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Snapshot of the environment domain plan

New Zealand’s economic activity is largely based on its natural environment. For example, agriculture, forestry, tourism, and much of our power generation depends on the environment. Our environment is also important from social and cultural perspectives. For example, many New Zealanders highly value our rivers, lakes, beaches, forests, and mountains, and most of these are culturally and spiritually significant to Māori.

The state of our environment is therefore of great interest to many New Zealanders, who recognise the value of these resources and services to our economy and society, and are concerned about how using these resources will affect our environment (Pawson, 2012).

This domain plan looks at the statistical information currently available and determines whether this information answers the big questions about the state of our environment.


The purpose 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 the environment sectors’ statistical needs.

The primary purpose of this report is to present the initiatives that were identified in consultation with expert data gatherers and users to address our environmental information needs.

These initiatives aim to guide us on how environmental information collection and use should progress. Unlike Tier 1 statistics, where there are agreed obligations and timeframes for delivery of the statistics, the environment domain plan initiatives are aspirational.

The key challenge for us is to realise the initiatives outlined in this domain plan. The Domain plan for energy sector 2006–16 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.

The next phase of the environment domain plan will start in late 2013. This work will involve a broad range of stakeholders from the Natural Resources Sector to further scope and then act on the initiatives.

Process for developing this domain plan

This domain plan was developed by subject experts from central and local government, Crown research institutes, Māori, and other key experts from business and non-government organisations (see appendix 5 for list of participants).

There are four steps in this domain plan:

  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.

Summary of domain plan process

Enduring questions were developed for each of the 10 topic areas:

  1. atmosphere
  2. climate change
  3. coastal and marine environment
  4. ecosystems and biodiversity
  5. energy
  6. freshwater
  7. land
  8. Māori environmental statistics
  9. materials and waste
  10. mineral resources.

These questions are the ‘big picture’ questions – those you’d likely still be asking in 20 years. Sixty-one supplementary enduring questions were also formulated, which focus at a more detailed level within each topic. An initial list of questions was developed with key Crown agencies, including Crown research institutes and Māori representatives. These were then refined and shortlisted by the advisory group comprising Statistics NZ, Ministry for the Environment, Department of Conservation, Ministry for Primary Industries, local government, and a Māori representative.

The primary scope of the questions was to look at the biophysical issues while acknowledging the links with cultural, social, and economic areas.

Most of these supplementary enduring questions are broad and complex, and require significant amounts of information to answer.

In the opinion of the experts, nearly half of the enduring questions had a medium- to high-level of information relevant to answering the questions. Four of the 61 questions could be regarded as well informed. The conclusion from this is that there is a significant need for more environmental information.

The workshops helped identify over 150 initiatives to address these information needs. There were several common themes in the initiatives, namely those around governance, common reporting frameworks, centralised or federated data storing, and baseline information.

Examination of the supplementary enduring questions showed that all of them are aligned to at least one Tier 1 environmental statistic (see Tier 1 statistics). Around 40 percent of the environment domain plan initiatives are aligned with a Tier 1 statistic. This result is not surprising as Tier 1 statistics were developed before the domain plan initiatives, that is, the initiatives were often identified to support or extend the Tier 1 processes. There were common themes in the environment domain plan initiatives, such as governance and creating information portals that do not link to any particular Tier 1 statistic, but which will be useful nevertheless.

It is intended that action on the environment domain plan will primarily occur through the Natural Resources Sector (NRS) information work stream. The domain plan will provide a useful foundation for the information framework the NRS is developing in consultation with Statistics NZ. There are other actions currently under way across the NRS that will help inform these domain questions. These actions include those around Tier 1 environmental statistics, the National Land Resource Centre, freshwater information, and information for the marine regulations.

Enduring questions

Enduring questions were developed for each of the 10 topic areas.

The primary scope of the questions was to look at the biophysical issues while acknowledging links with cultural, social, and economic areas.

Each topic includes a Māori-themed question. These questions generally have a ‘Crown view’ flavour to them. The Māori environmental statistics topic captures the wider Māori view. 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.

The 10 sets of enduring questions are listed below, and are listed with the supplementary enduring questions in appendix 1. They have also been published in Stocktake for the environment domain plan 2012.


