Structure of environmental reporting

This page outlines the structure we use to report on our environment now and in the future. It has information on the domains, topics and indicators which make up the structure.

Overview of the reporting structure

Under the Environmental Reporting Act 2015 (the Act) environmental information is organised into:

  • five domains
  • a set of topics to identify key issues within each domain and across domains
  • indicators to provide measures of each topic.

The following sections provide information on domains, topics and indicators.


The five reporting domains are:

  • air
  • atmosphere and climate
  • fresh water
  • land
  • marine.

Information on biodiversity and ecosystems features is provided in the land, fresh water and marine domains.

The domains are sufficiently broad to accommodate those aspects of the environment that are important internationally and domestically.

Publishing information by domain allows us to build a comprehensive picture about the state, impacts and pressures across each domain. This picture can then be built upon in the three-yearly synthesis reports.


The topics that will be reported on have been identified and included in the Environmental Reporting (Topics for Environmental Reports) Regulations 2016.

State topics - describe the broad aspects of the condition of the domain.

Pressure topics - describe the main sources of pressure on each domain

Impact topics - cover the impacts in the areas of ecological integrity, public health, the economy, te ao Māori (the Māori world view), and culture and recreation.

The topics help create consistency across domains and ensure continuation of information over time.

For the topics and descriptions see the publication Topics for environmental reporting.

Development of the topics

The topics were finalised following public consultation at the end of 2015.

For more information on the consultation see Topics for environmental reporting: Consultation document.

Related policy

Cabinet Paper – Final policy decisions for Environmental Reporting topics

Cabinet paper: Consultation on the Environmental Reporting Regulations

Briefing Note: Environmental Reporting Regulations consultation - draft document and cabinet paper

Briefing Note: Environmental Reporting Regulations consultation – Cabinet paper

Topics in the Environment Aotearoa 2015 report

On 21 October 2015, the Ministry and Statistics New Zealand released Environment Aotearoa 2015 – a national-level environmental report for New Zealand. The report was developed and released as a pilot for the framework and process set out under the Act.

The topics and indicators for this report differ to those set in the regulations and were released prior to publication. This list was subject to approval by the Government Statistician.

See New Zealand's environmental reporting series: 2015 topics and provisional statistics [Stats NZ website].


Topics identify the things we want to know about the environment; indicators are the measures for the topics.

In the same way as the gross domestic product is an indicator of economic activity, each environmental indicator allows us to measure and report on a specific aspect of our environment and track trends over time.

Environmental indicators are used to:

  • tell us about the quantity of a particular environmental asset
  • tell us whether environmental quality is improving, getting worse or staying the same
  • identify emerging issues
  • help inform environmental policies.

They should, as far as possible, be enduring so it is easy to make comparisons from year to year and report on trends both within New Zealand and internationally.

Selecting environmental indicators

We cannot continuously monitor every aspect of our environment so we use a range of statistics that act as indicators of the overall state of the environment. This is common practice in New Zealand and overseas.

The Government Statistician is responsible for developing the specific indicators and, with the Secretary for the Environment, for reporting against them. A technical advisory group for each domain will help identify indicators, where there is available data, to report against the topics. Potential indicators will be assessed for use by the Government Statistician based on the criteria set out below.

Criteria for selecting environmental indicators



Relevance The degree to which the data meets user needs in coverage, content and detail.
Accuracy The degree to which the information precisely describes the phenomena it was designed to measure.
Timeliness The degree to which data produced are up-to-date, published frequently and delivered to schedule.
Accessibility The ease with which users are able to access and understand the data and its supporting information.
Coherence/consistency The degree to which data can be successfully brought together within a broad analytical framework and over time.
Interpretability The availability of supplementary data and metadata necessary to interpret and use the indicator effectively.

Criteria are based on Statistics New Zealand’s principles and protocols for producers of Tier 1 statistics. This ensures the information in the domain reports is robust and transparent.

Principles and protocols for producers of Tier 1 statistics [Stats NZ website]

Where relevant, indicators will align with those used internationally. This allows us to benchmark against other countries where appropriate.  Ensuring the data is representative at a national level is another significant consideration addressed by the accuracy and relevance criterion. 

The indicators will adhere to the principles of Statistics New Zealand’s good practice guidelines for the development and reporting of indicators. This means they will also align well with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD’s) environmental indicators.  

Good practice guidelines for the development and reporting of indicators: July 2009 [Stats NZ website]

Environmental indicators, modelling and outlooks [OECD website]