Environment New Zealand 2007 – National-level State of the Environment Report

Date: October 2007
Reference number:
POL (07) 386

POL (07) 386
19 October 2007

Office of the Acting Minister for the Environment

Chair
Cabinet Policy Committee

Proposal

  1. The Cabinet Policy Committee is invited to note the contents of Environment New Zealand 2007, the draft national-level state of the environment report.  The Ministry for the Environment expects to publicly release the report in late December 2007.

Executive summary

  1. Environment New Zealand 2007 is New Zealand’s second national-level state of the environment report (the first was in 1997).   The 2007 report uses a core set of environmental indicators to present factual, quantitative information on key aspects of the New Zealand environment.
  2. While the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) undertakes regular national-level reporting on selected aspects of the New Zealand environment (e.g. water, air and waste), Environment New Zealand 2007 provides a snapshot of the overall state of our environment. 
  3. Environment New Zealand 2007 will play an important role in establishing regular national-level reporting on the state of New Zealand’s environment.  The report is the first product to be delivered under the new national-level environmental reporting framework agreed by Cabinet in late 2006.
  4. The report shows that some key pressures on the New Zealand environment are growing (for example, consumption of goods and services is growing, greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation are increasing, the use of transport and energy is rising, and land use is intensifying) as our population increases, our economy grows and evolves, and our lifestyles change. Other pressures appear to be reducing (for example, estimates of waste disposed of to landfill have stabilised) or are being avoided (for example, recycling rates, pest management activity and the areas of protected land and ocean have increased).  The report illustrates how, at the national level, these changing pressures are having an impact on the state of our environment.  (See Appendix One for details of the report’s key findings, and relevant Government initiatives and policies in place or under development).
  5. I do not expect the findings of this report to be a surprise to political, industry, iwi or community leaders.  By and large, the data used in the report is already publicly available.  The aspects of the environment which are under pressure are already well known and, in many cases, under active management.  The report may, however, confirm previously qualitative information using quantitative data.
  6. The findings of Environment New Zealand 2007 provide a solid platform from which to engage key sectoral groups and the public on the cross-government sustainability work programme.   The release of the report – and the heightened public attention on the environment that is likely to follow it – can be used to reinforce the need for and seek buy-in for early action on environmental sustainability. 
  7. As appropriate, agencies involved in the Environment New Zealand 2007  steering group will assess the findings of the report, and report back to their respective portfolio Ministers (informing the Ministry for the Environment as coordinating agency), with advice on the need for any new or strengthened policy initiatives.
  8. Together with the new national-level environmental reporting framework, the release of Environment New Zealand 2007 responds to the recommendation in the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development’s Environmental Performance Review of New Zealand (April 2007) that New Zealand should expand the availability of quantitative information on environmental quality.

Background

  1. In October 2006, Cabinet directed MfE to prepare a departmental report on the state of New Zealand’s environment for publication [CAB Min (06) 40/2A].
  2. In February 2007, Cabinet noted that Environment New Zealand 2007 would be prepared for consideration by Cabinet by 31 October and eventual public release [CAB Min (07) 4/1A].
  3. Although regional-level state of the environment reporting is undertaken on a regular basis by regional councils, national-level environmental reporting in New Zealand has generally focused on selected aspects of our environment (for example, water quality, waste flows or air quality), for which data is available across the whole of the country. Recent examples of such reporting include the Ministry for the Environment's Targets in the New Zealand Waste Strategy: 2006 Review of Progress (2007), New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory 2005 (2007), and the Snapshot of water allocation in New Zealand (2006).
  4. In response to calls for more national-level state of the environment reporting, a new national-level environmental reporting framework was established in late 2006 [CAB Min (06) 11/7 and CAB Min (06) 40/2A].  This established regular and ongoing reporting on the overall state of New Zealand’s environment. 
  5. Together with the new national-level environmental reporting framework, the release of Environment New Zealand 2007 also responds to the recommendation in the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Environmental Performance Review of New Zealand (April 2007) that New Zealand “expand the availability of quantitative indicators and time series data related to environmental quality, assuring policy relevance and public access.”

Purpose of Environment New Zealand 2007

  1. In line with common international practice, Environment New Zealand 2007 presents factual, quantitative information on key aspects of the New Zealand environment and tracks how these aspects have changed over time.  As the first report in 1997 provided largely qualitative rather than quantitative information, the two reports are not easily comparable.
  2. The 2007 report will:
    • increase New Zealanders’ understanding about the state of, and pressures on, our environment
    • provide useable and constructive information to foster informed decision-making on matters that affect the environment and encourage appropriate management approaches
    • highlight the aspects of our environment that have come under particular pressure and those that require priority attention
    • help motivate all New Zealanders to take action to protect and conserve the environment.
    • provide a platform from which to engage key sectoral groups and the public on the cross-government sustainability work programme.

