New Zealand Green Plan




New Zealand Green Plan

The cornerstone of New Zealand’s green planning effort, the Resource Management Act (RMA) of 1991, has a single purpose that applies to all activities on land, air, water and the coast – the sustainable management of the nation’s natural and physical resources. New Zealand radically restructured its government institutions and revamped its laws to create well-defined environmental policy and management roles. This included an innovative system of regional government with new boundaries based on watersheds. Improved governance has resulted from greater public accountability, transparency of government activities and decision-making processes, and annual strategic planning at all levels of government.

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100% Pure – Clean and Green Tourism has long been important to NZ; it was the first country in the world with a national tourism organization. Over the past two decades tourism has become the number one export industry, is key to NZ’s economy, and plays a substantial role in job creation. It is a vehicle for regional and community development for the Pakeha (European settlers) and because there is tourist interest in traditional Maori culture, fostering development of their community and businesses as well. Many tourists seek unique and unspoiled locations, and the RMA is the central mechanism for making sure the “100% Pure” advertising campaign is not exaggerated. In consideration of expanding tourism, industry and government worked together in partnership to develop the NZ Tourism Strategy 2015. This landmark document has a wide range of principles, objectives and incentives to promote the sustainable development of the tourist industry to 2015. A united tourism sector underscores the importance of tourism to the economy along with a higher level of commitment and vision to ensure that a foundation of sustainable tourism is realized.

Zero Waste In 2002 NZ became the first country in the world to adopt a vision of zero waste. The NZ National Waste Strategy calls for voluntary zero waste by 2020, and a number of areas have already accomplished over a 70% reduction in waste through comprehensive recycling and recovery. Incorporation of the 5 R’s – reduction, reuse, recycling, recovery, and residual management are resolving the waste processing issues. Since 2003, more than 220 tons of old and toxic chemicals have been removed from farms, and under an Agrichemicals Collection Scheme have been safely disposed. For examples of ZeroWaste click here [link to: Zero Waste: maximises recycling, minimises residual waste, reduces consumption, ensures that products are made to be reused, repaired, recycled or composted. The ultimate goal of Zero Waste is to minimize and eventually eliminate waste.

#1 Landfill use has dropped from 327 in 1995, to 155 in 2000 and in 2006 there are 90 effectively managed landfills meeting strict environmental criteria of clay caps, waterproof linings, drainage, and landfill gas systems. Numbers are expected to decrease further through the recent introduction of National Environment Standards. There is only one steam sterilization plant – at the Auckland Airport, and incineration is no longer used. The RMA plays a key role in waste management through the administration of the resource consent process. Local authorities produce the waste management plans, and regional councils manage the effects of discharges of waste disposal. The Ministry for the Environment has replaced nearly all small unlined landfills with larger lined landfills more widely spaced making recycling a more attractive option. Successful educational campaigns about the growing waste volume issue have supported the public’s compliant use of simple alternatives such as recycling and composting. The separation of household garbage/refuse from green waste (e.g. from gardens) is encouraged. For example, Auckland City discourages green waste in its waste system. It has helped set up a privately run green waste collection system feeding a central, privately run, composting facility which sells its compost.

In addition, the Organic Waste Programme aims to reduce the amount of organic waste deposited into NZ landfills, reducing methane emissions. The goal of the Programme is to reduce the amount of commercial organic waste to landfills by 95% by 2010, bringing down the total landfill volumes by 800,000 tonnes and saving about $40 million in disposal costs each year.

#2 Examples of ZeroWaste contracts are:

  • Waste audits for businesses
  • Project management of sustainable infrastructure to prevent waste
  • Scoping study and evaluation of new technology in waste minimization
  • PR and marketing advice related to sustainable business practices
  • Biogas installation planning
  • Planning and developing sustainable housing.

In addition, the ZeroWaste NZ Trust is aiming for zero waste in 51 out of 71 authorities by 2015. In 2007, a core set of environmental indicators, including waste, was confirmed and formed the basis of a report called Environment New Zealand 2007. Learn more about ZeroWaste.

Green Energy The NZ Solar Water Heating Program promotes the use of solar energy by household with an estimated savings per household of per year, $450. The Government plans to invest $15.5M over the first three years of a five-year program to increase the use of solar heating in NZ. In 2005, hydro, geothermal and wind made up about 64% of total electricity generation. The draft NZ Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy released in 2006 has a target of installing 15,000 to 20,000 solar water heating units by 2010.

Protection of Old Growth Forests Over 80% of indigenous forests are owned by the Crown and fully protected under the Forest Amendment Act 1993, as well as a range of Acts under the RMA providing strengthened protection, management for conservation, heritage, and recreational activities. Harvesting of timber from these forests is prohibited by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and Department of Conservation except for very restricted cultural use, e.g., Maori consent may be granted for trees downed in windstorms to be milled and used for traditional carving. The remaining 17.1% are privately owned indigenous forests subject to sustainable management. Learn more here.

Indigenous forests are a key part of NZ’s environment and home to large numbers of unique wildlife, some of which are classified endangered or threatened. Exploitation for export coupled with land clearance and development policies resulted in a dramatic reduction of these forests. Largest of these trees are the kauri on the North Island, valuable for their timber and gum. Besides the kauri, remnant stands of old growth forests such as beech, rimu, taraire and tawa are scattered throughout NZ, particularly on the West Coast of the South Island.

