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Taking the pulse of the environment

31 January 2008 Media Statement

Taking the pulse of the environment

A comprehensive state of the environment report released today provides the basis for future action on the environment, says Environment Secretary Hugh Logan.

Environment New Zealand 2007 presents a thorough snapshot of the health of
our environment and will help inform and prioritise decisions that will lead to a sustainable New Zealand, Mr Logan said.

The 450-page report is the country’s second state of the environment report, but quantifies a range of key indicators in a way that the first report issued a decade ago did not.

“The environment means much more to us than just iconic landscapes. As this report shows, a sustainable environment is also vital to our social and economic well-being and our standard of living,” Mr Logan said.

The report confirms that while we have an enviable environment compared to many countries, some trends are going in the wrong direction.

“The report shows that key pressures on our environment are growing as our population increases, our economy grows and evolves, and our lifestyles change,” says Hugh Logan

“Our everyday activities and choices – both past and present - have put pressures on our soil, water and air and other natural resources.”

“This report isn’t just for policy makers and environmentalists. It will be used to make decisions - by both central and local government, businesses, iwi, communities and families - which will lead to a sustainable New Zealand.

The Environment Ministry will use the findings to engage with key sectors and interest groups about where we go from here.

“Most of all, the report highlights the need to continue to protect and reinforce
New Zealand’s environmental standing and our clean green reputation,” say Hugh Logan. This report will form an important basis for improving those areas which the report shows need attention.”

ENDS


Further information

For the full report, go to www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/ser/enz07-dec07/index.html.

For further information, go to www.mfe.govt.nz/state/reporting/enz-07.html

To request a copy, contact publications@mfe.govt.nz


Environment New Zealand 2007
Background information


What is Environment New Zealand 2007?
* Environment New Zealand 2007 is the Ministry for the Environment’s latest national report on the state of the environment.
* It takes the pulse of the physical well-being of New Zealand’s land, water, air, plants and animals.
* Measures the impact of transport, energy, waste, and our consumption on the environment.
* Identifies trends in and selected pressures on our natural resources.

What does it do?
* It builds on the earlier 1997 State of the Environment report.
* It introduces benchmark environmental indicators as well as 80 specific measures, to capture hard data which will be used to build up a clear picture of trends and pressures over time.
* It provides a ‘one stop shop’ of accessible, relevant environmental information which can be used as a basis for decision-making.
* It meets international best practice for national state of the environment reporting.
* It makes use of award-winning maps to present complex information in an easily accessible way.

What is the purpose of the report?
* The report shows the impact of the activities and choices made every day by every one of us – as decision-makers, communities and individuals.
* The information provides a baseline against which we can track future changes to the environment.
* It provides constructive information which will be used to inform and prioritise decision-making by central and local government, as well as business, iwi and in the community.
* The report will be used to identify whether environmental policies and programmes need strengthening or updating. The Ministry for the Environment will lead this process over the course of the year, working alongside a number of other government departments.
* It provides a basis for the Ministry for the Environment to engage with key sectors and interest groups to work together to develop and agree on a sustainable way forward.


Why is this report important?
* It demonstrates the importance of sustainably managing our natural resources.
* It highlights the state of, and pressures on our environment today.
* The information provides a baseline against which we can track future changes to the environment.
* It demonstrates the importance of our clean green reputation to our international markets and our present and future well-being: eg, 17 per cent of our GDP comes from the top 15cm of our topsoil.
* It will be used to help inform and prioritise decision-making by central and local government, as well as business, iwi and in the community.
* It provides a basis for the Ministry for the Environment to engage with key sectors and interest groups to work together to develop and agree on a sustainable way forward.
* The report will be used to identify whether environmental policies and programmes need strengthening or updating. The Ministry for the Environment will lead this process over the course of the year, working alongside a number of other government departments.

What does the report tell us about New Zealand’s environment?
- The report confirms we have an enviable environment, compared to many countries internationally. But like other developed countries, New Zealand is facing a number of environmental pressures, and some trends are going in the wrong direction.
- Our everyday activities and choices – both past and present - have put pressures on our soil, water and air and other natural resources;
- It highlights the need to protect and reinforce New Zealand’s environmental standing.
- Some pressures appear to be reducing (eg, waste disposed of to landfill) or are being avoided (eg because of increased rates of recycling, better pest management and an increase in areas of protected land).
- Some aspects of the environment appear to be getting worse over time (eg, the nutrient quality of freshwaters, soil quality under some land uses, the distribution of some native species), or have been over-exploited (eg, some fish stocks).
- Some aspects appear to be improving (eg, air quality in managed airsheds, stratospheric ozone levels, organic pollution and some other types of pollution in our freshwaters, hill country erosion in some areas, and recovery of some endangered species).

What has improved? What has gotten worse?
- The report shows that key pressures on our environment are growing as our population increases, our economy grows and evolves, and our lifestyles change.
- Some pressures appear to be reducing (eg, waste disposed of to landfill) or are being avoided (eg because of increased rates of recycling, better pest management and an increase in areas of protected land).
- Some aspects of the environment appear to be getting worse over time (eg, the nutrient quality of freshwaters, soil quality under some land uses, the distribution of some native species), or have been over-exploited (eg, some fish stocks).
- Some aspects appear to be improving (eg, air quality in managed airsheds, stratospheric ozone levels, organic pollution and some other types of pollution in our freshwaters, hill country erosion in some areas, and recovery of some endangered species).

