How many wake-up calls do we need before our political leaders sit up and act? Four environmental leaders warn it’s time to stop thinking about our environment, conservation, and climate change as a nice to have.

As Cyclone Gabrielle wreaks havoc across much of the Te Ika-a-Maui in the latest of so many recent climate emergencies, our political leaders have all the evidence they need to realise that they must take decisive and immediate action. Devastating cyclones, storms and floods are striking not once in 100 years – but now. Again and again. Lives lost, and billions of dollars of damage to private and public property.

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But let’s be clear – the continual decline in our natural world and climate change are the top threats to our economy, our incomes, and our livelihoods. These twin crises are the biggest threat to our entire way of life.

Another climate emergency was declared at the same time that a Cabinet reshuffle saw the new Minister for Conservation join the Climate Minister outside of Cabinet. While we welcome Willow-Jean Prime to her new role as Conservation Minister, having one-third of the country overseen by a minister outside of Cabinet is alarming. The state of our environment is inextricably linked to every single portfolio from primary industries to oceans and fisheries to health. Conservation and climate cannot be administered in isolation. Human health and wellbeing depend on a healthy planet. These ministers have an integral role to play and must have a seat at the table.

Just days earlier the National Party’s conservation portfolio was allocated to Barbara Kuriger, also outside of the shadow cabinet, a lowly ranked member, and supporter of the Groundswell movement. Meanwhile, National’s spokesperson for the environment, Scott Simpson, slipped down eight places to 19 in the rankings.

Disregarding environment and conservation in these ways makes no sense and both main parties need to urgently rethink their priorities.

We are now experiencing events that require fundamental changes to the ways we manage our economy, our society, and our way of life. Extreme weather events are now the new normal. Homes and communities are being stranded or made unsafe – no longer accessible or serviceable. Farms and fisheries face the very real prospect that they will no longer be viable or sustainable due to shifts in temperature and weather patterns. We face an increasingly desperate battle to save indigenous species, the places they depend on, and the biodiversity that underpins the health of our waterways, landscapes, and ourselves.

The Government has made some progress – a National Adaptation Plan, a National Biodiversity Strategy that must align to the new global targets and goals in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, and a climate emergency response fund.

This is an election year. Much has been made about politicians resetting and prioritising the things that matter most to New Zealanders. How you and your whānau live is what matters most. Given that the state of the environment dictates this, you would think that the environment and climate change would be front and centre of the political debate. The defining issue of the election. Each political party is battling to set out their credentials to lead us through this storm. But as the storms continue to rage, our leaders aren’t clamouring to show how they will make this their number one priority and setting out radical, courageous policies for accelerating action and driving change.

Instead, both main parties have shoved their environment and conservation portfolios down their rankings. So rather than giving greater emphasis and weighting to the biggest economic and social threats we have ever faced, they are building a house of cards out of short-term gains. While initially impressive, it’s not sustainable and not the foundation needed to provide real stability.

Prime Minister Hipkins – it’s all very well focusing on ‘bread and butter’ issues, but will they matter if people have lost their houses or business to floods? Or we have to forego investing in healthcare because we need to rebuild our destroyed roads?

We New Zealanders deserve better. Our political leadership needs to step up. It’s time to stop thinking about our environment, conservation, and climate change as a nice to have. It is our number one priority. It’s time for a fundamental rethink: to put the health and wellbeing of our planet and people at the heart of every decision. We deserve clean water to drink, fresh air to breathe, and healthy food to eat. We deserve swimmable rivers and oceans. We deserve to see kea and kiwi in the wild. But most of all we deserve political leaders to give us, and Aotearoa, a future.

Nicola Toki, CE, Forest and Bird

Gary Taylor CNZM QSO, CEO, Environmental Defence Society

Kayla Kingdon-Bebb, CEO, WWF-New Zealand

Dr Russel Norman, Executive Director of Greenpeace Aotearoa/New Zealand

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