Marine Protection In 1965 NZ’s controlled fishing 3-mile coastal limit was expanded to a 12-mile fishing zone; in 1978 they created a nautical 12-200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Equivalent to 2.2 million square kilometers. NZ’s EEZ is the fourth largest in the world. By the early 1980’s fishing pressure had reduced the size of a number of fisheries, and NZ introduced a Quota Management System for sustainable fisheries management. Each year, industry and the Ministry of Fisheries (MFish) work together to assess stock levels, and from these results yearly total allowable commercial catch for individual species are set. Although the EEZ is not directly under the RMA, the RMA has influenced the petroleum industry to follow voluntary environmental best management guidelines with the government to minimize environmental impacts of their work. The Ministry for the Environment, in consultation with other government agencies, is currently working on an Oceans Policy and Marine Protection Rule 200 to address EEZ comprehensive marine environmental management for fishing and discharges. In the meantime, MFish, and the Department of Conservation (responsible for coastal management under the RMA) jointly developed the Marine Protected Areas policy to create a network of marine protection. As part of this policy, Deepwater Fishing Industry leaders have already agreed to close 31% (1.2M of NZ’s EEZ to bottom trawling and dredging, the world’s largest EEZ marine conservation measure within a nation state’s EEZ.

Environment Court The RMA sets out the provisions for an Environment Court within the NZ Justice System. The Act also provides for penalties, including substantial fines, for breaching the law and local consents. The Court is led by a Judge, who is a specialist in environmental law, and three lay members (Commissioners) with a background in resource management, e.g. planners, engineers, Maori tikanga (practices). There are Courts based in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch while the Court will travel depending upon case locations. The Court hears cases in full. Decisions are made according to criteria and process laid out in the RMA and by precedent decisions of this Court and the higher Courts. Matters of law can only be appealed to the High Court. Case Law from all Court decisions is a central part of any submissions by legal counsel.


New Zealand is an island nation about the size of California, 965.6 km (600 miles) from another country, with many rare plants and animals evolving in isolation. Currently there are 4 million New Zealanders with 80-86% living in urban areas. The indigenous people, Maori, comprise around 15% of the population. The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 representing an agreement between representatives of the Crown and of Maori Iwi (tribes) and Hapu (subtribes) with principles of partnership, active protection, consultation, and obligations to act reasonably, honorably and in good faith. Currently, this Treaty is legally effective in NZ Courts and recognized in Acts of Parliament.

New Zealanders colloquially refer to themselves as “Kiwis,” after the country’s native bird. The terrain is predominately mountainous with large coastal plains and a temperate climate with sharp regional contrasts. Maori hunting ancestors first reached New Zealand about 1,000 years ago. Since the arrival of the Europeans in 1840, three-quarters of the original vegetation and forests have been cut or burned, causing deforestation and soil erosion. In addition, invasive species and land changes have caused a large number of flora and fauna to become endangered or extinct. These devastating changes in their environment caused New Zealanders to create a number of resource laws, leading up to green plans.

Over time the government created 59 acts of Parliament to protect their natural resources and control environmental degradation. These acts covered all resource laws separately for each resource such as land, water, air, etc., and also town and country planning. They were developed at different times with dissimilar philosophies, were completely disconnected from each other but also overlapped. This caused conflicts and confusion, which created extra costs and further environmental harm by lack of a cohesive plan. The energy crisis of the 1970’s combined with the economic crisis of the 1980’s highlighted serious flaws in the myriad of resource laws and a lack of integration across them. This led New Zealand to seek a comprehensive, integrative Green Plan strategy of environmental planning reform.

New Zealand has a unicameral system of government – one house of parliament, an advantage for streamlining reform. They recognized the tangle of regulations were pointless to try and reform; it was best to start over. The three-phase reform process involved reaching public consensus on whether there should be a law for the management of natural resources and which resources to include, options for achieving the objectives, and development of specific policies and laws. The result was a broad-based consensus and the repeal and replacement of 59 acts being brought together into one act, the Resource Management Act (RMA), adopted in 1991. At the national level this Act is their Green Plan. The RMA has a single overriding purpose of sustainable management of natural and physical resources, thereby providing for people’s social, economic, and cultural well-being, and for future generations. Read the Act’s Statement of Purpose here [RMA: Part 2, Section 5?5. Purpose (1) The purpose of this Act is to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources. (2) In this Act, “sustainable management” means managing the use, development, and protection of natural and physical resources in a way, or at a rate, which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic, and cultural wellbeing and for their health and safety while -?(a) Sustaining the potential of natural and physical resources (excluding minerals) to meet the reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations; and?(b) Safeguarding the life-supporting capacity of air, water, soil, and ecosystems; and?(c) Avoiding, remedying, or mitigating any adverse effects of activities on the environment.]

RMA’s sustainable management is accomplished by defining ecological bottom lines beyond which the nation will not go, and by internalizing social and environmental costs. Industry and Maori were crucial in the creation of the Green Plan and continue to play large roles in its implementation. In addition, environmental groups played an important role in negotiations and drafting of the RMA and in public education. The RMA is maturing as a legislative tool protecting the environment through innovative green plan strategies within the framework of a market economy and cohesive society.

Management Strategies

Government Walking the Talk to Sustainability To help central government agencies become more sustainable, the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) has developed the Govt3 Program. Forty-seven agencies have formally signed up, and there are less formal partnerships with sustainability leaders in the wider public and private sectors. Govt3 has two cross-cutting themes: sustainable procurement and energy efficiency. Joint partnership agreements between MfE and local government are essential for national environmental reporting. MfE and all 16 regional councils have signed the Environmental Information Sharing Protocol whereby MfE and councils agree to share environmental data. In addition, MfE works with hapu and iwi to develop tools that support reporting of Maori environmental values and promote Maori involvement in environmental monitoring and reporting. MfE takes an active role in promoting NZ’s renewable energy through its Projects to Reduce Emissions. MfE fully funds projects with goals of implementing the use of renewable energy sources (landfill gas, wind, hydro, biomass, geothermal and cogeneration) to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Read more [Govt3 promotes a ‘learning by sharing’ approach, and enables agencies to achieve: maximum energy efficiency, minimize greenhouse gas emissions, use of materials, the amount of waste sent to landfills, incorporate sustainability into procurement arrangements, improvements in value for money in buying practices credibility]

