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18 October 2022

Environmental decisions: Do we know if we're making a difference?

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton, is calling for improved public accountability to get better outcomes for the environment.

The Government spends over $2 billion each year on the environment.

“We need to know how our actions are affecting the environment, and whether the actions we are taking to improve the environment are working,” the Commissioner says in a report released today.

The report, Environmental reporting, research and investment: Do we know if we're making a difference?, completes a cycle of work the Commissioner has undertaken over five years.

The report found that parliamentarians and the public cannot easily get the information they need to hold the Government to account for its environmental expenditure.

“Decision making needs to be better informed by evidence. And those decisions – and their consequences – need to be capable of scrutiny.

“It has become clear that while there are links between the environmental information we collect, the research we undertake and the money we throw at environmental problems, they are often tenuous, lacking in transparency and governed by short-termism,” the Commissioner said. 

Failing to respond to environmental issues is not cost-free – it simply defers costs into the future.

Environmental costs tend to compound over time. If they continue to be ignored, the costs of remedying them will eventually become unaffordable.

The public finance system needs to demonstrate links between what is spent and what environmental reporting and research tell us, so that Members of Parliament can judge whether what we spend matches the scale of the environmental challenges we face.

The recommendations in this report are designed to ensure that the actions of the Government are focused on the most important environmental outcomes, and that the effectiveness of those actions can be assessed.

“Members of Parliament and citizens have a right to information underlying our environmental actions and their consequences so they can hold governments to account for decisions made and decisions postponed,” he said. 

This final report draws on the learnings of three of the Commissioner’s prior reports and calls for:

  • foundational investments in environmental information
  • clarity about why we are prioritising certain environmental issues (and not others)
  • transparency about what environmental outcomes the Government is aiming for, what the Government plans to do to achieve them and how much it spends as part of that response
  • accountability for the results of that spending.

The Auditor-General has written a blog on public accountability in conjunction with the release of this report.

Read Environmental reporting, research and investment: Do we know if we're making a difference?


Parliament House, Wellington, Gordon Haws, Flickr

Gordon Haws, Flickr