Victory for New Zealand’s Nature

13 August 2010 | International news release

New Zealand Government retracts its proposal on mining in protected areas.

The 26th August 2009, the New Zealand Hon. Gerry Brownlee, Minister of Energy and Resources gave a speech ‘Unlocking our Minerals Potential’ which implied the intention to allow mining to take place in protected areas. The Minister outlined the government’s intention to undertake an ‘audit’ of New Zealand’s mineral resources in the conservation estate and made it clear that the objective was to remove the legislative protection under Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act which protect Category I (nature reserves) & II (National Parks) protected areas from mining. The government proposed to remove 7058 hectares of protected conservation land from Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act. The proposal also considered the possibility of removing several hundred thousand hectares more in nine months time after the completion of a minerals assessment.

The proposal attracted a high level of opposition from national and local NGOs, concerned individuals and a range of international bodies such as IUCN which expressed its serious concern on this proposal through letters to the Prime Minister of New Zealand by Nik Lopoukhine, Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Area’s (WCPA) and the IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefevre. A strong motion of concern from the 9th Wildernes Congress in Mexico was also sent to the New Zealand government. At the national level, civil society was extremely active and started a major campaign rallying supporters and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs). In early May 40,000 people marched in the streets of New Zealand against this proposal. Enormous credit is due to the New Zealand Committee of IUCN and many IUCN members who firmly opposed this alarming development.

“ Although other conservation land remains at risk, as does offshore reaches and the marine environment, this is a great victory for the sanctity of the equivalent of Category I-IV Protected Areas, and so for biodiversity and its conservation”. Says Diana Shand IUCN Councillor and WCPA member. Unfortunately there are still clouds on the scene as Diana points out “Not only are World Heritage Areas not protected on our Schedule 4 but an amendment has been made to allow the process or approval of mineral-related access arrangements over Crown to be jointly decided by the land-holding minister (the Minister of Conservation) and the Minister of Energy and Resources, and will "take into account criteria related to the economic, mineral and national significance of the proposal".

Labour leader Phil Goff said earlier the expected change of heart was a victory for "people power". He told Morning Report it was a humiliating backdown for the Government, who misjudged the public's stance on mining. Green Party co-leader Meteria Turei says the Government failed to make an economic case for mining in protected areas, and the back-down is a victory for commonsense.

“More importantly –said Nik Lopoukhine, Chair of IUCN’s WCPA- this historic decision shows that most people, and not just conservationists, deeply care for protected areas, as they see them as part of their culture and heritage and increasingly recognize that they provide goods and ecological services that are vital for society. My sincere congratulation goes to the government of New Zealand for this decision and for the people of New Zealand for courageously defending their precious nature”