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National environment report released

Published 21 October 2015, revised 9 December 2015
No change to Environment Aotearoa 2015, Environmental indicators Te taiao Aotearoa, or infographic


Statistics New Zealand and the Ministry for the Environment today released a landmark national environmental report – Environment Aotearoa 2015 – showing the overall state of our environment.

Government Statistician Liz MacPherson said the report gives a clear and independent overview, based on the best-quality information available.

Environment Aotearoa 2015 tells us the shape our environment is in – from the atmosphere above New Zealand to our oceans, and everything in between.”

Secretary for the Environment Vicky Robertson said the report provides a candid view showing where things are improving and where our environment is under pressure.

An area showing clear improvement is carbon monoxide emissions from transport, which are declining. Overfishing in our seas and harmful airborne particles released from home heating are also declining.

The report finds deterioration for areas like coastal sea-level rise, concentrations of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, and populations of some native plants and animals. In areas where land use is more intensive – including urban and rural areas – water quality is poorer than for less intensively used land.

“New Zealanders’ past and present activities are putting pressures on our environment,” Ms Robertson said. “These pressures are growing as our population increases, our economy develops, and our lifestyles change.

“The evidence in this report will help communities, central and local government, iwi, and business to make choices about how we manage our natural resources.”

Ms MacPherson said the report uses robust data from hundreds of sources, and follows international best practice for environmental reporting. “We would like to improve the data for future reports, and we are working on this,” she said.

‘The report is supported by interactive web pages containing trend and regional data. I would encourage people to take a look at the areas they are interested in.”

Environment Aotearoa 2015 was produced in the spirit of the Environmental Reporting Act passed on 24 September. Future reports will be part of a three-year cycle, in which individual aspects of the environment are assessed as well as an overview, like Environment Aotearoa 2015. The next report – about marine – will be released next year.

See the key findings and background below for more information.

See also: 
Environment Aotearoa 2015 – report 
Environment Aotearoa 2015 – infographic 
Environmental indicators Te taiao Aotearoa – indicator webpages

For media enquiries, hi-res copies of the infographic, or photos of spokespeople, contact:
Marina Skinner, Statistics NZ, 021 792 260
Ministry for the Environment media enquiries, 027 231 6930
Authorised by Liz MacPherson, Government Statistician, and Vicky Robertson, Secretary for the Environment

Key findings and background

What is Environment Aotearoa 2015?

Environment Aotearoa 2015 is a new, independent, national report on New Zealand’s environment. It tells us what state our environment is in, why it is like that, and how this affects our economy and society. The report focuses on five areas or ‘domains’: air, atmosphere and climate, fresh water, land, and marine.

Statistics New Zealand and the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) co-produced the report in the spirit of the new Environment Reporting Act 2015 and at arm’s length from Ministers. The report uses independent statistics based on international best practice and official statistics standards.

What does the report tell us about New Zealand’s environment?

The report highlights the value of our environment to current and future generations, and the need to protect it. Overall, there are some positive trends, but like other developed countries, New Zealand is facing a number of environmental pressures.

Some of these are caused by global activity – for example, increasing sea and climate temperatures from global climate change. Pressures on our environment are also growing as our population increases, our economy develops, and our lifestyles change.

What’s the good news?

The clarity of our fresh water has improved, fishing practices are better, and some harmful air emissions are reducing:

  • carbon monoxide emissions from transport have declined
  • harmful emissions of air particles from burning wood and coal for home heating have declined
  • overfishing in our seas and seabed trawling have declined and so has the bycatch of protected species.

What’s of concern?

Global greenhouse gas emissions and the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere have increased. Similarly, sea levels and ocean acidity have risen. Also:

  • the diversity and conservation status of some indigenous species have declined
  • water quality is poorer where there are pressures from agricultural and urban land use
  • more than three-quarters of soils under dairy farming are badly affected by compaction.

What’s new in the report?

The report has some new and updated information but most of the data is already publicly available. The report pulls together a huge amount of data to give a whole picture of New Zealand’s environment and makes some existing data more accessible. New information since 2007 includes: home-heating inventory, nitrate leaching state and trends, occurrence of potentially damaging wind, climate oscillations, frost and warm days, food- and water-borne diseases, insurance costs from extreme weather events, and others.

What is the purpose of the report?

