The coming year will see activity focused on two environmental issues of significant immediate policy interest: climate change and water quality. In relation to these topics, the Commissioner has identified three immediate work priorities.
- The Government has indicated it will prioritise the passing of a new Climate Change Act, which will establish a climate change commission – an initiative that was recommended by his predecessor Dr Jan Wright in her 2017 report Stepping Stones to Paris and beyond. The Commissioner is undertaking follow-up work on this issue with the aim of providing detailed advice in early 2018.
- Water and land management remains one of New Zealand’s greatest environmental challenges. Finding ways to reduce nutrient losses and greenhouse gas emissions from New Zealand’s farms will be essential if water quality is to improve, and if New Zealand is to make the transition to a low emissions economy. The Commissioner has commenced an investigation into the suitability of OVERSEER as a tool in the management and regulation of diffuse nutrients and greenhouse gas emissions. This is planned for release in mid-2018.
- New Zealand still faces the challenge of what to do about greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. The office has previously examined the science of agricultural greenhouse gases. Building on this previous work, Mr Upton is undertaking a follow up investigation, with the intent of examining the merits of potential policy options. This investigation is in its early stages. Completion is scheduled for the second half of 2018.
Another two investigations will also be initiated in the course of the year. While the precise topics are yet to be confirmed, issues are being scoped in the following areas.
- New Zealand is a steward for a vast marine estate, which includes many diverse and often vulnerable habitats. Much about our surrounding oceans remains unknown, making it harder to protect them, but we do know that our marine environments are at risk from increasing pressures such as climate change and competing demands for fishing and other resources.
- Tourism forms a significant part of our economy, generating export earnings of $14.5 billion, but its environmental impact has received a fraction of the attention that has been devoted to that of our land-based industries. As the sector grows, it will become increasingly important to understand the claims the sector makes on the natural resource base and to examine the ways in which any impacts can be reduced or internalised.
Advice to Parliament
Throughout the year, the Commissioner will be available to provide advice to select committees on environmental bills. He may also make submissions on proposed environmental policies and regulations.
Under the Environmental Reporting Act 2015, the Commissioner may comment on state of the environment reports produced by the Secretary for the Environment and the Government Statistician. In the coming year, reports are expected on the state of New Zealand’s Land and the state of New Zealand’s Air. The Commissioner will assess these domain reports, and determine what commentary may be required.
By 2019, the Environmental Reporting system will have completed one full cycle. To mark the completion of the cycle, the Commissioner will review how the system as a whole has performed and how it might be improved.
Responding to letters from members of the public expressing particular environmental concerns and requesting information also forms part of the work of the office.