Natural capital: our environment
Natural capital covers all aspects of the natural environment supporting life and human activity, such as land, social, water, plants and animals, minerals and energy resources. A healthy and sustainable environment contributes to present wellbeing and the wellbeing of future generations.
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and poses a significant threat to Aotearoa New Zealand's natural capital. Road transport was the greatest source of carbon dioxide emissions in 2018, and road transport emissions increased by 22 percent from 2009 to 2018. In addition, 43 percent of New Zealand's gross greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 were from methane, of which 86 percent came from livestock.
COVID-19 restrictions reduced emissions from some key sources, such as road transport, but these effects were only temporary. Greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation also fell from the September 2020 quarter to the December 2020 quarter but were still higher compared to a year earlier.
He Pou a Rangi - the Climate Change Commission - has released draft advice to the Government, including the first three emissions budgets required to meet New Zealand's target of net zero emissions of long-lived gases and for reducing methane emissions by between 24-47 percent by 2050. The advice shows that while current policy settings will reduce emissions and move us toward the targets, significant further action is required. The Government is committed to decisive action on climate change as shown through the policies we are rolling out to reduce emissions.
Our land 2021, the latest in a series of environmental reports by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ, found half of New Zealand's total land area is now used for agriculture, forestry, and housing. The reporting showed 12,869 hectares of indigenous land cover area were lost from 2012-2018, continuing a declining trend. Between 1994 and 2018, while no declining or improving trend in soil quality was observed, 80 percent of monitoring sites nationwide did not meet targets for at least one soil quality indicator. From 2002 to 2019, the total number of New Zealand farms decreased by 28.7 percent and the total land area occupied by farms decreased by 13.0 percent. Over the same period, export income from farming products has increased, suggesting that more is being produced by fewer farms on less land. The area of irrigated agricultural land in New Zealand almost doubled between 2002 and 2019.
New Zealand has many other long-standing environmental challenges, such as the quality of our waterways. Many of New Zealand's waterways are under pressure from changes to the way we use land. For example, between 2013 and 2017, 71 percent of river length in pastoral farming areas had modelled nitrogen levels that could affect the growth of sensitive aquatic species. In addition, models show that over 80 percent of the total river length in urban areas exceeds the guidelines for quantity of pollutants, such as nitrogen, E. coli and phosphorus. New Zealand has lost more than 90 percent of its original historical inland wetlands, which has resulted in the loss of unique biodiversity and ecosystems.
In terms of marine health, 82 percent of evaluated fish stocks had no sustainability risks in 2020, staying constant from 2019. However, 80 percent of shorebirds, 90 percent of seabirds, and 22 percent of marine mammals are threatened with or at risk of extinction. Climate change is causing sea level rise and ocean warming, threatening our marine ecosystems.
Notwithstanding delays caused by COVID-19 lockdowns, the Department of Conservation has continued delivering on its pest control programmes to enhance the unique ecosystems and species of Aotearoa. These programmes are expected to increase further, both on public conservation land and on private land across the country, through the Jobs for Nature Mahi Mō Te Taiao work programme. This programme aims to deliver both employment opportunities in the community and increased conservation outputs, including pest control and biodiversity enhancements.
- https://www.mpi.govt.nz/dmsdocument/44890-The-Status-of-New-Zealands-Fisheries-2020, https://www.mpi.govt.nz/dmsdocument/11950-the-status-of-new-zealands-fisheries-2018