Environment Aotearoa 2015 provides independent, accurate, and credible information about New Zealand’s environment and trends so we can see where our environment is getting better or identify where problems are emerging. We can use this information to prioritise where to act or invest.

The robust, transparent, and accessible information it provides will help communities, central and local government, iwi, and business to identify how our activities affect our environment and to make choices about how we manage or use our natural resources. It will also be used to identify where we don’t have enough information so we can direct resources into areas that we need to know more about.

Why is the report significant?

Environment Aotearoa 2015 takes a new reporting approach and it is the first national all-of-environment report to be co-produced by Statistics NZ and MfE.

In the past, environmental reporting focused mainly on the state of the environment, often using a ‘snapshot’ approach. Our new approach expands on this. Besides reporting on the state of the environment, we report on the pressures that have created that state, and how this state influences other spheres of the environment and our life – such as our economy, health, social well-being, and the culture and heritage of tāngata whenua. It also includes trends, where available.

Environment Aotearoa 2015 is part of a new way of reporting on New Zealand’s environment that is set out in new legislation, the Environmental Reporting Act, which was passed in September 2015. The Act requires environmental reporting to be regular, fair, and accurate.

The last state of the environment report from MfE was in 2007 and the one before that was in 1997. Previous reports were not assessed by Statistics NZ or commented on by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

What do other countries do?

New Zealand’s environmental reporting framework is based on, and comparable to, what is being used internationally. Many countries (including Australia, Scotland, and Norway) report on areas similar to our ‘impact’ categories, such as culture and recreation and public health.

Some countries report on ‘response’. How the Government or community is responding to environmental issues was deliberately not included in the environmental reporting framework to reinforce the report’s independence. This report is an objective exercise that is separate from the policy decisions made by Ministers.

How can we be sure the report is independent?

The Government Statistician has sole responsibility for deciding which methods and statistics (measures) are used for each topic in the report. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment can audit and comment on every report.

Statistics NZ ensured the quality and independence of the data in the same way it does for other official statistics about population, the economy, or business. As part of Statistics NZ’s approach to reporting official statistics, the information is confidential to everyone, including Ministers and policy staff, until the day of release.

How were the topics in the report selected?

Ministers, on the advice of external technical experts and officials, chose the topics for 2015. Topics for future reports will be set in regulation following public consultation.

Where does the data come from and how do we know it is accurate?

Councils and Crown agencies, such as NIWA and the NZ Transport Agency, supplied the data, which was then collated by MfE as part of its normal environmental reporting function. Statistics NZ analysed the information to assess the quality of the data, and the report was jointly written by Statistics NZ and MfE. Much of the data is already publicly available, although some data was procured or updated for this report.

What information is missing and why?

Only data that meets Statistics NZ’s data quality criteria was included. This means that some data has not made the cut, for example, data collected by councils using methods not designed to provide nationally representative statistics and measures (such as the suitability of water for swimming). This data will be considered in future when it meets Statistics NZ’s standards. Statistics NZ and MfE are working with regional councils to make data more standardised so it can be used for national reporting.

Some domains have more information and supporting data than others, which reflects the current state of information about our environment. Over time, we will have a more comprehensive range of environmental statistics and supporting information in each report. To achieve this, we will continue to work with data providers, local and central government, and iwi and hapū, to further improve the consistency, relevance, and representativeness of our environmental information.

How is the information shown?

The report, Environment Aotearoa 2015, presents the key findings and more detail in chapters on air, atmosphere and climate, fresh water, land, and marine, with biodiversity as a cross-cutting theme.

Environmental indicators Te taia Aotearoa on Statistics NZ’s website supports this report with additional technical information and interactive maps and dynamic graphs that allow people to select which information is displayed. The raw data is accessible from the relevant webpages and through MfE’s Data Service.

An infographic provides visual snapshots of the key findings. This is available as a PDF and an interactive version on MfE’s website.

What local information is available?

The report has a national focus but provides some local information through interactive maps, supporting information, case studies, and raw data. Regional information can be found on individual regional council websites or the Land Air Water Aotearoa (LAWA) website.

What next?

We will publish this Environment Aotearoa ‘whole of environment’ report every three years, and a report on one domain every six months starting in 2016. The next national environmental report will be on marine in late 2016, followed by fresh water in early 2017.

This is the first time this report has been produced in the spirit of the new Act. We are working with councils, Māori, and other data providers to make our national environmental information and reporting more comprehensive over time.


Updated 10 March 2016 

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