Mandatory Bottom Lines National Environmental Standards are mandatory bottom line regulations, known as minimum standards, which apply nationally. National standards bring greater certainty and consistency in resource management while local councils can impose stricter standards when local conditions permit. Many different sectors of the community called for bottom line regulations, including business and government. Any decisions and actions taken under the RMA are required to meet these minimum standard principles of sustainable management. The RMA is flexible in recognizing that the definitions of sustainability are not static and will change as environmental information grows. The RMA has set up a process for determining environmental quality bottom line standards, ensures they will not be contravened, and within that framework people have the freedom to make their own decisions. The opposite is true in community owned or managed resources, where activities are not allowed unless specifically permitted. This system has produced a mandatory bottom line of environmental protection.

Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) In NZ, Environmental impacts of products are considered through the use of Life Cycle Analysis. LCA is a methodology for the objective assessment of environmental impacts arising from the production, use and disposal of different products and services. LCA takes into account such impacts as global warming, ozone depletion, resource depletion, eco-toxicity and nutrient enrichment. Life Cycle Analysis shows that wood products, one of NZ’s top exports, typically have less environmental impact than competing non-wood products.

State of the Environment Reporting The Ministry for the Environment is the principal advisor reporting to the Government and the community on the health of NZ’s environment and international environmental matters. The primary purpose of state of the environment reporting is to support decision-making by providing credible and timely environmental information. It aims to provide information that can answer what is happening to the environment, why, what will happen if action is not taken now, and if response policies and actions are providing desired effects. These reports assess how well impacts on the environment are being managed but they also review policy, educate and benchmark against other countries. Local government agencies monitor and report on the state of the environment in local areas.

Public Participation The RMA developed into stakeholder-approved legislation from the ground up with government providing a massive media education approach encouraging public participation in open telephone lines. People were asked to call in their opinions on what they perceived were the resource issues. This public participation continued through a series of issue-specific working parties including members of various stakeholder groups from around the nation engaged in writing, discussions and debates focused on needed environmental legislative changes. An integrated core group of public service and private sector citizens provided a channel for working parties to submit their ideas for synthesis. Government workers then went around the country holding community meetings to answer questions and support further education and public participation. Since the early 1990’s, industry, central and local governments, and environmental organizations have created a number of successful multi-party approaches to sustainability by gaining the interest of the public through educational collaborative campaigns and programs across participating sectors.

Simply Sustainable National Environmental Standards not only protect people, they also secure a consistent approach and decision-making process throughout the whole country, creating a level playing field. Every New Zealander expects and deserves a clean, healthy environment for themselves and future generations. In 2004 fourteen standards were introduced for prevention of toxic emissions and the protection of air quality. There are currently proposed national standards for clean up of contaminated lands, application of treated biosolids to land as fertilizing and soil conditioners, and proposed standards human drinking water sources. These National Environmental Standards are regulations under the RMA, and apply nationally. Each regional, city or district council must enforce the same standard, and in some circumstances councils can impose stricter standards. In 2007, the NZ Government pledged to set aside $800 million of its budget for investment in wide-ranging programs to improve the state of the environment.

Science On Tap Rather than On Top Scientists have the technical expertise to advise, but unless elected or appointed to do so, they do not have the mandate to make moral and political judgments on behalf of society. The role of science in policy making is not without controversy in NZ. The perceptions of key sectors and stakeholders about science, its validity and conclusiveness are key factors that influence trust. Over-emphasis on science as a basis for making decisions may undermine other important considerations such as issues of equity, culture and traditions, and community values. Equally, under-emphasizing the role of science may result in ineffective policies and uncertain outcomes because of the lack of supporting evidence and methods to measure and assess effectiveness.

Measuring Success

Population Stabilization As of July 2007 NZ has a population of 4,240,184, most of whom are of British origin with 15% of Maori descent, and another 6.5% Pacific Islanders. During the late 1870s, natural increase permanently replaced immigration as the chief contributor to population growth and accounted for more than 75% of population growth in the 20th century. Immigration is currently held to 45,000 per year, with a growth rate of 0.91%. It is estimated that the NZ population will peak in 2015 at around 5.5 million people.

Freshwater Quality Management In 2003 the government identified the quality and allocation of freshwater as one of its three main sustainability issues. Since then, the government has established a strategic and nationally consistent approach to valuable freshwater resource management under a Sustainable Water Programme of Action coordinated by the Ministers for the Environment and Agriculture and Forestry. They have the support of local government, businesses, Maori, environmental groups and the public after a series of community consultation meetings around the country in 2005 with comprehensive feedback on a broad range of perspectives. Councils will continue to be the primary managers of freshwater under the RMA. The strategy focuses on three national outcomes for freshwater: improve the quality and efficient use of freshwater by building and enhancing partnerships across the board, improve management of the effects of land use on water quality, and provide for growing demands on water resources while encouraging efficient water management.

Modern Forest Plantation Industry NZ is one of the few countries in the world that can say 98% of its commercial wood needs are met from sustainable, renewable and alternative sources by managed plantation forests. Since the 1920’s, plantation forestry, primarily Pinus Radiata (a fast growing variation of the Monterey Pine), has taken the place of the exploitation of native forests and now covers more than 18,, accounting for 7% of the total land mass. These forests are capable of meeting almost all of NZ’s current and future timber requirements. The small amount of native timber cut is almost solely used in high quality cabinet making and veneer industries. Due to the unique geology in NZ, soils are in a constant young fertile state and single crop depletion of nutrients is not an issue. In 2004, the forestry industry contributed 3.1% of gross domestic product (GDP) and directly employed approximately 23,000 people. Indirect employment created by forestry and wood processing is estimated to account for a further 100,000 jobs. Today, NZ plantation wood is the third largest export revenue, amongst the top 20 global suppliers, and anticipated to be one of the top five by 2025.

