Chris Baker of Straterra writes:
The reality is, we have allowed mining on conservation land for many decades. Such activity is consented under the Resource Management Act to standards demanded by society. If, for whatever reason, the RMA and other environmental regulations are deemed to be not robust enough, they should be reviewed.
Our current estimate is that only 0.04 per cent of the conservation estate is affected by mining. This is because the realities of finding and developing a commercial mine are very challenging. Resources are scarce and are becoming harder to find and mining will always have a very small footprint.
And consider this – about 33 per cent of New Zealand’s land area is conservation estate. And 35 per cent of the conservation estate is National Park land and off limits.
People may not be aware of what a radical change is planned.
Currently mining is banned only in national parks and other high value parts of the conservation estate (called Section 4 lands). I have no problem with this.
But the Government is proposing a total ban on mining in the entire conservation estate. This is one third of NZ, and much of the estate is of low conservation value – it is called stewardship lands.
Rare earth elements (REEs) have been flagged as of significant strategic importance – the Government has rightly made many references to strategic minerals, including at the 2018 Minerals Forum in Queenstown. A recent GNS study found 79 per cent of land prospective for REEs in New Zealand lies in the conservation estate.
A blanket ban would close down access to these and other minerals important for the low carbon economy.
Like it or not, we can’t function without mining, the products of which are vital for modern society. Aggregates for infrastructure, housing, concrete; coking coal for steel; gold, copper, cobalt, REEs, lithium and vanadium for electronics, electric vehicles, solar panels, batteries – this list goes on. We mine to meet demand and the demand for minerals exists to maintain and grow our standard of living.
And if we don’t mine in New Zealand, we must import the resources we need. We can choose to allow all mining to occur overseas, but that will often be in jurisdictions with lower environmental standards than New Zealand’s. And even if you overlook the environmental trade-off, the increased carbon footprint (and associated costs) of importing minerals make no sense.
So this isn’t about coal mining. It is about being able to mine for metals that we need and use. Do we mine what we have, or just import them?