Environmental indicators and classification systems

  1. Environment New Zealand 2007 will play an important role in establishing regular national-level reporting on the state of New Zealand’s environment.  In large part, its value is in setting a benchmark against which environmental outcomes can be monitored in future.  It does so by using 19 national environmental indicators to provide information on the overall health of the New Zealand environment:
    • Household Consumption
    • Solid waste disposed of to landfill
    • Stratospheric ozone levels
    • Soil health
    • Freshwater demand
    • Water quality at coastal swimming spots
    • Distribution of selected native species
    • Vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) by road
    • Air quality in managed airsheds
    • Land cover
    • Soil intactness on erosion-prone land
    • Fish stocks under the Quota Management System
    • Marine areas with legal protection
    • Energy supply and consumption
    • Emissions and removals of greenhouse gases
    • Land use
    • Water quality in rivers, lakes and groundwaters
    • Seabed trawling in deep waters
    • Land area with native vegetation, including legal protection
  2. MfE developed the national environmental indicators using two well-tested analytical models:  the Driving forces–Pressures–State–Impact–Response model, which was derived from the OECD’s Pressure–State–Response model, and the typology of indicators developed by the European Environment Agency.
  3. By regularly reporting against the environmental indicators, MfE will be able to track and compare environmental performance in future national-level State of the Environment reports.  This is similar to how the Ministry for Social Development’s annual ‘Social Report’ tracks trends in the social well-being of New Zealanders and compares year-on-year changes using a set of social indicators. 
  4. The report also makes use of ecological classification systems.  Classification systems identify and treat as one unit those parts of the environment which are ecologically similar, no matter where they occur geographically. In this way, they provide a framework for taking quantitative information sourced from monitored parts of the environment and extrapolating them to other, similar parts of the environment that are not monitored.  In this way, classification systems can be used to build up a national-level picture of the state of our environment.
  5. In order to report against the environmental indicators and apply the classification systems, Environment New Zealand 2007 makes use of data collected from a range of sources, including central and local government agencies, non-government organisations and crown research institutes. The report is based on information and data available before July 2007.

Structure of Environment New Zealand 2007

  1. Environment New Zealand 2007 contains three sections:
    • Section one provides an overview of the New Zealand environment, population, and demography.  It also describes the environmental indicators and classification tools used in the report.
    • Section two outlines the key pressures on New Zealand’s environment brought about by our consumption of resources (household consumption, transport, energy, and waste).
    • Section three focuses on the state of our environment. It examines the state of air quality, the atmosphere, freshwater quality and quantity, the land, the ocean and biodiversity in New Zealand.
  2. The report is a neutral, factual presentation of information. It does not contain any recommendations for action.  Similar reports (such as the Kyoto Protocol net position, the annual greenhouse gas inventory, and the Social Report) also take this approach.  Nor does the report attempt to draw conclusions based on the information it presents, which is similar in approach to the Kyoto Protocol net position and the annual greenhouse gas inventory.
  3. As is normal practice internationally, Environment New Zealand 2007 does not provide exhaustive information about the government’s policy responses to the issues discussed in the report. Some key examples of central government, regional government and local policies, programmes and initiatives are included in the report.  Consideration of policy responses will be part of the follow-up to the release of the report (see also paragraphs 41-42)

Accompanying products

  1. The Environment New Zealand 2007 report will be accompanied by a summary document of approximately 45 pages and a (web-based) technical guide, which provides a more in-depth explanation of the indicators and ecological classification systems.
  2. The first two documents will be available in both printed and internet formats, with the Technical Guide available on the MfE website only.

Who has been involved?

  1. An Environment New Zealand 2007 project steering group was established to guide the strategic direction of the report, and act as a forum for peer review of its content.  The steering group comprised the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry; Department of Conservation; Ministry of Transport; Ministry of Economic Development; Statistics New Zealand; Ministry of Social Development; Ministry of Health; The Treasury; Ministry of Fisheries; Land Information New Zealand; and the QE II National Trust.  Regional government was also represented on the steering group through the Resource Managers Group.
  2. The report has been extensively peer-reviewed by central government and local government agencies, and technical experts. Regional councils have had the opportunity to peer-review all chapters.