Worldwide Dairy Exports As the second leading export industry in NZ, dairy farmers are on the leading edge of farming methods and practices. An industry-driven initiative, “The Strategic Framework for Dairy Farming’s Future,” was adopted in 2004 to set high level goals through strategic on-farm research, development and education with a 10-year time horizon to 2014. Its targets ensure NZ dairy farming achieves a world leadership position in pastoral agricultural environmental sustainability.

The Framework helps further the RMA’s goald of sustainability and good farm management practices, with industry accepting responsibility to achieve and maintain acceptable standards of soil, water, and air quality. The Framework provides for informal feedback, formal review, progress reports, and consultation with dairy farmers to achieve the vision of the “world’s best in dairying.”

Today’s practices have their roots in the 1987 removal of government farm subsidies, which forced efficiencies on farmers. Afterward, a clear majority of farmers voted ‘yes’ to the Commodity Levies Act of 1990 to raise a levy from all dairy farmers. This Act provides a mechanism to fund beneficial activities to all dairy farmers, and to secure and enhance profitable and sustainable farming into the future through good industry activities with fairness, transparency and accountability.

Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF) The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry developed SFF to support rural communities of land-based productive sectors in achieving economic, environmental, and social sustainability. SFF aims to help land based sectors solve problems and take opportunities to overcome barriers to economic, social and environmental viability. It does this by bringing together “communities of interest,” groups of people drawn together by a shared problem and/or opportunity in the sustainable use of resources. SFF focuses on projects that are practical, economically sound, and improve environmental performance. SFF has a philosophy of sharing the results and benefits of the projects as widely as possible across New Zealand’s rural communities. Learn more here.

Reduction in Packaging Waste The packaging industry is the leader in waste reduction. The NZ Packaging Accord of 2004 has been developed in accordance with the 2002 NZ National Waste Strategy and represents a voluntary commitment of over 200 industrial organizations to reduce packaging waste. The aim is to improve packaging efficiency at all stages with a key principle being the “extended producer responsibility.” This commits the originator of packaging to take more responsibility for its lifecycle from initial need, design and production to eventual recycling or disposal. Sector action plans include national targets for 2008 with recovery by weight of 65% aluminum, 55% glass, 70% paper, 43% steel, and 23% plastic. Annual reporting is available to the public for transparency during the accord’s five-year plan.

Permanent Forest Sinks The Permanent Forest Sink Initiative (PFSI) is subject to the RMA and provides an opportunity for landowners to establish permanent forest sinks and obtain tradable Kyoto Protocol compliant emission units in proportion to the carbon sequestered in their forests. To be eligible for this initiative the land must not have been covered in forest before 1990, and the forest must be “direct human induced through planting, seeding and/or the human-induced promotion of natural seed sources.” This means some form of active management is required in establishing the forest; marginal land use areas are most often used as forest sinks. Limited harvesting that leaves a continuous canopy cover of at least 80% was established under this initiative are allowed after a period of 35 years. The PFSI applies to both exotic and indigenous tree species, and is administered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s Indigenous Forestry Unit.

Marine Conservation Strategy South Island’s Fiordland is an important economic area with over 300,000 tourists yearly. Protection of this globally unique marine environment has been accomplished through a new local management regime. The Fiordland Marine Guardians Advisory Committee is a diverse group of knowledgeable locals including fishermen, businessmen, scientists, the Nagai Tahu (the local Maori tribe), and environmentalists. They have been appointed to act as advocates for 9,000, covering most of Fiordland’s marine ecosystem, and 370 of inner sounds and fiords. The diligent efforts of the Fiordland Guardians have resulted in a new strategy based on one integrated program for conservation, biosecurity, fisheries management rules, and coastal management and monitoring. The program continues to evolve with new extensions both for the program and its legislation. In addition, Other NZ marine reserves, the equivalent of undersea national parks protected by the Department of Conservation, are proving that protection from human pressures creates significant improvements in sea flora and fauna abundance. Learn more here.

Vibrant Environmental NGO Sector Non-government organizations participate with the government on local and regional levels through participation in policy formulation processes, particularly under the RMA, from consultation to submissions on draft plans and appeals to the Environment Court on final plans. They also engage with the government at the national level through lobbying political parties for better environmental policies. Their research and advocacy work often leads to changes in policy and government spending. NGOs perform their work against tremendous odds, not on a level playing field, with little or no resources other than their volunteer efforts. Funding has improved somewhat in the last few years with the Ministry for the Environment providing funding for particular campaigns and activities, and a Sustainable Management Fund for cash grants.

Greenhouse Gas Abatement An emission reduction agreement (ERA) is defined as a commitment with the government for a firm or sector to manage its emissions or meet specified targets over a defined period. New Zealand has implemented voluntary emission reduction agreements since 1994. Negotiated Greenhouse Agreements (NGA) were a commitment program forming the basis of rebates or exemptions for competitiveness-at-risk (CAR) firms. The Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme (GGAS) is an abatement-focused emissions-trading scheme requiring retailers, buyers and sellers of electricity to offset a portion of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their energy use. GGAS’s main objectives are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage development of new strategies for generating electricity. NZ is the world leader in methods to reduce methane emissions from ruminant animals through its Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium.