What are the levels of air pollution in New Zealand and what is the consequential impact on ecosystems and human health?

To what extent has the stratospheric ozone layer over New Zealand been depleted, and what is the consequential impact on ecosystems and human health?

Climate change

How is New Zealand's1 climate changing?
How are New Zealand’s greenhouse gas levels2 changing?
How are we adapting to the physical impact3 of climate change?
Which environments are most likely to be affected by climate change?


  1. Includes the Ross Dependency and the Chatham Islands.
  2. Refers to emissions and sinks.
  3. Includes physical impact on sea temperature, sea level, ocean currents, river flows, and winter snow cover.

Coastal and marine environment

How is the quality and use of our marine environment changing and what is the impact of human activity, including resource use, on the marine environment?

Ecosystems and biodiversity

To what extent is the native (indigenous) biodiversity of New Zealand being protected and sustained?


What is the environmental impact of New Zealand's generation, distribution, and use of energy, and to what extent are renewable options taken?


How is the quality, abundance, and use of New Zealand's freshwater changing, and what is the impact on ecosystems and humans?


What are our land cover and land use profiles, how are they changing, what is driving these changes, and what is the consequential impact on New Zealand's soils, and natural and cultural landscapes, including urban environments and conservation lands?

Māori environmental statistics

From a Māori1 perspective, why, where, and how is New Zealand's environment changing, and what impact is this having on Māori aspirations2 and well-being?3


  1. Māori includes individuals with a Māori cultural identity and ancestry (whakapapa); including Māori belonging to iwi / hapū / whānau (tribe / subtribe / family), marae, Māori organisations, urban authorities, kaitiaki (caretaking) groups, Māori landowners, Māori businesses, and Māori networks.
  2. Aspirations include, but are not limited to, desired goals, preferences, and outcomes based on cultural values.
  3. Well-being refers to, but is not limited to, cultural, spiritual, social, physical, economic, and political well-being.

Materials and waste

How do production and consumption patterns in New Zealand affect waste generation and minimisation?

Mineral resources

What are New Zealand's onshore and offshore mineral resources, and what is the environmental impact of prospecting, exploration, production, refining, processing, and transporting the resources?

Stocktake of official information on our environment

To see how much we knew about these questions, we undertook a stocktake of official information on our environment.

Stocktake for the environment domain plan 2012 provides an overview of the national-level environmental statistics and data currently available in 10 environmental topic areas. Information in the stocktake was used to help identify the strengths, gaps, overlaps, and deficiencies in current data. The stocktake was compiled with the cooperation of many data custodians, including government agencies and Crown research institutes (CRIs).

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 CRIs, and the data used to compile these statistics. The scope is also limited to statistics that can be used to build a national picture.

Gap analysis

As part of a qualitative assessment based on expert opinion, subject experts were asked, for each of the supplementary enduring questions and for each of the datasets, ‘How well does this dataset inform us about that question?’ They were also asked, overall considering all datasets, ‘How well informed is this question?’ The summary of the results of that analysis are presented below.

Table 1 summarises the analysis of how well official information (including CRI data) informs the supplementary enduring questions. See appendix 3 for details of the analysis process.

Table 1 
How well official data informs supplementary enduring questions


Supplementary enduring question(1) 

Atmosphere  Medium  Medium  Low  Medium  Medium     
Climate change  High  High  Medium  Medium  Medium     
Coastal and marine environment  Medium  Low  Low  Low  Low  Low   
Ecosystems and biodiversity  Medium  Medium  Low  Medium  Low  Low  Low 
Energy  Medium  Low  Low  Medium  Low  Low   
Freshwater  Medium  Medium  Low  Medium  Low  Low   
Land  High  High  Low  Medium  Medium  Medium  Low 
Māori environmental statistics  Low  Medium  Low  Low Low  Medium  Low 
Materials and waste  Medium  Medium  Medium  Low  Low  Medium   
Minerals  Low  Low  Low  Low  Low  Low   
1. See appendix 1 for a full list of the supplementary enduring questions.

From table 1 we can see a significant information deficit in environmental information.

Of the 61 supplementary enduring questions, four were assessed by our panel of experts as highly informed, with 25 assessed as medium informed.

