Scientists say New Zealand's biodiversity under threat by Government's environmental law changes

Scientists are concerned New Zealand's plants, animals, fungi and ecosystems are under threat by the Coalition Government's proposed changes to a raft of environmental laws.

The New Zealand Ecological Society and nine other scientific societies wrote an open letter to the Government expressing their collective concern at the proposals. Together the societies represent thousands of members of expertise in the field of biodiversity.

"We ask the Government to slow down and take time to consult widely with iwi, experts, other stakeholders, and the public, and allow for thorough parliamentary scrutiny," NZ Ecological Society vice president Dr Jo Monks said.

The changes the societies are concerned about include the introduction of the Fast-track Approvals Bill, repeal of both the Natural and Built Environment Act 2023 and Spatial Planning Act 2023, the proposed changes to the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity 2023 (including ceasing implementation of new Significant Natural Areas); and replacing the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020.

Dr Monk said the legislative changes value "short-term economic gain over long-term consideration of the natural environment and the ecosystem services".

She said not only is New Zealand's biodiversity globally renowned and underpins our economy, particularly the tourism and primary production sectors, but it's also under threat of extinction.

For example, over 75 percent of New Zealand's native reptile, bird, bat and freshwater fish species are either threatened with extinction or at risk of becoming threatened. While lots of the country's indigenous biodiversity most at risk is found on private land, or subject to the detrimental impacts of land use and development pressures, the letter stated.

The societies said safeguarding and enhancing New Zealand's natural environment is not merely a "nice to have" but is critical for sustaining well-being and primary productivity.

The speed at which these changes are being implemented is one of the main points of concern for the societies. They wrote in the letter that there has been a lack of adequate public consultation around the proposed changes.

"In their own coalition agreement, the Coalition Government commits to evidence-based decision making. However, the approach they have taken here is not evidence-based," Dr Monk said. 

"Without thorough consideration of scientific evidence, it is highly likely that the proposed legislative changes will come at the cost of our natural environment, ecosystems, and native biodiversity on which our economy and well-being depends."

It's not the first time concerns have been raised about the pace the Coalition Government is implementing legislation.

The Government last week unveiled how it plans to cut consent times for projects of national and regional significance with its Fast Track Approvals Bill.

At the time, WWF New Zealand CEO Dr Kayla Kingdon-Bebb said the bill was an "egregious assault on our environmental laws and democratic processes". She added it would pave the way for ministers to approve "pet projects" without proper scrutiny or environmental checks and balances.

When asked if the Bill placed too much power in the hands of three ministers, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon disagreed

Luxon said there are processes in place to deal with any conflicts of interest.   

"I have every confidence we do need ministerial decision-making to cut through and make it a hard yes or hard no."