Towards a New Approach to Conservation in Aotearoa New Zealand? A Critical Analysis of DOC and Fonterra’s Conservation Partnership: The Living Water Program.
This research is situated at the intersection of three highly complex and important spaces for the sustainability of Aotearoa New Zealand. The spaces of freshwater, conservation and dairy farming have become increasingly overlapping, contested and politicised over the last two decades, as the dairy industry has expanded and intensified beyond limits, with a raft of environmental impacts, most notably freshwater degradation. Balancing exploitative industries and economic growth with environmental concern, sustainability and conservation has long been contentious here. Arguably, these tensions are heightened, and more emotive than ever in the freshwater space, which is of great importance and value to many New Zealander’s identity. Parallel to this situation, we have also seen some significant shifts in conservation approaches in recent years. Akin to global conservation trends, the Department of Conservation (DOC) would appear to be pursuing approaches aligned with neoliberal conservation, in the form of public-private partnerships. These signal some significant shifts and blurring of the roles and responsibilities for DOC and the private sector in conservation. The central subject of this research, the Living Water (LW) Program, a DOC and Fonterra partnership, encapsulates and operates at the intersection of these complex issues. In this research I use an interpretivist paradigm with open-ended informal interviews to understand the different narratives woven around these complex issues, and how different stakeholders perceive and understand the issues related to this research. The use of case studies allows for comparison of two LW program sites, and a deeper understanding of the participant’s experiences. This allows us to consider the potential, limitations and risks of pursuing this approach for conservation in complex spaces and gives us insight into the diverse experiences and perspectives held by stakeholders in this space. In isolation, LW appears to be positive, relatively successful and a potential mechanism by which tensions can be navigated and dichotomous narratives across different stakeholders can work together. However, we cannot divorce this from the broader, philosophical and practical concerns around what neoliberal approaches mean for the future of conservation here in Aotearoa NZ. These include greenwashing, risk to DOC of regulatory capture and manipulation by the private partner, operational challenges and the overarching idea that these approaches simply allow the status quo to exist; which arguably is not what will result in transformative change for the conservation or sustainability space in Aotearoa NZ. I argue that while these partnership arrangements may have some benefit, this justifies an important and ongoing role for New Zealanders passionate about conservation and the environment, to continually be asking questions of these institutions and holding them to account, aligned with our expectations of the future that we envisage.
Advisor: Hill, Douglas
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Geography
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Conservation; Freshwater; Collaboration; Partnerships; Neoliberalism
Research Type: Thesis