Dr Mike Joy, Senior Research Fellow at Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Government shares his thoughts on the Budget’s environmental spend.

Budget 2020 will see $1.1 billion in spending on the environment, and environmental projects aimed at increasing employment. Unfortunately, the focus of this spending appears to me to be more ambulances at the bottom of cliffs with no fences being built on top.

It is widely known that the biggest proportion of the harm done to the environment is caused by inappropriate land use through, for example, intensive farming, horticulture and plantation forestry.

Unfortunately, Budget 2020’s environmental spend, with its focus on cleaning-up our fresh waterways, will achieve very little if there is no intervention and focus on the causes of the problems. Imagine, a huge cauldron of milk boiling over on the stove, and spending money on more tea towels and people to mop it up, good for GDP but bad for the people and the environment.  If we continue to allow the dairy industry to pollute our rivers, lakes and groundwaters, then attempts to clean them up become a transparent make-work scheme.

If the Government instead sought to limit land intensity by banning or taxing fossil fuel derived fertiliser (urea) and imported stock feed like Palm Kernel Expeller and supported moves to regenerative farming without stark monocultures of rye grass, we could reduce fossil fuel inputs to agriculture resulting in more and improved jobs as farms would become nicer places to work. Improving the industry would mean Aotearoa wouldn’t have to rely on desperate migrant workers from abroad, many of whom are now out-of-work and unsupported by Budget 2020, and we would see less GHG emissions, lower energy use, lower pollution and much more while contributing to a more sustainable economy.

Moving to truly sustainable food production would open up high value markets rather than relying on low-value commodities, which would give the New Zealand economy an added economic advantage in the post-COVID economy in which consumers are likely to care much more about where their food comes from, and its quality.

In terms of promoting regional jobs to increase biodiversity, we need to think holistically. Within our forestry industry, stopping the export of unprocessed logs, for example, would increase jobs and decrease harm done by forestry in steep country while also adding value. Diverse land use at all scales will increase biodiversity so funding conversions to more sustainable land use will mean more jobs and more meaningful jobs. It would also mean a reduction in seasonality and therefore a shift to more permanent employment opportunities.

Simply sending working people out to increase biodiversity will not work if we don’t change what we do on land, and the added benefits of that will far exceed simply keeping people in work. It will mean securing our economy both globally and domestically well into the future, and protecting our most valuable resources.