Key findings of Environment New Zealand 2007

  1. Appendix one of this paper summarises the key findings of Environment New Zealand 2007, with a particular focus on findings which relate to the national environmental indicators.  Appendix One also identifies whether the key findings are new information or well-known, and whether they align with independent commentary on the New Zealand environment (for example, the OECD’s recent Environmental Performance Review).  Relevant government initiatives and policies in place or under development are also listed in Appendix One.
  2. While we can assess whether some aspects of the environment appear to have improved or deteriorated over time on the basis of the data available in Environment New Zealand 2007, for many aspects of the environment this is not possible.  There are two reasons for this.  The 1997 report did not make use of indicators, so we do not always have available a benchmark against which to chart improvement or deterioration.  The data that we do have available may not allow trend analysis – that is to say, we may not be able to say with confidence that the changes observed represent a meaningful trend.  As an example, climatic conditions are known to affect air quality. As a result, it is not always clear whether changes in concentrations of air pollutants are due to increasing human pressures on air quality, or simply reflect changing climatic conditions.
  3. At the highest level, Environment New Zealand 2007 shows that key pressures on the New Zealand environment are growing as our population increases, our economy grows and evolves, and our lifestyles change.  For example, the report illustrates that, on a national basis, consumption of goods and services is growing, greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation are increasing, and the use of transport and energy is rising.  The report shows that some pressures appear to be reducing at the national level (for example, estimates of waste disposed of to landfill have stabilised, and recycling rates, pest management activity and the areas of protected land and ocean have increased).
  4. The report shows that, nationally, some aspects of our environment appear to be getting worse over time (for example, the nutrient quality of freshwaters and freshwater availability in some areas, soil quality under some land uses, the distribution of some native species), or have been over-exploited (for example, some of our fish stocks).  Other aspects appear to be improving (for example, air quality in managed airsheds, stratospheric ozone levels, organic pollution and some other types of pollution in our freshwaters, hill country erosion in some areas, and recovery of some endangered species).
  5. One common thread that runs through the report is that New Zealand’s economic profile has a significant bearing on the pressures on our environment, both today and in the past.  As a country reliant on primary production from the land and the sea for our economic and social well-being, we face particular environmental pressures and legacies.  At the same time, we have avoided those pressures and legacies common in heavily industrialised countries. 
  6. The report highlights that intensification of land use – whether it is in rural or urban areas – is having an impact on our environment.  As nearly 40 percent of our land area is used for pasture, intensification of pastoral agriculture has a particularly significant effect on our environment.  Intensification of agriculture affects water availability, water quality, the atmosphere (through increased greenhouse gas emissions) and soil quality (including through compaction and erosion).  While a much smaller proportion of our land area is in urban/artificial surfaces, increasing urban expansion, rural subdivision and infill housing leads to higher levels of hard surfacing, increased stormwater runoff and land compaction. It also increases demands on infrastructure such as water, energy, telecommunications, sewerage, roading and other transport infrastructure. 

Comment

  1. I do not expect that the findings of Environment New Zealand 2007 will be a surprise to political, industry, iwi or community leaders.  The aspects of the New Zealand environment identified by the report as coming under pressure are already well known and, in many cases, already under active management.  The report may, however, confirm previously anecdotal or qualitative knowledge using quantitative information.  In most cases, the data presented in the report is already available in the public domain (for example, it has been made public through earlier government reports, or in the OECD Environmental Performance Review of New Zealand).
  2. The report does, however, bring together in one place key information on the New Zealand environment so that it is more readily accessible. For that reason, the release of the document is likely to raise public interest in environmental issues and focus media attention and public commentary on the state of the New Zealand environment and the pressures it is under.  There is also likely to be international interest in the report.  At this early stage of the government work programme on sustainability, however, I consider there will be clear benefits in capitalising on the release of the report to encourage serious discussion across society on the environment and environmental sustainability.  I outline briefly in paragraphs 38-39 below how this could be taken forward.

Public release of Environment New Zealand 2007

  1. As Environment New Zealand 2007 is a departmental report, the Chief Executive of MfE expects to publicly release the report in late December 2007, subject to printing timelines.  The Kyoto Protocol net position, the annual greenhouse gas inventory, and the Social Report are similarly released as departmental reports. As with those other reports, the state of the environment report is a factual rather than a policy document and the integrity of the data it presents is critical to its public value.
  2. I consider that the findings of Environment New Zealand 2007 provide an important platform from which to engage key sectoral groups and the public on the Government’s sustainability work programme.  While planning is still at an early stage, I consider that there are benefits in using the release of the report – and the heightened public attention on the environment that is likely to follow - to reinforce the need for early action on sustainability. We can also use it to highlight government action already under way or under development.  Government alone cannot respond to the findings in the report – action will be required from industry, communities and central and regional government.   The release of the report may also provide a useful tool to engage the public on the evolving climate change work programme. 
  3. MfE intends to tie in the findings of the report to planned outreach under the sustainability work programme.  This outreach could take the form of a series of ‘conversations with New Zealand’ in the form of panel discussions with key commentators, discussions with relevant sector and industry groups (for example, through the sector reference groups established as part of the Government’s six sustainability work programmes) and other similar engagement.  This engagement will be aligned with the whole-of-government communications work programme on sustainability [POL Min (07) 9/20]. 
  4. I intend to work closely with MfE to finalise details of this engagement prior to the release of the report.  MfE will also be working with other departments on the release of the report, including identifying risks and opportunities, both domestically and internationally. 

