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1. Introduction

The big environmental issues for the early 21st century are also economic, social and public health issues. Access to clean fresh water, energy demands, and intensification of agriculture are just some examples of these.

The many linkages between our environment, economy and society highlight the importance of a sustainable development approach in New Zealand.

Sustainable development challenges countries to think broadly across economic, environmental, social and cultural objectives and to take a long-term view. It requires an integrated approach to policy and decision making. It encourages governments to act as a coherent whole rather than a number of parallel, sometimes conflicting, parts.

The Ministry for the Environment can play a significant role in the sustainable development of New Zealand.

Environmental policy affects everyone in New Zealand in some way. Its focus is on people and the places where they live, work and play, as well as on the natural world and how we behave towards it.

We consider that most New Zealanders want:

  • clean air and water
  • freedom from imposed risks
  • a place that is good to live in and good to make a living in
  • opportunities for experiences in the natural world.

What these concepts mean to people will, of course, vary but it is clear that environment matters to New Zealanders. Research, such as that carried out for the Growth and Innovation Advisory Board in 2004, indicates that New Zealanders value their quality of life and quality of the natural environment very highly. They expect that economic growth will not be at the expense of the environment.

At the same time, our environment is the essential capital base for our economy. Agriculture and horticulture use more than 50% of the land and rely heavily on other natural resources such as water. Intensification of agriculture has an impact on land, streams, rivers and lakes. Increasingly consumers in key markets such as Britain and the United States are taking an interest in the source of their food as well as the quality.

Tourism is a major growth industry in New Zealand and one of the largest single sources of foreign exchange revenue. It, too, depends on our environment - international visitors to this country are seeking spectacular landscapes, unique plants and animals, and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Our communities and most of our export businesses rely on a clean, safe and healthy environment.

"Environment" is very broad: it includes people and communities, natural and physical resources, and ecosystems.

The Environment Portfolio covers a broad and diverse range of issues - from air, water and land, to waste, hazardous substances and land contamination, through to sustainable industry and liveable urban environments.