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Chapter 2: Our environment and people

At a glance

Geography, flora, and fauna

New Zealand’s geographic isolation and the long period without human habitation allowed a unique natural environment to flourish.

Our environment is known for the richness of its biodiversity, with more than 80,000 species of native animals, plants, and fungi. Much of our flora and fauna are not found anywhere else on earth.


New Zealand is home to just over four million people. Our population increased by almost 11 per cent over the last decade. On the whole, the New Zealand population is ageing, with our average age now 36 years.

Most New Zealanders live in urban areas within 50 kilometres of the coast. Three out of four of us live in the North Island. While our overall population density is low, it is high in major urban areas.

Environmental values

The environment dominates or influences nearly every aspect of New Zealand life. There is a growing understanding that our environment is not only our iconic wilderness and rural areas, but also the urban areas where most of us live and work.

Increasingly, New Zealanders are taking action to conserve the environment for future generations in ways that protect our economic well-being, social systems, and cultural wealth.

The economic value of the environment

We frequently use images of our natural scenery and rural heritage to present New Zealand to the rest of the world. Our country is recognised internationally for its stunning landscapes, forests, and valuable agricultural and horticultural land.

The environment is vital to our economic well-being. Our land- and sea-based primary production and tourism sectors both rely on New Zealand’s ‘clean and green’ reputation, generating about 17 per cent of New Zealand’s gross domestic product.

Environmental legislation and governance

Management of natural resources in New Zealand is governed by several statutes, particularly the Resource Management Act 1991, Local Government Act 2002, and Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996.

Environmental governance in New Zealand is shared between central government and local government. Iwi authorities, industry groups, community interest groups, and non-government organisations also play a role in managing the environment.