fenced money from the Climate Emergency Fund – arguably the single most powerful investment New Zealand has ever made into our climate response – to fund tax cuts,” says World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) New Zealand CEO Kayla Kingdon-Bebb.

But Climate Change Minister Watts argues “future investment proposals for emission-reduction or climate-adaptation will be considered through the usual Budget process.”

He has made it clear that CERF-funded climate change initiatives already in force will go on.

“The government can also confirm that around $2.6 billion of high-value climate change initiatives previously funded from the CERF will continue.”

But scepticism stalks the coalition government’s climate and environmental proclamations. Many may argue the Budget does not go far enough to mitigate concerns over the government’s commitment to the long-term goal of protecting the environment and the planet.

In particular, the decisions to divert the revenue locked in the Climate Emergency Response Fund for purposes not related to climate action, and scrapping the 620,000 sq. km eco-friendly Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary project, in deference to the priorities of the fisheries sector, do little to bolster the coalition government’s green credentials.

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington

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