The two areas with highly-informed questions are climate change and land. The highly-informed questions on climate change cover atmospheric composition and greenhouse gas emissions; for land, they are about land cover and land use. These two areas have had significant investment as reflected in the amount of high-quality information available.

Interestingly, atmosphere is moderately well-informed. This shows that air quality and ozone/UV issues, having been studied for a long time, are relatively well known and understood. Information needs here may lie around the detailed impacts on human health, particularly on vulnerable communities.

The least informed topic was mineral resources. This shows that mineral resources are small and complex systems that are inherently difficult to discover, define, and develop. Particular areas with a low level of information relate to environmental constraints and the effects of attaining mineral resources. The low level of information also shows that seafloor mineral resources are included in this area, and there is little seafloor mineral resource information currently available.

The coastal and marine topic was also lowly informed, showing there is still a lot to discover and understand about the large fraction of New Zealand’s territory that is the marine environment.

Māori environmental statistics appear to be poorly informed, reflecting the little information currently available.

The top-priority initiatives

Table 2 contains a list of the three or four highest-ranked initiatives from each of the 10 topic area workshops. The topic chapters detail the complete list. The table also shows the complexity of the initiative in terms of its implementation.

Table 2
Top initiatives by topic area

Initiative number  Initiative name  Complexity  Helps inform which supplementary enduring questio
AT1  Identify key non-standard air pollutants  Complex  A, B 
AT2  Gather evidence to support future review of the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality  Complex 
AT3  Develop a national database of emissions inventories and concentrations  Moderate 
AT4  Develop health indicators for air quality  Complex 
Climate change 
CC.A1.1  Gather information on national climate change adaptation responses  Moderate 
CC.i1.1  Assess the climate change impacts on ecosystem services  Highly complex 
CC.i1.2  Gather national infrastructure topography data – LIDAR for sea level change projections  Moderate  C, D 
CC.A2.1  Develop a map of projected sea level rise around NZ’s coastline  Moderate  C, D 
CC.i1.3, CC.i1.4  Assess the impacts of climate change on Māori  Highly complex 
Coastal and marine environment 
CM1  Identify baseline habitat state   Highly complex   A, B, D, E 
CM2  Expand statistical governance over coastal and marine data  Highly complex   All 
CM3  Review existing datasets  Moderate  All 
Ecosystems and biodiversity 
EB1  Establish an ecosystems and biodiversity data forum  Complex  All 
EB2  Invest in key databases, collections, and systems  Complex  All 
EB3  Identify repeat measures to answer supplementary enduring questions  Complex  All 
EN1  Establish baseline knowledge of energy supply and environmental impacts  Highly complex  All 
EN2  Conduct research into distributed energy generation  Complex 
EN3  Explore underlying resource data  Complex  All 
EN4  Quantify environmental impacts  Highly complex  B, C, E 
FW1  Create a national geo-spatial platform   Highly complex  All 
FW2  Identify and assess freshwater values   Complex  D, E 
FW3  Reassess information to answer supplementary enduring questions  Complex  All 
LN1 group  Improve land data access and use  Complex  All 
LN2  Establish multi-sector facilitation group.  Highly complex  All 
LN3  Conduct soil assessment Highly complex  A, D, E 
LN4  Undertake ecosystem services assessment  Highly complex 
Māori environmental statistics 
MES1  Develop an engagement programme for Māori environmental statistics  Complex  All 
MES2  Develop a strategy and mandate for Māori environmental statistics  Complex  All 
MES3  Establish governance for Māori environmental statistics  Highly complex  All 
MES4  Identify data sources for Māori environmental statistics  Complex  B, C, G 
Materials and waste 


Conduct waste-stream data collection  Highly complex   A, B, C, D, E 
MW2  Assess data needed for a material flow analysis  Highly complex   A, B, C, D, E 
MW3  Support improved governance over waste to improve coordination of waste information  Complex  All 
Mineral resources 
MR1  Accelerate seafloor mapping  Complex  A, B 
MR2  Undertake an airborne national geophysical survey  Complex  A, B, E 
MR3  Undertake a geochemical national survey  Complex  A, B, C, E, F 




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