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This chapter explains the purpose of the environment domain plan and the process undertaken to develop it. It begins with why the environment is important to New Zealand.

The importance of our environment

New Zealand’s economic activity is largely based on its natural environment.

In 2012, 70 percent of the NZ$46 billion of all goods exported were primary products (Statistics NZ, 2013). This proportion includes milk powder, butter, and cheese (25 percent), meat (11 percent), logs and wood (7 percent). Another NZ$9.6 billion of export earnings came from international tourism – the main attraction for visitors being New Zealand’s natural environment. Seafood exports consistently rank as New Zealand’s fourth or fifth largest export earner. Our seafood industry sustainably harvests about $1.2 to $1.5 billion each year worth of fish, of which the aquaculture industry contributes about $200 million per year (Statistics NZ, 2013; Ministry for Primary Industries, 2013).

Our environment is also important from social and cultural points of view. For example, New Zealanders highly value our rivers, lakes, beaches, and forests. Throughout the country there are mountains, rivers, lakes, and other sites that are of great importance to Māori.

In this domain plan, we look at the statistical information currently available and determine whether they answer the big questions about the information on the state of our environment.

What is a domain plan?

The primary purpose of a domain plan is to:

  • achieve clarity and agreement about the main statistical priorities required to support that domain, and the strategy required to deliver on these priorities over the next five to eight years
  • advance the integration and coordination of resources, technology and thinking within that domain and across the New Zealand Official Statistics System.

Statistics NZ has developed a number of domain plans over the years. Two recent ones with strong links to the environment domain plan are Agriculture, horticulture, and forestry domain plan 2009 and Domain plan for energy sector 2006–2016.

The energy domain plan is a good example of what a domain plan can achieve. It proposed some future development initiatives, one of which was on measuring energy end-use. This led to the formation of the New Zealand Energy Use Survey, which is currently produced by Statistics NZ.

Purpose of the environment domain plan

The objective of the environment domain plan is to develop a shared understanding of the strengths, gaps, overlaps, and deficiencies within environmental statistics. It aims to develop agreement between major users and data custodians on the prioritised initiatives needed to address these needs. The primary purpose of this report is to present these initiatives.

These initiatives will provide some clear guidance about our needs in the gathering and using of environmental information. Unlike Tier 1 statistics, where there are agreed obligations and timeframes for delivery of the statistics, the environment domain plan initiatives are aspirational.

Process for developing this domain plan

The first part of the development process was to engage with subject experts from central and local government and Crown research institutes, and with Māori stakeholders and other key experts to seek the enduring questions across the 10 topic areas (atmosphere, climate change, coastal and marine environment, ecosystems and biodiversity, energy, freshwater, land, Māori environmental statistics, materials and waste, and mineral resources; see appendix 5 for a list of the participants in the environment domain plan process). We sought advice to define the enduring questions New Zealanders would like to ask about our environment, with particular focus on the questions relating to Māori environmental statistics. To provide a more detailed focus, supplementary enduring questions were developed under these broad enduring questions.

The next step was to look at the official data that addresses those questions. An analysis was undertaken to look at the strengths, gaps, overlaps, and deficiencies of these datasets. Finally, 10 stakeholder workshops were conducted to develop the initiatives that will address the issues identified by that analysis (see appendix 2 for more detail on these processes).

The process to develop the domain plan had four steps:

  1. develop the enduring questions and the supplementary enduring questions
  2. compile a stocktake of official data currently available
  3. analyse the stocktake with respect to the questions
  4. run 10 topic area workshops to identify and prioritise initiatives.

The domain plan was split into 10 topic areas to make the scope of each of the topics achievable. However, this created artificial boundaries. For example, issues identified in the freshwater topic almost certainly would produce issues to be dealt with in the land topic. Where possible, an issue was dealt with as it arose.

Similarly, the scope of the environment domain plan was limited primarily to biophysical information issues, with a lesser focus on economic, social, and cultural dimensions. Again, this was an artificial boundary, and often issues around the other three components were discussed, particularly around water and with Māori environmental information needs

Enduring questions

The enduring questions were developed for each of the 10 topic areas in consultation with experts from across government, Crown research institutes, and Māori. For each area a principal enduring question (or questions) was developed as well as a set of around six supplementary enduring questions. The principal questions are broad in nature, and are likely to still be relevant in 10–20 years. The supplementary enduring questions focus on the detail of specific issues, but in many cases are still very broad questions. The principal and supplementary enduring questions were published on 22 August 2012 as part of the Stocktake for the environment domain plan 2012 and are replicated in this plan.

Each topic includes a Māori-themed question. Additionally, there is a Māori environmental statistics topic. The scope of this topic was purposely broader than the other nine topics to include the cultural aspects of the environment from a Māori perspective.

Official data stocktake

Stocktake for the environment domain plan 2012 provides an overview of the environmental statistics and data currently available in 10 environmental topic areas. It is a collection of metadata for the datasets that inform the enduring questions.

Keeping to the domain plan's scope, the stocktake is limited to official statistics produced within New Zealand's Official Statistics System, statistics produced by Crown research institutes (CRIs), and the data used to compile these statistics.

The stocktake was compiled with the cooperation of many data custodians, including government agencies and CRIs.

The focus of the environment domain plan is on national statistics, so regional statistics are out of scope. For example, a database of water quality records from across New Zealand is included, but a database of water quality records for just the Central Otago region is not. In practice, national statistics may be consolidated from regional data and the process of compilation should consider standardisation of methods and practices across regions.

Research reports, previously compiled stocktakes, lists of databases or metadata in any storage formats, and planned or incomplete work, are out of scope for this stocktake.

The stocktake also primarily focuses on data that is actively maintained, to promote ongoing time series of environmental statistics.

Gap analysis

To assess the strengths, gaps, overlaps, and deficiencies of the data in the stocktake experts analysed each of the datasets. This was to reveal the differences between what we know against what we want to know.

The gap analysis process asked subject experts to assess, for each of the supplementary enduring questions and for each of the datasets, ‘How well does this dataset inform us about that question?’ Given all the datasets, an additional question was also asked, ‘How well informed is this question?’ See appendix 3 for details on this process.

10 topic workshops

Workshops with subject matter experts were held for each of the 10 topics. These workshops aimed to identify and prioritise the initiatives that will address the issues identified by the gap analysis. Over 150 initiatives were generated by this process. See appendix 4 for details on the workshop process.

The initiatives in this report are presented in the form they were developed in the workshops. There may be value in combining a number of them together and then adjusting the work under the new combined initiative.

The next steps would be to determine which agencies might lead each of the high-priority initiatives, and to work together to develop a plan of action, including time scales and costs. Possible lead agencies have already been identified for some of the initiatives. This does not imply agreement or consent by these agencies to do this work.

The initiatives are about gathering data. For those initiatives asking for governance, it is about how we would work together to gather the required data.

Before further work is undertaken on the initiatives, an assessment is needed to determine the costs to implement them and how long they would take to complete. This is part of the scoping process that will follow from here.

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