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Freshwater quality Kiwis’ biggest environmental concern

2 October 2019

Four out of five New Zealanders are concerned about freshwater quality, Stats NZ said today.

In the 2018 General Social Survey the state of rivers, lakes, streams, wetlands and aquatic life was identified as an issue by 80 percent of New Zealanders. Half of those who reported this as an issue said farming activities are the main cause, while 17 percent said sewage and stormwater discharges are the main cause.

“The survey showed little difference in attitudes between people living in rural and urban areas, when it came to concerns about fresh water and what the main causes are,” wellbeing and housing statistics manager Dr Claire Bretherton said.

The nationwide survey included a representative sample of people living in the country as well as in towns and cities.

Almost three-quarters of people thought New Zealand has an issue with the state of oceans and sea life, and with plant and animal life becoming endangered or extinct. Changes in weather patterns were identified as an issue by 69 percent of people. In contrast, only around half thought New Zealand has an issue with air pollution.

Our environmental perceptions infographic has more information on what people thought the main cause was for each of these issues.

“Levels of air pollution in New Zealand are generally good, particularly when compared with heavily industrialised countries, so it makes sense that fewer people said air pollution was an issue,” Dr Bretherton said.

Perceptions change according to migrant status

Recent migrants, those who had moved to New Zealand within the last five years, were the least likely to identify environmental problems compared with longer-term migrants and those born here. For example, 1 in 6 recent migrants said New Zealand has an issue with air pollution, compared with 1 in 3 long-term migrants and 1 in 2 New Zealand-born people.

“This may be because the longer people live here, the less their perceptions of New Zealand’s environment are influenced by international comparisons,” Dr Bretherton said.

The places migrants had come from also had an impact on their perceptions. People born in South East Asia were among the least likely to think New Zealand has an issue with air pollution, while people from Oceania and Europe had perceptions more like those born here.

Environmental perceptions by ethnicity

Levels of concern about the environment differed by ethnicity.

“Of New Zealand’s total population, Māori were more likely than other ethnicities to identify environmental problems,” Dr Bretherton said.

“This reflects the whakapapa that Māori, as tangata whenua, have with the environment.”

The differences between ethnic groups are much smaller, however, when looking at only the New Zealand-born population. This is due to the larger influence of migration on European, Pacific, and Asian ethnicities.

Environment Aotearoa 2019 and indicators about the environment have more information on the state of our environment.

The Government Statistician authorises all statistics and data we publish.

For more information about these statistics:
• Visit Environmental perceptions


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