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National environmental indicators

Many countries have defined their own environmental indicators, as have international bodies such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European Environment Agency (EEA).

As noted earlier, environmental indicators are used to provide an estimate of the overall state of the environment by:

  • reporting on specific aspects of the environment

  • tracking trends in these aspects over time.

As an example, air quality in managed airsheds is one of the core national environmental indicators used to report on the state of New Zealand’s environment (see the section ‘Core national environmental indicators’ on the following page).

The air quality in managed airsheds is assessed by measuring and reporting on several aspects of air quality. These aspects are known as ‘variables’. The variables used to assess air quality in managed airsheds are the maximum concentrations and annual averages of PM10 particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and ground-level ozone.

The value of an indicator lies in its ability to show whether measured aspects of the environment are improving or getting worse over time. Indicators can be used to trigger appropriate and timely action to address environmental problems.

Greater Wellington Regional Council air quality monitoring station

Source: Ministry for the Environment.

Core national environmental indicators

Table 1.1 lists the set of core national environmental indicators used in this report.

The indicators have been chosen to provide the key information needed for national environmental policy-making and natural resource management in New Zealand. They were also selected for their ability to provide the best representation of the information that is currently available on high-priority issues for the environment. They form a representative sample of indicators, which can be added to over time as more national-level data becomes available.

The indicators were distilled from a wider set of 160 indicators, which were developed by the Ministry for the Environment and used in its earlier Environmental Performance Indicators Programme (Ministry for the Environment, 2006).

As Table 1.1 shows, many agencies collect and share the environmental data used to report against the core national environmental indicators. These agencies include central and local government agencies, non-government organisations, and Crown Research Institutes.

Table 1.1: National environmental indicators used in this report

National environmental indicator Reporting partner Relevant chapter of this report

Household consumption

StatsNZ

Household consumption

Vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) by road

MoT

Transport

Energy supply and consumption

MED

Energy

Solid waste disposed of to landfill

Regional councils, territorial authorities

Waste

Air quality in managed airsheds

Regional councils

Air

Emissions and removals of greenhouse gases

MED, MoT

Atmosphere

Stratospheric ozone levels

NIWA

Atmosphere

Land cover

DOC, MAF, regional councils

Land

Land use

DOC, MAF, regional councils

Land

Soil health

Regional councils, MAF, CRIs

Land

Soil intactness of erosion-prone hill country

Regional councils, MAF, CRIs

Land

Water quality in rivers, lakes, and groundwater aquifers

Regional councils, NIWA

Freshwater

Freshwater demand

Regional councils

Freshwater

Fish stocks under the quota management system

MFish

Oceans

Seabed trawling in deep waters

MFish

Oceans

Water quality at coastal swimming spots

Regional councils, territorial authorities

Oceans

Marine areas with legal protection

DOC, MFish

Oceans

Land area with native vegetation, including area under legal protection

DOC, QEII, regional councils, territorial authorities

Biodiversity

Distribution of selected native plants and animals

DOC, OSNZ

Biodiversity

Note: CRIs = Crown Research Institutes; DOC = Department of Conservation;
MAF = Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry; MED = Ministry of Economic Development; MFish = Ministry of Fisheries; MoT = Ministry of Transport; NIWA = National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research; OSNZ = Ornithological Society of New Zealand;
QEII = Queen Elizabeth the Second National Trust; StatsNZ = Statistics New Zealand.

Source: Ministry for the Environment.

The DPSIR model

To help decision-makers use the information from the core environmental indicators in a meaningful way, indicators are often developed within a particular framework or model. The model is used to highlight what type of information the indicator is trying to show and how this information can best be used.

The Ministry for the Environment has developed the framework for the core set of national environmental indicators from two well-tested analytical models:

  • the Driving force–Pressure–State–Impact–Response (DPSIR) model, which was developed from the OECD’s Pressure–State–Response model

  • the typology of indicators developed by the European Environment Agency (European Environment Agency, 1999; 2003; 2005).

The DPSIR model (see Figure 1.1) shows how human activity (also known as a driver or driving force) exerts pressure on the environment and, as a result, changes the state of the environment. The state of the environment can have impacts on people’s health, ecosystems, and natural resources. These impacts can result in responses in the form of management approaches, policies, or actions that alter the driving forces, pressures, and, ultimately, the state of the environment. Changes in impacts over time can result in people modifying their response to those impacts (European Environment Agency, 2003).

Figure 1.1: DPSIR model

Source: Adapted from Smeets and Weterings, 1999. 

