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Adams: Environmental Reporting Bill First Reading

Hon Amy Adams
Minister for the Environment

5 March, 2014

Environmental Reporting Bill First Reading

Mr Speaker, I move that the Environmental Reporting Bill now be read a first time.

I nominate the Local Government and Environment Select Committee to consider the Bill.

In New Zealand our economy is dependent on our environment, and our environmental protection efforts rely on us having a strong economy.

Of course we all care about whether our popular swimming spots are clean enough to swim in, whether the air we breathe is free from pollution and we all want to look after our oceans and protect our rich biodiversity.

But at the same time we also want a high standard of living, affordable houses, power and food, and we want to see jobs created and the economy growing.

In order to protect our environment, while encouraging economic prosperity, we need to be able to have an honest debate about the interactions between the environment and the economy, have a clear picture of what the trade-offs and opportunities are and the impacts our choices are having.

Any argument that only seeks to present half the picture, does little to advance our understanding.

The Environmental Reporting Bill represents the Government’s commitment to a step change in the way we monitor and report to the people of New Zealand on the condition of our natural environment.

It complements other work we are doing on regulation around fresh water and the marine environment and reform of the Resource Management Act.

Collectively our programme of action will lead to the most significant improvement in our environmental regulation framework since the introduction of the RMA in 1991.

To date, environmental reporting on a national scale has been patchy and inconsistent.

We are one of the only OECD countries not to require independent reporting on state of our environment.

This Bill changes all that. It creates a national-level environmental reporting regime that is regular and robust. It contains measures that will ensure environmental reports are independent, fair and accurate.

The public will have confidence and certainty about the scope, timing and quality of New Zealand’s national environmental information.

That means we can shift the debate from frustrating arguments about data quality to discussions on the issues and long-term trends that affect our environment.

The scope of the reports will be comprehensive, going beyond the programme of environmental indicator updates that the Ministry for the Environment has produced in recent years.

The reports will cover not just the state of the environment, they will also describe the pressures driving environmental trends and the impacts of these trends. This approach is in line with international best practice.

Better information is critical if we want to make better decisions on environmental issues. The pressures-states- impacts approach means we will have a broader view of the issues affecting our environment and this will lead to a more informed debate and better options for the public.

Every three years, the Secretary for the Environment and the Government Statistician will be required to publish a report on New Zealand’s environment as a whole, entirely at arm’s length from the Executive and from political interference.

This synthesis report must describe

• the state of New Zealand’s environment
• pressures that may be causing, or have the potential to cause, changes to the state of the environment and
• impacts that the state of the environment, or changes to it, may be having on ecological integrity, public health, the economic benefits derived from utilising natural resources, and culture and recreation.

It must also describe

• changes to the state of the environment over time; and
• how the state of the environment measures against national or international standards.

The Bill stipulates that the first synthesis report must be published by 30 June 2015.

As well as synthesis reports, the Bill requires the Secretary for the Environment and the Government Statistician to publish a domain report on one of five environmental domains every six months.

The environmental domains specified in the Bill are air, atmosphere and climate, freshwater, land, and marine.

Each domain must be reported on at least once every three years.

The topics that will be reported on in each domain report and the synthesis reports will be prescribed in regulations.

Proscribing topics in regulations will ensure that environmental reporting provides necessary evidence for policy-making, and will improve clarity across the wider system about information needs and data improvement priorities, helping focus investment in improvements.

While Ministers will set topics, topics simply provide a high level outline of what domain reports will cover.

For example, the topics for the air domain could include the population health impacts.

Statistics will be selected and applied for each topic by the Government Statistician. For example, statistics for population health impacts could include those due to exposure to particulate matter.

Rigour is a focus throughout the Bill. Topics must be selected on the basis of significance, statistical rigour and evidence of strong connection to an environmental state.

Reporting must draw on the expertise of the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand to ensure statistical integrity and robustness.

The Bill focuses on reporting the best available data and does not include any requirement to generate information that is not currently collected. Over time, the certainty provided by the Bill will drive improvements in monitoring and data collection.

A key element of the new environmental reporting system is independence from the government of the day. This is achieved through providing defined roles for the Minister for the Environment, the Minister of Statistics, the Government Statistician, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has a crucial role to play in assuring the public of the performance of the environmental management system as a whole, including the quality and balance of environmental reporting.

This Bill affirms the role of the Commissioner to provide independent commentary on environmental reports and the processes that produce them.

Importantly, the Bill does not constrain the Commissioner’s ability to report on any matters she considers important, consistent with her role as an independent Officer of Parliament.

Regulations will set out the topics to be reported on. These will be developed following consultation with the Government Statistician and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, and in accordance with the framework in the Bill.

The Government Statistician, after consulting the Secretary for the Environment, will determine the statistics to be used to measure each topic, and must ensure they accurately represent the relevant topic.

The Government Statistician has sole responsibility for deciding the procedures and methods that are to be used in providing statistics for environmental reports.

The Secretary for the Environment and the Government Statistician have a duty to act independently. They must ensure that the reports give a fair and accurate representation of what is being reported on.

As well as defined roles, a further measure has been included in the Bill that strengthens the independent preparation of environmental reports.

A request to disclose information or analysis that will be or has been used in an environmental report can be declined if the Secretary for the Environment and the Government Statistician are of the opinion that:

• disclosure would compromise the independence of the report, or
• the information or analysis is integral to significant findings or conclusions of the report.

This clause covers requests made under the Official Information Act 1982 and requests made by ministers and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

This Bill marks a significant change in the way New Zealand reports on its environment.

It will ensure New Zealanders have comprehensive, robust and reliable environmental information that allows us to debate and respond to the environmental issues that affect our country.

Mr Speaker, this Bill represents a significant step forward for environmental law in New Zealand, and I commend the Environmental Reporting Bill to the House.

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