14 October 2014

Parliamentary Update October 2014

Dr Jan Wright, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment


Tēnā koe


Welcome to the new parliamentary term. In this newsletter, the first of which some of you will have received, I would like to take the opportunity to explain a little about my role, and to highlight some of my current and recent work. 

As the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, I am an independent officer of Parliament. Like the two other Officers of Parliament, the Auditor-General and the Ombudsman, I am independent of the Government of the day. I report to Parliament through the Speaker of the House and the Officers of Parliament Committee.

The role of the Commissioner is to oversee and evaluate the agencies, policies and laws that exist to manage and protect New Zealand's Environment. I do this by providing reports and advice to Parliament. Reports are tabled in the House and advice is commonly given through appearances at Select Committees. My role is therefore quite different to that of government environmental agencies, such as the Ministry for the Environment, the Environmental Protection Authority, and the Department of Conservation.

I am currently midway through my second term as Commissioner and regard it as a privilege to hold this unique position.

My staff and I are currently investigating three areas:

The impacts of climate change: rising sea level

Our previous work on climate change has been focused on mitigation of greenhouse gases. We have now begun work on the impacts of climate change, focusing on sea level rise. The first report on this topic will explain the science of sea level rise and is planned for release later this year.

The state of New Zealand's environment

Under the Environmental Reporting Bill, the Secretary for the Environment and the Government Statistician are to produce reports on each of five environmental domains every six months, and a comprehensive synthesis report every three years, with the Commissioner providing independent commentary. The first domain report has already been released (on air quality) and the first synthesis report is scheduled for June next year. We are currently preparing our commentary on the air quality report.

Conservation of the marine environment

This investigation follows on from a series of reports on aspects of conservation in recent years. It also draws on the understanding of fisheries management gained through the investigation into longfin eels. While conservation land receives more attention, New Zealand's marine environment is also very diverse, precious, and an important economic resource. Initial work is focused on marine protected areas, and I expect to release a report in 2015.

Copies of all my reports are freely available to Members and the wider public in hard copy, from my office, and in electronic form, on our website. Some MPs have told me that they are useful to give to constituents who come to them with environmental questions or concerns.

Previous reports cover a diverse range of subjects, recently including: 

Drilling for oil and gas in New Zealand: Environmental oversight and regulation

This report followed on from my 2012 report into fracking, where it became apparent that much of the concern about fracking was associated with the expansion of the industry. In this second report, I found that government oversight and regulation in New Zealand is not adequate for managing the environmental risks of oil and gas drilling, especially if the industry expands beyond Taranaki. My report can be found here.

Water quality in New Zealand: Land use and nutrient pollution

Here I examined how large scale changes to the way New Zealanders are using land are putting pressure on water quality. It is imperative that decision makers are aware of this link and its consequences. This report, which can be found here, followed on from an earlier report explaining the fundamentals of water quality science (available here).

This work informed my February submission the Government's proposed amendments to the freshwater National Policy Statement. My submission is available here

Investigating the future of conservation: The case of stewardship land

This category of conservation land makes up nearly ten per cent of New Zealand's land mass, but has never been assessed and reclassified for its conservation value. I found that stewardship land has only weak legal protection, and recommended this situation be addressed. The report is available here.

Among the most widely read of my reports has been Evaluating the use of 1080: Pests poisons and silent forests, and it is pleasing to note that this work continues to resonate; most recently with the Department of Conservation's "Battle for our Birds" response to the explosion of pest numbers in our forest this year.

In closing', I remind returning and new Members that I am available to meet and discuss matters concerning the environment.' 

Ka mihi kia koe, naku noa, 


Dr Jan Wright