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Prof Slooten, chairwoman of Dunedin-based Wise Response, said New Zealand benefited from its green image and if it wanted to continue to do so "we’re going to have to really pull up our socks".
The newly launched High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, co-chaired by Costa Rica, France and the United Kingdom, announced last week it would lobby for protection for at least 30% of the planet’s land and at least 30% of the planet’s oceans by 2030 at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, in Kunming, China, this year.
The signatories included Canada, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and Japan, but not New Zealand.
At present, New Zealand had its own less-ambitious target of protection for 10% or its marine area, which it also failed to meet, Prof Slooten said.
"It seems that what we’re doing at the moment as a nation is to set the targets really low to match the poor performance, rather than setting an ambitious target and working really hard to meet it," she said.
In 2016, the World Conservation Congress, held in Hawaii, overwhelmingly passed a motion urging governments to set aside 30% of marine environments as protected areas by 2030.
New Zealand abstained from that vote.
At the time, Forest & Bird called the move cowardly.
Yesterday, Forest & Bird Otago Southland regional conservation manager Rick Zwaan called New Zealand’s absence from the international coalition "extremely disappointing".
The country put enormous effort into saving individual species such as the northern royal albatross and yellow-eyed penguin, but their entire habitats were at risk along the Otago coastline without proper protection.
It was time at least, he said, to put in place the recommendations of the South-East Marine Protection Forum — a network of protected marine areas along the southeastern coastline of the South Island.
After years of consultation, the proposed network of protected areas just needed to be signed off by ministers, he said.
"Approximately 80% of our native biodiversity is found at sea, but only 0.4% of our oceans are protected," Mr Zwaan said.
"Endangered and rapidly declining unique species like hoiho can’t wait any longer."
Conservation Minister Kiri Allan did not rule out joining the international coalition yesterday.
Ms Allan said New Zealand remained active in negotiations for a new set of global biodiversity targets for the next decade.
The country was focused on supporting a global land and marine protection target that improved outcomes for biodiversity and ecosystem conservation at a global level, she said.
New Zealand had not joined the High Ambition Coalition "at this stage".
"We wish to consider further the overall global biodiversity framework before taking such a decision," she said.
And with respect to protection of Otago’s coast, she said decisions on the proposed southeast marine protection network would be made once she and Oceans and Fisheries Minister David Parker had considered advice from their respective ministries.
Public consultation closed in August 2020 and 4056 submissions were received, she said.