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Published: 2004-09-16 00:00:00

Environment Waikato has earned itself a B grade for its efforts to look after the environment in international terms, according to an international environmental law expert.

Professor Alexander Gillespie of Waikato University told this week’s Environment Committee meeting that the Council was doing well in international terms in concentrating on environmental issues that would be of economic value to the Region.

Professor Gillespie has written over 30 articles and published five books on sustainable development, is this year’s New Zealand Law Foundation International Research Fellow and has won Rotary, Fulbright and Rockerfeller fellowships.

He said there was an opportunity to identify and promote areas of unique and outstanding environmental value in the Region for which there was massive tourist potential. The Region “completely undersells itself” in recognising the value of its inland waters and wetlands. It had three internationally recognised wetland sites.

“People have no idea of the value of peatlands. They are like gold and they will become more valuable in their economic importance.”

There was also an opportunity to promote geothermal sites, of which the Region had three of the 102 significant world recognised sites.

Air was currently the most important international problem. In New Zealand, 400 people a year died as a result of the effects of air pollution, 300 from transport-related pollution, he said. Overseas large cities often competed to determine who had the “best air”.

Biodiversity was also an important issue, with money spent on the risk to migratory and endemic species. He noted that ozone depletion and climate change were not line items on Environment Waikato’s spending, but average citizens were very concerned about them and overseas councils were concentrating on responses to these threats.

Biosecurity spending was completely in line with international practice, although the types of threats would be different. He said he was surprised at the small amount spent on coastal issues, which were emphasised internationally, especially in terms of toxic blooms and sewage problems. New Zealand had experts who should be in the international stage on land and soil issues and there were huge opportunities to contribute information on preventing soil degradation.

In terms of governance and democracy, Environment Waikato was ahead of the game and international practice in dealing with environmental concerns, he said.

“While these things will enhance your regional values, I am suggesting things to you that are going to make you money.”