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Broken gov't promises threaten NZ environment: report

WELLINGTON, May 28 — Environmental experts and campaigners lined up to back a report Monday from global conservation group WWF alleging successive New Zealand governments had broken pledges at the Rio Earth Summit 20 years ago to protect the country's unique wildlife and ecosystems.

WWF's "Beyond Rio" report was released ahead of next month's international meeting on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro, site of the 1992 Earth Summit.

There, New Zealand signed agreements to tackle climate change and to conserve biodiversity and live more sustainably.

The report said the country was "falling short" on commitments on greenhouse gases, water quality, land and marine biodiversity, fisheries and education for sustainability.

WWF-New Zealand executive director Chris Howe said in a statement the country was now "a land of polluted rivers and lakes, rising greenhouse gas emissions, pressured marine ecosystems and disappearing bird and mammal species."

The report said 43 percent of monitored lakes were classed as polluted and 18,000 to 34,000 New Zealanders were annually catching waterborne diseases, while more than 60 percent of native freshwater fish were threatened with extinction.

It also claimed that seven of New Zealand's 10 official indicator species for measuring biodiversity were threatened, with iconic species such as Maui's dolphins and New Zealand sea lions listed as "nationally critical."

New Zealand's gross greenhouse gas emissions had risen by 20 percent since 1992, due to increased pollution from energy, transport, agriculture and industry sectors, it added.

"Solutions do exist to the problems we face, but the political will has been sorely lacking," said Howe.

"New Zealand's future social and economic well-being is dependant on functioning and flourishing ecosystems. Sustainability must be put at the heart of decision-making to ensure a future where people live in harmony with nature."

New Zealand's Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright welcomed the report, saying the country was "dropping the ball on the environment."

"This is a failure of successive governments and bodes badly not just for the future of our environment but for the future of our economy," said Wright in a statement.

Forest and Bird, one of the country's leading conservation groups, criticized the government for cutting natural heritage funding in the annual Budget delivered last week.

"We sell our products and services to the world on an implied agreement that we are '100 percent pure' and if we can't live up to that then our financial well-being will suffer," Forest and Bird conservation advocate Nicola Toki said in a statement.

"At no time has it been more crucial for our government to focus on the protection of our environment than now, when our biodiversity is in peril and when our inaction will be viewed on a world stage."

More than 3,000 species of native wildlife were threatened, with only 200 having any kind of management for protection, said Toki.

Opposition Green Party environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage said government plans for greater mineral exploitation and lack of support for conservation were putting the country's natural heritage at risk.

Much of the report's information on New Zealand's indigenous biodiversity, water quality and fisheries management came from the government's own agencies, said Sage in a statement.

Environment Minister Amy Adams told Radio New Zealand Monday the report painted a misleading picture of the country's enviromental situation.

"These are difficult issues and I think we have an excellent record of tackling them," she said.

"We certainly don't claim these issues are sorted; we have a long way to go and we're working very hard on them." (PNA/Xinhua) hbc/jnc

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