31 January 2008

Environmental data collection must continue

The data in Environment New Zealand 2007 is an invaluable addition to our knowledge of the environment, says Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright. Many past PCE reports have highlighted the lack of good environmental information, she says, so it is vitally important this work continues so we accumulate a clear picture of the health of the natural world we live in.

Dr Wright, an independent officer of Parliament, was commenting on the Ministry for the Environment's report which was released today, the first since the Ministry's 1997 State of the Environment report.

"Measuring our environmental well-being is a huge challenge, and the information in this report needs careful scrutiny."

Dr Wright says that Government and councils may have to reconsider their priorities in light of some of the worrying trends that the report reveals.

"One of the bad news stories is very familiar. Despite most of our electricity being generated from renewable sources, the proportion from fossil fuels is growing. Also alarming is the growth in greenhouse gas emissions, especially from transport."

On biodiversity, the habitat range of six key indicator species including birds and plants has declined by an average of 40% in the past 30 years. And on water quality, 87% of our shallow lakes monitored for nutrients are at risk from algal bloom. In the urban and pastoral rivers that we monitor, the median concentrations of nutrients breach water quality guidelines for ecosystem protection.

However, there are some good news stories, she says. Landfill management has improved hugely over the last decade. Airborne lead has all but disappeared. Another good outcome is the growth in public conservation land and the establishment of 2500 QEII covenants to protect biodiversity on private land.

"What these improvements show is that, with the right mix of policies and actions, we can get the right results. A better environment is a highly achievable goal."