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Environmental reporting at national, regional, and local levels

In New Zealand, environmental reporting happens at the national level (for example, in reports such as this one) and at regional and local levels.

Many different organisations and groups are involved in developing environmental indicators, collecting data against the indicators, and reporting on what the data shows.

This section gives details of some of the environmental reporting that occurs in New Zealand, and who is involved.

National reporting

The 1997 report, The State of New Zealand’s Environment 1997, concluded:

New Zealand’s environmental information needs considerable upgrading if the state of the nation’s environment is to be accurately described and trends detected.
(Ministry for the Environment, 1997, chapter 10.)

In response, the Ministry for the Environment developed a national environmental reporting programme to report regularly on New Zealand’s key environmental issues.

As a result, a number of reports on the New Zealand environment have been produced over the last decade. These have primarily focused on particular pressures on the environment (for example, waste flows or greenhouse gas emissions) or specific aspects of the environment (for example, water quality or air quality), for which data is available across the whole country.

To give greater momentum to environmental reporting, the Ministry for the Environment defined a new set of core national environmental indicators in 2007. These indicators underpin the Ministry’s new national environmental reporting programme, and will be used to support regular and ongoing national-level reporting on the state of key aspects of New Zealand’s environment.

Many of the selected indicators link directly to aspects of the environment that are measured by other agencies in New Zealand (for example, local government).

This report introduces the set of national environmental indicators and uses them to present a national picture of the New Zealand environment.

Regional monitoring

Local government undertakes a wide range of environmental monitoring at the regional level to meet its obligations relating to the environment. Under section 35(2)(a) of the Resource Management Act 1991, local authorities must monitor ‘[t]he state of the whole or any part of the environment of its region or district to the extent that is appropriate to enable the local authority to effectively carry out its functions under this Act’.

Local government uses environmental monitoring to improve its understanding of the state of the environment for which it is responsible, and to make informed and appropriate management decisions about it. Monitoring also allows local government to determine whether management approaches have been effective, and whether new approaches to emerging environmental issues are needed.

The scope of environmental monitoring differs around the country. For example, Auckland Regional Council has an extensive marine sediment monitoring programme. This reflects the pressures on the Auckland marine environment from stormwater run-off, coastal construction and excavation activity, and intensive urban development.

Different types of monitoring may be needed in regions facing other pressures. Councils in rural areas that are intensively farmed would be expected to focus their monitoring efforts on freshwater quality and quantity, the health of aquatic ecosystems, soil quality and erosion, and sustainable land management.

Regional reporting

Regional-level state of the environment reporting is not a legislative requirement. Councils must simply compile and make available to the public a review of the results of their monitoring at least every five years. The review is then used to assess the effectiveness of the policies, rules, or other methods in the council’s policy statement or plan.

Most councils in New Zealand use their monitoring results to produce comprehensive state of the environment reports for their district or region every few years. Increasingly, these have become more targeted reports that use selected indicators to monitor specific aspects of the environment (for example, biodiversity or the coastal environment).

Roadside monitoring by Auckland Regional Council

Source: Ministry for the Environment.

Some councils (such as Environment Southland) produce summary ‘report cards’ that give a snapshot of the state of the environment in their region over the last monitoring period. These easy-to-read summaries provide a succinct picture of the quality of a particular dimension of the environment (for example, local air quality).

Local monitoring and reporting

Right across New Zealand, iwi, hapū, and community groups are involved in projects to monitor, protect, and enhance the health of their local environment. Local monitoring and reporting play an important role in environmental management: careful tracking of local environments can identify emerging pressures and ensure measures are put in place to manage them at an early stage.

Monitoring and reporting by local groups may be specific to a project with which they are involved, or may feed into more formal reporting networks. For example, community-based river care and restoration groups may gather information on the state of specific parts of the local environment, which in turn contributes to formal state of the environment reporting by councils.

One example of local monitoring is community-group participation in annual monitoring of shellfish at several locations in the Hauraki Gulf. With support from territorial authorities, Auckland Regional Council and the Department of Conservation, schools and community groups collect information on shellfish type, size, and distribution. The results are reported to both the community and the Ministry of Fisheries, and are used to inform the Hauraki Gulf State of the Environment Report.

A further example is research into tuna (eel) stocks in the Ngāti Raukawa area, which extends from Bulls to Ōtaki. Monitoring was conducted by Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa and involved a number of hapū. The project aimed to develop a tuna management plan by recording oral narratives about historic tuna levels and collecting present-day data about tuna in the area.

Takiwā – a culturally-based environmental monitoring system

Takiwā is a culturally-based environmental monitoring and reporting tool that incorporates both traditional and science-based knowledge and methods. Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu worked with Papatipu Rūnanga, regional councils, and a number of Crown Research Institutes to develop Takiwā, with funding from the Ministry for the Environment.

The monitoring tool uses a specially designed database and a series of associated monitoring forms. Together, these allow for data from selected sites to be gathered, stored, analysed, and reported on in terms of the values Māori associate with the environment – in particular, the concept of mahinga kai, or customary food and resource gathering.

Currently, the system has a particular focus on freshwater monitoring, drawing on the Cultural Health Index (see box ‘More about iwi monitoring of freshwater: Cultural Health Index’ in chapter 10, Freshwater’). Plans are under way to develop and include specific cultural assessment tools for coastal, estuarine, and lake sites.

To date, Takiwā has been used to assess more than 100 sites within 11 catchments in Canterbury, Ōtago, and Southland, including sites of traditional importance and those within coastal, headwater, plains, and urban areas. Results from this monitoring will be used to develop a report on the quality of waterways in the South Island.

Takiwā monitoring has also been used to complement regional council monitoring of waterways, as well as to monitor the conditions of resource consents affecting sites of cultural significance, such as Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere.

This monitoring aims to identify the current health of catchments both as a baseline for future monitoring and restoration work, and to report the extent of change within these areas. It does so by allocating a ‘score’ to each site, based on factors such as pressures on the site, its suitability for harvesting mahinga kai, ease of access to the site, its degree of modification, and whether valued and pest species are present. Other natural resources, such as particular types of stone (for example, pounamu/greenstone or hāngi stones), are also identified.

Where appropriate, Takiwā site assessments are complemented by the Cultural Health Index and other assessment methods.

Because Takiwā monitoring focuses on whether the environment is healthy enough to allow food and resources to be gathered, it plays an important role in building a more complete picture of overall environmental health. This is because conventional monitoring may focus only on either ecological or recreational requirements. For example, an assessment of the quality of water for swimming does not identify whether it is safe to gather mahinga kai or drink the water. Moreover, the presence at a site of a particular species, such as tuna (eels), does not mean the species is abundant or healthy enough to harvest.

Through its ongoing use and development of Takiwā, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu hopes culturally-based indicators will become a regular part of future environmental monitoring and reporting.