Agroforestry As a further extension of plantation forestry, agroforestry is now an established practice in New Zealand. Since 1990, more than 6,500 of land have been planted with trees for the first time, mostly on pasture and mostly by small-scale growers. ‘Agroforestry’ can be defined as agriculture and forestry working in close association. The planting of trees on farms can be considered agroforestry, even if livestock is not grazed under the trees. Radiata pine is also the preferred species for this kind of planting but there is an interest in Douglas fir, cypresses and eucalypts. The objective of agroforestry is to increase the total productivity and profit from the land, and to meet many non-economic goals such as erosion control, weed suppression, livestock welfare, and aesthetic enhancement. There are three main kinds of agroforestry in New Zealand:

  • Farm-based – trees planted on existing farms
  • Forest-based – animals grazing in existing forests
  • Timberbelts – shelterbelts on farms managed for high quality timber.


Threatened Biodiversity The two islands that form NZ have been isolated from other land masses for about 80 million years during which many endemic species of birds, plants, fish, insects, and other species have evolved. In fact, around 90% of NZ insects and marine mollusks, 80% of trees, ferns, and flowering plants, 25% of bird species, all 60 reptiles, 4 remaining frogs, and 2 species of bat are found nowhere else on earth. This uniqueness means the responsibility for its continued existence is entirely up to New Zealanders; it cannot be conserved in nature anywhere else.

Included in New Zealand’s indigeneous biodiversity are kiwi (national bird), tui (type of wattle bird), inanga (whitebait fish), tusked weta (similar to a large grasshopper), and ti kouka (cabbage tree). In January 2007 the Department of Conservation released updated figures on the number of threatened species, which had risen by over 400 species since 2002.

Farming, forestry, and horticulture also depend on protection and management of biological systems. These industries are based on introduced species such as sheep, cattle, and apples. Maintaining genetic diversity of both indigenous and introduced species and protecting them from pests, weeds and diseases is an ongoing task requiring continual monitoring, technology development, and cooperation. The Threatened Species Trust Programme is a partnership between the Department of Conservation, Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, NZ Conservation Authority and corporate sponsors. The Trust Programme was set up in 1990 to attract financial sponsorship to support recovery programs, habitat management and research directed towards NZ’s threatened native plants and animals. NZ has produced a Biodiversity Strategy, but there is no formal implementation approach other than that of the DoC and the RMA.

Read more on biodiversity here [When humans arrived around 1000 years ago, the impact on indigenous species was profound. Many became extinct and around 1000 more continue to be threatened by the destruction of habitats, animal pests and invasive weeds. The first casualties were NZ’s larger bird species, including all 11 species of the moa, a large flightless bird. By around 1600 up to a third of the forest habitat had been burned and replaced by grasslands. Hunting and loss of habitat took care of another 23 land-based native bird species, including the giant Haast’s eagle. The arrival of Europeans and their animals in increasing numbers from the middle of last century saw another third of NZ’s forests converted to farmland and the extensive drainage of wetland habitats.

The goal is to conserve the natural habitats and ecosystems that remain (or at least a full range of examples of them) and representative populations of all their native species. NZ boasts world leadership in bringing species back from the brink and the Department of Conservation is increasingly working with private landowners and local iwi (tribes) to protect biodiversity. The DoC has developed and is continuing to develop species recovery plans for many threatened species. These publications set 5-10 year goals and actions for saving threatened species.]

Soil Erosion The soils of NZ are constantly eroding due to a very wet climate and accelerated action from tectonic uplift of colliding continental plates. In addition, there have been stages of glaciation and large volcanic eruptions with natural cyclic events of colder climates and different sea levels affecting soils. As a result, geology is in a fine balance in NZ between what is natural and unavoidable, and what is controllable. High rainfall results in flooding inhibiting soil buildup and causing soils to remain in a very young, fertile state, high in organic matter and mixed with volcanic ash. Human influence has accelerated the erosion, including deforestation and introduction of grazing animals.

Soil erosion from farmland has the two-fold effect – loss of a precious resource and sedimentation of waterways. Typically, loss is higher in sheep and beef farming due to steeper slopes farmed and the propensity for erosion. To combat this degeneration, the Department of Conservation is targeting the most susceptible lands to go back to trees through ecosystem restoration projects. Other programs address pest, weed, and predator control, and mainland island management. There is also a focus in District Plans to protect Significant Natural Areas (SNAs), and supported by DoC. Protective management areas are restricted by the RMA to provide for regeneration of scrub and special requirements are necessary for consent of vegetation clearance in these areas. DoC works in partnership with associates and communities for conservation on private land initiatives. Land conservation is a Regional Council responsibility under the RMA.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions NZ is unusual amongst developed nations in the amount of its greenhouse gas emissions that come from agriculture. Nearly half NZ’s total emissions are produced by agriculture, predominantly methane from farm animals and nitrous oxide from soils and fertilizers. According to estimates in NZ’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990-2005, these agricultural emissions are 15% above 1990 levels. However, principal growth in their emissions comes from increased carbon dioxide (CO2), primarily from the energy sector, which has grown by almost 43% relative to its emissions in 1990 – most of the increase is from transport and electricity generation. About 2/3 of NZ’s electricity production comes from hydropower stations, but with an increasing proportion of fossil fuel electricity generation, initially from Maui gas and increasingly from coal. This means that electricity sector emissions are growing at a rapid rate.

Transport emissions are expected to increase by 35% over the next 25 years with present policies and attitudes. Industry itself can play a leading role in promoting and using sustainable practices such as eco-efficiency and extended producer responsibility. The Ministry for the Environment has a major program focused on encouraging sustainable industry. Through voluntary agreements government is working with industry to reduce environmental impacts. NZ does not have an emission control requirement for vehicles, although in 2006 it introduced a visual “black smoke from exhaust” test by registered garage mechanics as part of the bi-annual vehicle exams required in order to obtain Warrant of Fitness stickers for windshields. Other measures designed to combat high carbon dioxide emissions include designing policies shifting towards a price on emissions, cleaner vehicles and fuels and an increased public pressure on high volume emitters.

