Air domain purpose and scope

This page provides information on the purpose of the 2014 Air domain report and scope of the air domain.

Purpose of the report

New Zealand’s Environmental Reporting Series: 2014 Air domain report presents information on New Zealand’s air quality. It shows the changes in our air quality over time, and the associated pressures and impacts. It helps us identify and understand air quality issues at the national level.

This report includes data to 2012. Data for 2013 was not available for all our national indicators and case studies, or could not be collected, validated, and analysed in time to meet our publication schedule.

This report covers one of five environmental domains that the Environmental Reporting Bill has proposed the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand report on. The five domains are air, atmosphere and climate, fresh water, land, and the marine environment.

Reports on each domain will be published every three years, as part of the Environmental Reporting Series, published jointly by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand. As well as individual reports on each domain, a synthesis report will combine information on all the domains and will provide analysis on areas like biodiversity.

We wrote this report while the Environmental Reporting Bill was being considered by Parliament. We produced it using the same rigorous quality control and independent processes that the Bill proposes us to take.

The new reporting framework set out in the Environmental Reporting Bill covers not just the state of our environment but also:

  • the pressures that influence the state of our environment
  • the impacts this state has on ecological integrity, public health, economic benefits derived from using natural resources, and culture and recreation.

The reporting framework, and therefore this report, does not cover responses to the issues. Responses would constitute policy advice or policy evaluation and we have deliberately excluded this from the reporting framework so we can independently articulate what the data is telling us.

See The Environmental Reporting Bill and environmental reporting framework for more information.

We are still working through the details of the scope of future environmental reporting. The Environmental Reporting Bill proposes to have the topics for environmental reporting set in regulations to ensure consultation, transparency, and consistency. On this occasion, we used a provisional set of air domain topics to inform reporting. These provisional topics were developed with the advice of external air quality experts and, in the absence of the Bill being in place, were approved by the Minister for the Environment and the Minister of Statistics. If the Environmental Reporting Bill is enacted in its current form, we will review the provisional air topics and develop regulations, along with the topics for other domains.

We use available data to report on some of these topics using national indicators. Indicators simplify complex environmental data to tell us about the state of our environment, the pressures influencing this state, and the effects of this state on us. In some instances, we don’t have robust or national-scale data to report an indicator. We used case studies where we have data that either illustrates a significant component of a topic or where information is only available at the regional level.

See Criteria for selecting our environmental indicators for more about the indicators and the processes we used to determine them.

To help present the picture about New Zealand’s air quality, we also include commentary, sometimes with reference to localised monitoring results.

The Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand are working with data providers to investigate how the coverage of high-quality, nationally representative information could be improved. We will consult, assess, and advise ministers and councils on the costs and benefits of improving this information.

For some air topics, it is not anticipated that a national indicator will be required to be developed. For example, if a particular pollutant is monitored at several locations where concentrations are expected to be high, but the concentrations consistently meet guidelines, then the need for a nationally representative indicator may not be necessary and improvements will be focused elsewhere.

See the Acknowledgements for the many organisations that helped us by providing data, giving advice on the topics and indicators, or reviewing the report. We are very grateful for all the help received.

Scope of the air domain

The air domain comprises the shallow gas layer that surrounds the Earth above ground level. This gas layer is primarily made up of oxygen and nitrogen, and also includes other gases and small quantities of vapour and particulates. Many of these lesser components exist because of unwanted emissions from human activities, and can be considered pollutants.

We measure air quality by the concentrations of pollutants within the air. Poor air quality can cause adverse health and environmental effects.

In this report, we define the air domain to include only the lower atmosphere (the troposphere) in which people live, and focus on the outdoor environment. We exclude indoor air quality, though in terms of health effects this often has an important influence.

The pressure-state-impact framework used in this report

We use a pressure-state-impact framework for national-level environmental reporting. The framework traces substances from their source, through the environment, to their effect on ecological integrity, public health, economic benefits derived from using natural resources, and culture and recreation.

The framework helps us to answer these questions about the air domain:

  • What are the pressures on New Zealand’s air quality?
  • What is the state of New Zealand’s air quality?
  • How does the quality of our air impact on ecological integrity, public health, economic benefits derived from using natural resources, and culture and recreation?

Figure 2 illustrates the key pressures on New Zealand’s air quality (such as households, transport, industry, and natural sources), and the impacts of the state of air quality (eg on public health).

Figure 2: Air quality – pressures and impacts

This images shows air quality - pressures and impacts.

Source: Ministry for the Environment

This image illustrates the key pressures on New Zealand's air quality (such as households, transport, industry, and natural sources), and the impacts of the state of air quality (eg on public health).

Indicators and case studies were selected to show the pressures, state, and impacts of New Zealand’s air quality. These are shown in figure 3.

Figure 3: National indicators and case studies in the 2014 Air domain report

Figure 3: National indicators and case studies in the 2014 Air domain report

Published by - Mfe and Statistics
Reviewed:
16/05/14