Figure 1.1 illustrates the connections and feedback loops of the DPSIR or Driving Forces, Pressure, State, Impact response model explained in the text. The D, P, S, I and R of the model are each shown in a separate box.  A series of connecting arrows joins the boxes in a flow diagram to illustrate the relationships in the model.

An environmental indicator developed under the DPSIR model can be categorised as a ‘driving force’, ‘pressure’, ‘state’, ‘impact’, or ‘response’ indicator, according to the type of information it provides. For example, the indicator for the emissions and removals of greenhouse gases is a pressure indicator, because increasing greenhouse gas emissions put pressure on the atmosphere and change the climate. The indicator for national water quality tracks the quality or condition of waterways, so it is a state indicator.

Table 1.2 explains DPSIR indicators in more detail.

Table 1.2: Description of DPSIR indicators

Indicator type Description of indicator type

Driving force (driver)

Describes social, demographic, and economic developments. Primary driving forces are population growth and changes in people’s needs and activities. These change lifestyles and overall levels of production and consumption, which in turn exert pressures on the environment.

Pressure

Tracks people’s use of natural resources and land, and production of waste and emissions (for example, greenhouse gases and particulates into the air). These pressures can change environmental conditions.

State

Describes the quantity and quality of the environment and natural resources (for example, water quality, air quality, or land cover).

Impact

Describes the effects that environmental changes have on environmental or human health (for example, the level of human illness related to exposure to air pollution).

Response

Describes responses by government, organisations, or the community to prevent, compensate, ameliorate, or adapt to changes in the environment (for example, the introduction of regulations such as national environmental standards and legislative initiatives to protect native vegetation and biodiversity).

Source: Adapted from European Environment Agency, 2003.

Collectively, indicators developed under the DPSIR model demonstrate how people’s activities and environmental effects are interconnected, and the effectiveness of policy and management responses to environmental problems.

DPSIR indicators aim to address four fundamental questions:

  • What is happening to the environment?

  • Why are changes happening to the environment?

  • Are these changes to the environment significant?

  • What is society’s response to these changes to the environment?

Typology of indicators

Indicators can also be classified by type using the European Environment Agency’s typology (European Environment Agency, 2003). This typology distinguishes four types of indicator, each of which addresses a different question and provides different information.

Descriptive indicators: What is happening in the environment and to people?

Descriptive indicators describe key environmental issues and their impact on people, and show changes over time.

Performance indicators: Is a policy or management approach making a difference?

Performance indicators compare actual conditions against a set of reference conditions (for example, progress towards targets, goals, or environmental objectives).

Efficiency indicators: Are we improving?

Efficiency indicators relate environmental pressures to people’s activities, and to the efficiency of products and processes. Activities are measured in terms of the resources they use and the emissions and waste they generate.

Total welfare indicators: Are we better off?

Total welfare indicators are one measure of social, economic, and environmental well-being. In this way, they are indicators of sustainability.

Core indicators by DPSIR model and EEA type

The DPSIR model and EEA typology can be used to describe the core national environmental indicators in more detail (see Table 1.3).

Categorising the core indicators in this way makes explicit their value and limitations for decision-making. Policy-makers and natural resource managers can make best use of information that illustrates the most relevant aspects of complex environmental issues.

Table 1.3: Classification of national environmental indicators by DPSIR model and EEA type

National environmental indicator Position in DPSIR model EEA type

Household consumption

Driving force

Descriptive

Vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) by road

Driving force

Descriptive

Energy supply and consumption

Driving force

Descriptive

Efficiency, when compared with gross domestic product or in a ratio such as total consumer energy / total primary energy supply

Solid waste disposed of to landfill

Pressure

Descriptive

Efficiency, when compared with total waste generation

Performance, when compared with New Zealand Waste Strategy targets

Air quality in managed airsheds

State

Performance

Emissions and removals of greenhouse gases

Pressure

Performance

Stratospheric ozone levels

State

Descriptive

Land cover

State

Descriptive

Land use

Pressure

Descriptive

Soil health

State

Efficiency

Soil intactness of erosion-prone hill country

State

Efficiency

Water quality in rivers, lakes, and groundwater aquifers

State

Descriptive

Performance, when compared with national guideline or Australian and New Zealand Environment Conservation Council trigger values

Freshwater demand

Pressure

Efficiency

Fish stocks under the quota management system

Driving force, pressure, and response

Efficiency

Performance

Seabed trawling in deep waters

Driving force and pressure

Descriptive

Water quality at coastal swimming spots

State

Performance

Marine areas with legal protection

Response

Descriptive

Performance

Land area with native vegetation, including area under legal protection

State and response

Descriptive

Performance, when compared with the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy goals

Distribution of selected native plants and animals

State

Descriptive

Source: Ministry for the Environment.