Deforestation When Europeans arrived 150 years ago, one third of original forest cover had been decimated by the Maori. Today, another one third of natural forests are gone, with 70,000 of forests remaining. By the late 19th century urbanization became the chief cause of deforestation. From 1919 to 1987 the primary objective of the NZ Forestry Service was to produce and profitably market forestry products while taking into consideration environmental management and planting. Recognizing conflicts between these objectives, in 1987 a restructuring resulted in the Ministry of Forestry, responsible for planted forests, and the Department of Conservation responsible for indigenous forests as part of the Conservation Estate. As of 1991, all activities related to land use must comply with the RMA, and are applied to specific land use activities handled on a regional basis through District Councils. Effects like sedimentation and water quality issues are the responsibility of Regional Councils. Following the RMA, The Forests Act of 1949, was amended in 1993 bringing an end to unsustainable harvesting and clearcutting of indigenous forests. Today 63,000 of native forest account for 23% of total land use in NZ, in comparison, plantation forests account for 7% of total land use. Aside from the threat of fire, the biggest challenges existing for indigenous forests now are introduced insects, animals, and weeds.

Aquaculture Industry Reform/Restrictions In late 2004 the Aquaculture Reform Act (ARA) passed in response to the rapid expansion of marine farming. It creates a single process for aquaculture planning and consents through the RMA – every farmer now holds a resource consent for his or her farm. The ARA provides a final settlement of Maori aquaculture interests without risk of further treaty grievances and changed the ‘first come, first served’ basis for allocating aquaculture coastal space to introduction of a new regime for managing environmental effects of aquaculture.

Energy Supply NZ has enjoyed some of the lowest power prices in the developed world with a current energy breakdown of approximately 60% hydro, 24% natural gas, 7% coal, 6% geothermal, 2% wind and 1% biomass. However, the huge Maui natural gas field off the coast of Taranaki is expected to be all but exhausted by 2010. With New Zealand’s economy growing and an increasing demand for power supply, the nation’s semi-private electricity industry must come to new decisions now, such as greater efficiency and a diversification of power sources with new base capacity closer to the North Island demand. Otherwise, they may be unable to avoid an energy supply “gap” that could disrupt their economy and way of life. In the meantime, NZ’s total annual energy supply is projected to grow at 1.1% per year between 2000 and 2025. NZ now has an Electricity Commission that oversees the semi-privatized electricity industry. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) is a crown entity reporting to the Ministry of Energy and the main body responsible for helping to deliver the Government’s extensive energy efficiency agenda. So far, NZ has seen only very modest improvements in energy efficiency. Although renewable energy sources are growing at a rate to achieve the national renewable energy target for 2012, overall demand for energy keeps increasing, so the percentage coming from renewable sources is actually decreasing, mainly due to the rapid increase in the use of transport fuels. Another challenge to implementing renewable energy resources is the aesthetics of their appearance.

Water Contamination There is strong evidence that surface runoff, groundwater aqueducts, rivers, and lakes are becoming nutrient enriched and degraded from nitrogen, animal fecal matter, and eroded sedimentation. The most significant legislation for managing impacts of farming on the environment is the RMA, with regional councils setting the context for development and providing framework for district plans. A recent regulatory trend in the farming sector is that large producer groups owned, controlled, and directed by shareholding farmers are playing an influential role through industry certification and standards programs, industry targets, supply contracts, and levies for services or research. In the short-term, across-the-board nutrient management plans and tools are needed to balance nutrient inputs with outputs causing environmental damage. The current government Water Programme for Action is beginning to address non-point source pollution of freshwater, while the Sustainable Farming Fund is offering government grants toward solving land sector based problems supporting more ecologically and economically efficient farming systems.

Invasive Species While ongoing habitat loss is a serious problem, the biggest threat now is from introduced weeds and animal pests. The most damaging animal pests include possums (around 70 million), stoats, feral cats, rats, deer, and goats. The Department of Conservation wages an ongoing battle to keep pest numbers under control. There is a new program for exterminating the Australian possum from Conservation lands.

An increase in active conservation management and changes in attitude to the natural environment over the past two decades appear to be slowing the rate of decline. Widespread clearance of native vegetation on private land and the reclamation of estuaries has stopped. Breakthroughs in threatened species management, including better pest control, extending protected areas on land and sea and restoring offshore island sanctuaries have had an impressive effect. The decline of some species has been halted.

Scientific Foundation

Science Behind the Policies The Ministry of Research, Science and Technology (MoRST) is recognized as the primary adviser to the Government on policy that relates to research and innovation. They are involved in structuring and increasing the level of research and development in NZ, and commercializing the results of research. In addition, their role is to be certain social science research supports the needs of social policy development and that environmental research addresses the important environmental issues. They provide the government with scientific advice about current and emerging issues that challenge existing public policy. MoRST helps promote the development of policies based on sound science across different areas of government, and address environmental issues through an overall sustainable research approach. The Ministry gives scientific and technical advice on how to better integrate the different parts of the research and innovation system, including strengthening the connections between research and the entrepreneurs and businesses turning research into economic value. MoRST contracts other agencies to manage the funding of projects carried out by research organizations, and encourages other departments to take responsibility for research needed to underpin their statutory or operational functions. Read more []

Planning Under Co-operative Mandates (PUCM) provides valuable information on environmental, social, cultural, and economic outcomes under the devolved and cooperative system of planning of the RMA and Local Government Act (LGA) and includes long-term community plans under the LGA. Learn more here.

