We are currently working on a significant body of investigations across a range of environmental issues.
A history of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment
In 1972 New Zealand gained a Minister for the Environment and a Commission for the Environment. Since then New Zealand’s environmental administration has gradually evolved, and includes the establishment of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) in 1986. This investigation of PCE’s history looks at how and why PCE obtained its current functions and powers, the range of work undertaken, how performance is measured and how the role of the office has changed over time. The review includes interviews with former Commissioners and can be a foundation for thinking about how PCE’s role might continue to evolve.
Healthy soils are the unseen engine room of green spaces, helping to support plants that provide shade and cooling and mitigate flooding. One issue raised in the report, Are we building harder, hotter cities? The vital importance of urban green spaces, is the practice of stripping topsoil off housing development sites. The Commissioner is investigating the drivers and environmental impacts of this practice, and whether and how new subdivisions provide an adequate volume of healthy soil for diverse vegetation to grow.
New Zealand’s current land use patterns and land management practices are placing increasing pressures on the environment, including greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, overexploitation of freshwater, biodiversity loss and soil erosion. Land use change and the adoption of alternative land management practices can mitigate these risks and help preserve the mauri (life force) of the land.
This investigation aims to explore what a landscape approach to climate, biodiversity and water policy would look like and how it could be implemented. The Commissioner intends to build on the ideas outlined in the 2019 Farms, forests and fossil fuels investigation, and will explore how an integrated approach to land use management can achieve multiple environmental, social, cultural and economic outcomes at the landscape or catchment scale.
Estimates of environmental expenditure
Accessible and timely information about central government environmental spending is needed for parliamentarians to have an informed view of Government’s spending decisions. The current lack of information on environmental expenditure makes it difficult for parliamentarians and other interested parties to scrutinise these decisions. In response, the Commissioner has committed to producing a series of regular assessments of environmental expenditure, at least until the government does this itself. The work aims to provide an exemplar on how to assess how much is spent and how these funds are allocated to address specific environmental issues. The Commissioner is working with parliamentarians, ministers and government agencies to make reporting and scrutiny of expenditure on environmental outcomes part of their regular practice.
Catchment-scale water modelling
The importance of freshwater to the environment, economy and overall wellbeing in Aotearoa cannot be underestimated. There is currently a strong national policy push to better manage New Zealand’s freshwater and thereby restore te mana o te wai. A range of water quality and quantity tools and models are used to help manage contaminant discharges and water takes across the country. Those who use models, or are affected by their use, need to know how much confidence can be placed in the results. This investigation aims to review the suitability, strengths and limitations of catchment-scale freshwater models used to inform the regulation and management of water in New Zealand.
Considerable numbers of trees are being planted in Aotearoa New Zealand, and many millions more will be planted in the coming decades. But New Zealand’s reliance on large-scale pine afforestation to meet net emissions reduction targets is risky. Forests are vulnerable to many pressures that are increasing with climate change, and relying on a single fast-growing tree species further increases this vulnerability. This investigation examines whether establishing a range of different forests, using native taonga species, exotics and alternative management approaches, could support more resilient forest systems and provide wider environmental co-benefits.
Advice to Parliament
Throughout the year the Commissioner provides advice to select committees on environmental bills. He also makes submissions on proposed environmental policies and regulations.