What is being done about the findings of the report?
* Government is taking the findings of the report seriously.
* The Ministry for the Environment provides leadership on environmental sustainability across central and local government, iwi, businesses and the wider community.
* A suite of initiatives across government are underway to move New Zealand towards a sustainable nation, and specific targets have been set, for example in the areas of climate change and energy.
* The report will be used to identify whether environmental policies and programmes need strengthening or updating. The Ministry for the Environment will lead this process over the course of the year, working alongside a number of other government departments.
* The Ministry will engage with key interest and sector groups throughout the year to encourage broader discussion on how New Zealand might best progress towards sustainability.

What else is being done?
* The government is working to reduce or mitigate the impact of increased intensification of land use on the environment. It works together with the agricultural sector in programmes such as the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord, and the Sustainable Water Programme of Action. In urban areas, a lot of work is underway through the Urban Design Protocol and other initiatives.
* The Emissions Trading Scheme will add further economic impetus to this work by establishing a ‘cost’ of converting from a low-emissions land use to high emissions land use (such as dairy farming).
* New Zealand is also leading an international network to research greenhouse gas emissions from livestock. This work will reinforce the sustainability of our agriculture internationally.
* More details on waste, energy, transport, air quality, biodiversity, land and water management initiatives are available on the Ministry’s website.

Does Environment New Zealand 2007 follow on from the State of the Environment report that was published in 1997?
* The 2007 report is also a national-level state of the environment report.
* However, the two reports differ in some ways:
- Environment New Zealand 2007 capitalises on significant advances in environmental monitoring, data collection and data reporting now available, to provide a more quantitative picture of our environment, based on hard data.
- The 2007 report uses ecological classification systems to analyse and interpret the data.
- The analysis of trends and influences on the environment in the 1997 report is still valid today. Therefore this has not been repeated in the 2007 report.

Who has been involved in the development of the report?
* A steering group of 12 core government agencies, regional government and the QE II National Trust, was established to provide data and to peer review the content.
* The report has also been extensively peer reviewed by central and local government agencies as well as technical experts.
* Other key stakeholders have also been regularly briefed on the project.

When will the next report be released?
* The Ministry for the Environment will produce regular national reports on the environment under the Ministry’s Environmental Reporting Framework.
* The next state of the environment report will be released in five years time (2012). In the meantime, the Ministry will continue its regular reporting on the environment, including annual reporting on many environmental indicators.
* The Ministry for the Environment will continue to publish regular issues-based reports (for example, on water, waste, greenhouse gas emissions etc) and update indicator data on a regular basis through ‘snapshot’ reports.


ENVIRONMENT NEW ZEALAND 2007
HIGH LEVEL FINDINGS OF THE REPORT

* Consumption of goods and services by New Zealand households has grown. As our consumption has grown, so has our ‘ecological footprint’ – one measure of sustainability.

* On average, New Zealanders now own more cars, they are getting older and larger, and we are driving them further than in the past. Our light vehicle fleet continues to age. Use of public transport is increasing.

* New Zealanders are using more energy, and an increasing proportion of our energy comes from fossil fuels. While our energy needs are increasing, they are not increasing as fast as our economy is growing. When electricity use by households is combined with their transport fuel use, households are the largest users of energy in New Zealand.

* Waste management in New Zealand has improved through better controls on landfills. While we have made progress in reducing the amount of waste we throw away, many potentially useful materials continue to be disposed of in landfills.

* While New Zealand has good air quality in most locations for most of the time, about 30 locations can experience poor air quality, affecting about 53 per cent of the population. Levels of PM10 particulates from home heating or road transport generally appear to be falling in the main centres. Levels of other air pollutants appear to have improved or stabilised, although Auckland can experience high levels of nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide.

* New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase. Since 1990, emissions removed from the atmosphere by forestry have increased as exotic forest cover has increased, although rates of new planting are the lowest in many decades and replanting rates have tailed off.

* Ozone levels over New Zealand have stabilised. Accordingly, the levels of ultraviolet radiation in New Zealand have dropped (improved) over recent years.

* Agricultural land use in New Zealand has intensified. The area in dairy pasture and the national dairy herd have both increased, leading to increases in fertiliser, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions.

* Horticultural and agricultural soils are generally in poorer condition than soils under other land uses, with higher levels of compaction, build up of nitrogen and phosphates, and lower levels of organic carbon.

* By international standards, freshwater in New Zealand is both clean and plentiful in supply. However, demand for water is increasing, particularly in drier parts of the country, where surface waters such as rivers and lakes already have high levels of water allocated for use.

* Water quality is generally poorest in rivers, streams and lakes in urban areas, followed by farmed areas. On average, levels of nutrients (eg, nitrogen and phosphorus) have increased in our rivers. Pollution from a single facility at a known location, such as discharges from wastewater treatment plants, meatworks, and farm effluent ponds have decreased.

* Fishing activity under the Quota Management System has reduced as the allowable catch for some high-value species has reduced. Fifteen percent of assessed fish stocks have been overfished and are now recovering.

* Bacterial levels at monitored beaches appear to be improving.

* By international standards, a high proportion of New Zealand’s land and sea is protected for conservation purposes. Both the area of conservation land and the land area under intensive pest management have increased.

* The seven monitored native bird and plant species have all decreased in range since the 1970s. Many other native species remain threatened. While some native species have improved their threat status, others have worsened.

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