Connecting Science with Environmental Policy A ‘missing link’ between science, policy-making and public interest is being strengthened by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE). This issue is being addressed in an ongoing effort to increase solutions to environmental issues and meet the sustainable development of society’s needs. Today’s complex environmental issues require scientific research with long-term time frames, and must be more open to exploring the social dimensions of the issues. In addition, for scientific information to be effective in influencing environmental policy, it must be credible, salient and legitimate. The PCE is in the process of making recommendations for development of strategic, long-term, formal alliances with science providers to include scientific input through all policy cycles – from problem identification to monitoring and evaluation of policy outcomes.

World Class Science Enterprises The Association of Crown Research Institutes, Inc. (ACRI) is a national voluntary organization for CRIs – a group of nine science research institutes owned by the Crown, the NZ government. They were formed in 1992, from previous government-owned research bodies and incorporate sustainability into their scientific methods. The CRIs are some of NZ’s most significant commercial users of science and technology, creating economic, environmental and social wealth through science and its application in NZ and around the world. The CRIs undertake blue-sky and applied science and technology research and development, in many instances from the idea through to the commercial outcome. Their clients include central and local government and private sector markets in NZ and abroad.

Biosecurity The lead agency in NZ’s biosecurity system is Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) Biosecurity NZ. Science is of crucial importance to biosecurity through its input to managing risks, uncertainties, and ultimately the effectiveness of decisions. Although not directly based on RMA purpose and management, MAF incorporates sustainability principles into its overall purpose and objectives. The role of biosecurity, under the Division of the MAF, is to prevent importation of pests and diseases, and to control, manage, or eradicate them, or their damage, should they arrive. Biosecurity safeguards NZ’s economy and environmental assets, health, plants and animals, and Maori taonga. This delicate balancing act requires sound judgment, expert science, compliance with international obligations, community engagement and coordinated actions with many other agencies and partners.

Carrying Capacity An objective of NZ is to sustain the quality of the environment, and exceeding it leads to consequential, sometimes irreversible effects in all areas. The NZ government has agreed that sustainable development principles should underpin its economic, social and environmental policies at home and abroad. Applicants in the resource consent process must prepare a comprehensive Assessment of Environment Effects (AEE) in which carrying capacity may be taken into consideration.

Ecological Footprint New Zealand aims to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. One measure that can be used as an indicator of sustainability is ecological footprinting. An ecological footprint measures how much land is required to supply a particular country, region, city, business or individual with its living and lifestyle needs – that is food, housing, energy/fuel, transport, and consumer goods and services. A popular New Zealand television show Wa$ted has brought popular understand of the issue and inspired similar programs in different countries. Learn more here.

Cooperation The Ministry of Economic Development (MED) and government share a common overarching economic goal to ensure an innovative, sustainable income growth economy for the benefit of all. MED applies a growth focus to all their work and assists the Government in developing and implementing policies and services that promote sustainable economic growth. Through joint sustainability research, the government and MED provide input into National Policy Statements and Environmental Standards and Amendments to the RMA. MED encourages all government agencies to maintain a focus on income growth, and seeks to ensure that policies aimed at achieving non-economic objectives assist – or at least do not detract from – efforts to improve income growth. Conversely, they collaborate and consult with other agencies to ensure that their work assists in the pursuit of other economic, social and environmental outcomes.

Partnerships in Regional Development NZ Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) is the government’s national economic development agency. Through a network of offices worldwide, NZTE meets RMA compliance regulations while aiming to enhance NZ’s economy by boosting the capability of businesses and regions, and facilitating their sustained and profitable participation in overseas markets. They provide promotional activities following RMA guidelines and perform policy implementation. Under NZTE, The Regional Partnership Programme gives regions guidance and funding to develop and activate sustainable economic growth strategies. Businesses apply as a group of partners committed to strategic planning in their region and must include all major private and public sector groups in the region who will be involved in the proposal, or affected by it. Typically this includes groups such as business representatives, local government, iwi, economic development agencies, community organizations, and educational institutions.

Economic Transformation Over the past 20 years the government has transformed NZ from an economy of farming and agriculture dependent on concessionary British market access to a more free market economy based on forestry and industry that competes globally. The RMA provides a more innovative approach to development by being effects based rather than activity based. Consents under the RMA are often required before the start of construction and operation of a new industry to avoid, remedy, or mitigate its effects to minimize impact on the environment. NZ’s national economic development agency, NZTE provides advice to make the process time and cost-efficient. As part of the government’s transformation platform, a taskforce of wide-ranging review has been created to address business concerns and adjust its structure or framework as needed. This economic transformation approach has resulted in dynamic growth, broadened technological capabilities of the industrial sector, and contains inflationary pressures.

Strong Economic Fundamentals NZ has completed more than a decade of economic restructuring, resulting in economic efficiency and a stable economy well geared for long-term international competitiveness. The privatization of utilities and state services like postage and rail services has created one of the world’s most efficient, competition-friendly economies. A free and independent press ensures corporate and government decision-making is transparent and fair. This openness and competitiveness extends to international companies doing business in NZ; the country ranks third in the world in ease of cross-border transactions, according to the World Competitiveness Yearbook, 2005. The NZ government is proactive in providing an environment that enables international investors to relocate, and/or collaborate with New Zealand companies.

The Native Peoples and the RMA

The Resource Management Ac contains provisions involving Maori rights and adherence to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. All local plans are charged with recognizing Maori interests as matters of national importance, including the relationship of Maori culture and traditions with ancestral sites [section 6(e)]; and local Maori responsibility for guardianship and stewardship of land and resources [section 7 (a)]. Planners and local councils must consult with the native tangata whenua, “People of the Land,” as plans are being made or changed. The success of this has been spotty until recently, as with other provisions of the RMA, because the act itself was difficult for many local councils to understand, and left much to their discretion without necessary training in the different laws and agreements.