Follow-up to the release of Environment New Zealand 2007

  1. Following the release of Environment New Zealand 2007, officials will assess the findings of the report in relation to existing central and regional government work programmes and industry initiatives which aim to address or mitigate the environmental pressures discussed in the report. 
  2. I expect MfE to work through the existing Environment New Zealand 2007 steering group and other relevant policy forums to assess whether the report has identified any policy gaps or areas of policy which require strengthening.  I expect officials to report back to their respective Minister and inform the Ministry for the Environment (as coordinating agency) about the need for new or strengthened policy initiatives.  In this way, Ministers can consider and take forward this advice, as appropriate, in the usual way and subject to the usual budgetary processes. 

Consultation

  1. The content of this paper was discussed with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry; Department of Conservation; Ministry of Transport; Ministry of Economic Development; Ministry of Social Development; Ministry of Health; The Treasury; Ministry of Fisheries; Te Puni Kokiri; the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.  Statistics New Zealand, Land Information New Zealand and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet were also informed of the contents of this paper.

Financial implications

  1. There are no financial implications arising from this paper.

Human rights

  1. There are no human rights issues arising that are in any way inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993.

Legislative implications

  1. There are no legislative impacts arising from this paper.

Regulatory impact statement

  1. No regulatory impact statement is necessary.

Gender implications and disability perspectives

  1. There are no gender implications or disability perspectives associated with this paper.

Publicity

  1. MfE intends to release Environment New Zealand 2007 at a media briefing in late December 2007, subject to printing timelines.   MfE will work with my office and other departments to identify and manage risks and opportunities, and prepare communications materials, including publicity, for the release of the report.   Around 1,500 copies of the report will be sent to key stakeholders (including in government, industry, iwi and the community) after the public release.  A further 1,500 copies will be available for distribution to interested parties over the course of the next year. 
  2. Portfolio Ministers who have a direct interest in the report will receive an advance copy of the report prior to its release, as will relevant government department chief executives.  MfE will work with other departments to brief relevant Ministerial press secretaries prior to the launch. 
  3. As noted above, the findings of Environment New Zealand 2007 provide a solid platform from which to engage key sectoral groups and the public on the new sustainability work programme and reinforce the need for early action on sustainability.  Departments will continue to monitor and manage risks and opportunities throughout this process. 

Recommendations

  1. The Acting Minister for the Environment recommends that the Committee:
    1. note that in October 2006, Cabinet directed the Ministry for the Environment to prepare a departmental report on the state of New Zealand’s environment for publication [CAB Min (06) 40/2A];
    2. note that in February 2007, the Cabinet Business Committee (CBC) noted that the Ministry for the Environment was preparing Environment New Zealand 2007 for consideration by Cabinet by 31 October 2007 and eventual public release [CAB Min (07) 4/1A];
    3. note that the report uses 19 national environmental indicators to provide a quantitative overview of key aspects of New Zealand’s environment, track how these have changed over time and set a benchmark against which future changes can be monitored;
    4. note that a draft copy of Environment New Zealand 2007 is attached for the Committee’s information;
    5. invite the Minister for the Environment to approve the release of the Environment New Zealand 2007, subject to final editing, proofing and formatting changes;
    6. note that the Ministry for the Environment expects to publicly release Environment New Zealand 2007 in late December 2007, subject to printing schedules and the approval of the office of the Minister for the Environment;
    7. note that the Ministry for the Environment will work with the office of the Minister for the Environment and other departments to prepare a communications plan and materials in advance of the release of Environment New Zealand 2007;
    8. note that relevant portfolio Ministers will receive an advance copy of Environment New Zealand 2007 prior to its release, and MfE will work with other departments to brief relevant Ministerial press secretaries;
    9. note that the report provides a platform from which to engage key sectoral groups and the public on the Government’s sustainability work programme, and reinforce the need to take early action;
    10. note that agencies involved in the Environment New Zealand 2007  steering group will review the findings of the report, and report back to respective portfolio Ministers (informing the Ministry for the Environment as coordinating agency), with advice on any need for new or strengthened policy initiatives.

Signature Date

Hon David Parker
Acting Minister for the Environment

Appendix one - Indicators and variables used in Environment New Zealand 2007, key findings of the report, and relevant government initiatives

View Appendix one (large table).