A series of court cases related to Maori rights and their rights to develop their resources under the Treaty has been ongoing since the mid-1980s. Maori groups currently oppose stringent laws the government has implemented with respect to cutting down forests, saying there are better ways some of the forests could be utilized. Maori groups have claims on 40%-45% of New Zealand’s forests. According to some of their representatives, groups will seek an exemption from charges on cutting down the trees. There is a need for greater Treaty-partner solutions to deforestation, as well as environmental protection in a broader scope.

Read more in “Planning for Sustainability” New Zealand under the RMA,” by Ericksen, Berke, Crawford, and Dixon, international edition, Ashgate Publishing Company, Burlington, Vermont.

Beyond the Borders

Sharing the Waste Cycle A cooperative sustainable waste cycle support system has developed in the South Pacific between island nations. Disposal of many recyclables such as plastics and metal come to NZ from the islands. Some specialist chemical wastes, primarily old agricultural chemicals, are forwarded to Australia where they are broken down and components reused because NZ does not have the technology or facilities to process them. Likewise, fluorescent tubes are broken down and crushed parts sent on to Australia where all parts are reused. The Pacific Island nations of Tonga, Samoa, and the Cook Islands forward portions of their waste to NZ where the treatment process is completed.

Biosecurity – Border Management NZ’s terrestrial and marine ecosystems evolved in isolation, and in the absence of many predators, competitors and diseases, produced a unique floral and faunal biodiversity. However, with growing human density and international mobility it is becoming increasingly difficult to protect them, with exotic invasive insects, vertebrates, fish, and algae threatening NZ’s unique biodiversity. The main legislation used to achieve biosecurity objectives is the RMA and the Fisheries Act. Action plans have been devised through identification, assessment, and prioritization of risks, with the greatest efforts directed towards pre-border and border control of incoming airplanes and ships. NZ is establishing a world-first surveillance program as part of marine biosecurity in conjunction with a public surveillance network and marine invaders hotline. The Ministry of Fisheries is working with the International Maritime Organization in London towards international regulations for ballast water and hull fouling. The ultimate international solution for marine biosecurity would be a code of practice followed by ships around the world. This code includes having hulls cleaned before leaving for another country, and a requirement of ballast treatment systems that don’t require the uptake and discharge of ballast.

Climate Change NZ signed the Kyoto Protocol to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of climate change. Emission limitations and reduction targets apply only to the “first commitment period” 2008 to 2012. NZ will have to negotiate rules and targets that are fair and protect national interests and competitiveness while meeting their commitment to the Protocol. NZ implemented its Montreal Protocol obligations through the Ozone Layer Protection Act of 1996, and has created a program for phasing out ozone depleting substances by 2015.

There are a number of policies already in existence that will support the Government’s climate change objectives, including the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy to promote energy efficiency, energy conservation and renewable energy. The strategy’s overall plan is to improve New Zealand’s energy efficiency by at least 20% by 2012.?The New Zealand Transport Strategy which defines the Government’s vision of an affordable, integrated, safe, responsive and sustainable transport system by 2010.?The New Zealand Waste Strategy setting a new direction for minimizing the country’s waste and for improving its recovery and management. It sets out a practical program of large and small actions for the medium term, as well as some far-reaching, longer-term commitments. The Growth and Innovation Framework, designed to focus the Government and business on an innovative, knowledge-driven approach to business development, will help to prepare New Zealand businesses to operate in a global market where greenhouse gas emissions have a cost and where world markets will increasingly demand new solutions, innovation and technologies to address emissions

The RMA (Climate Protection) Amendment Bill, introduced into the House in March 2006, requires councils to consider climate change in district plans. The Maori Party supports the Bill and calls upon the House to honor the history and expertise of local Maori weather watchers in developing strategies to achieve change. A number of Foundation Policies are in effect; however, the tools necessary to assist local councils in their district plans are not yet in place. Central and regional government leadership, collaboration, guidance, and information sharing are essential for local governments to develop long-term community plans. Climate change programs and policy are led by the NZ Climate Change Office within the Ministry for the Environment; read more here.

The NZ Climate Change Office is responsible for leading the development, coordination and implementation of whole-of-government climate change policy. After a fundamental review of core objectives and policy approach, completed in 2005, additional policy responses and advice on long-term options are being considered. Ministry’s NZ Climate Change Office successfully launched a public awareness campaign on 28 December 2003. The campaign’s goal is to improve New Zealanders’ understanding of environmental issues relating to climate change through education of the issues and to bring about changes in behaviors to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To support the public’s understanding, an interactive campaign website has been established, and the Ministry of the Environment went on the road providing community meetings covering sixteen regions.

New technologies will play a key role in identifying and managing issues around sustainable development. In 2007, the NZ Government invested $28 M to allow more research into climate change and ways to make New Zealanders’ primary sector more productive and sustainable.

GMO Precautions NZ GM is controlled under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (HSNO). The nation’s policy on the use of GMOs is based on a cautious, case-by-case assessment of each application, with opportunities for public submissions and a rigorous assessment process by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA). Currently, no GM crops are grown commercially; no GM fruits, vegetables, or meats are sold; and processed foods can contain GM ingredients. Since 2002, accurate labeling of processed foods with over 1% GM ingredients is required. The debate on the benefits and safety continues worldwide, and GM food crops appear to have little, if any, market acceptability in NZ. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) is responsible for enforcing the HSNO Act and has power under the HSNO and Biosecurity Acts to hold seeds at the border unless they have been tested and approved. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, developed under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, entered into force in NZ in 2005.

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