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Specific areas for improvement

Currently, information on the stocks and flows of New Zealand's natural resources is patchy and not always kept up-to-date, or is not sufficiently utilised.[124] It is also difficult to identify and quantify some aspects of natural resources such as water filtration and habitat for wildlife, and cultural services. This means the value of natural resources, and the long-term impacts of a change in stock, is not always given due weight in decision making. In addition, there is room to improve monitoring of initiatives, identification of emerging issues (particularly where there is slow degradation), and defining the outcomes sought.

More comprehensive and nationally consistent data on the state of the country's resources and how they are being used would help New Zealanders make better decisions. Science has an important role in building understanding of ecosystem services (including the interactions between them), thresholds, and resilience. Better information will enable better policy and investment decisions, and improve understanding of how living standards are changing over time.

Improvements can be made to how resource management accommodates values and perspectives that are not easily quantified.Economic models do not tend to reflect well intrinsic values (that something has value "of itself"), cultural perspectives, or the needs of future generations. For example, in te ao Māori (the Māori worldview) the relationship between people and the environment is based on co-dependency, which gives rise to a kaitiakitanga obligation (guardianship or stewardship responsibility) to nurture and care for the environment. Another example is the intrinsic value placed on the presence of reserve and conservation land, and the biodiversity contained within that land.

Greater opportunities could be provided for Māori participation in the management of natural resources. Iwi/hapū relationships with the natural environment are expressed through the exercise of kaitiakitanga informed by traditional knowledge. Natural resource regulation currently provides for the participation of iwi/hapū into natural resource decision making, however implementation by local government is highly variable across New Zealand. Where central and local government are working more closely with iwi/hapū and communities (e.g. in the recent freshwater reforms), resource management can be better integrated and durable, with a more holistic approach to environmental, economic, social and cultural values. There is scope to build off current successful partnerships and arrangements to better integrate iwi/hapū participation across the country.

Decision-making processes, such as under the Resource Management Act, are continuing to improve. But more could be done to better plan for the management, allocation and trading of resources, especially where there are conflicts between the natural and built environment (e.g. whether to use highly productive land for urban expansion).The resource management and planning system is not able to respond quickly to emerging issues (such as rapid urbanisation). Nor does it deal well with competing demands for resources and taking into account broad or indirect effects of activities. The system needs to be clearer about what the desired outcomes are (both short and long-term) and establish principles to help decision makers prioritise outcomes when faced with competing resource demands or conflicting priorities. These issues are not limited to land alone – there are a variety of different decision making regimes in the marine environment, and similar challenges in balancing current demands with sustainability aspirations across those regimes.

Challenge and opportunity – Soil and biodiversity

Soil and indigenous biodiversity are both examples of natural capital which are in decline. In addition to building a better evidence base of these trends (such as data on the stock of resource, rate of loss and replenishment, and the causes of loss), improving understanding of the long-term impacts of changes in stock levels would be beneficial for decision making. Such impacts may be economic, environmental, social or cultural.

New Zealand's indigenous biodiversity (i.e. variability within nature, including of genes, species and ecosystems) is under pressure. For example, there is continued loss of indigenous forests[125] and extinction is an ongoing threat to many species which are endemic to this country. Between 2005 and 2011, the extinction risk increased for seven percent of New Zealand's indigenous species, and improved for only 1.5 percent.[126]

Biodiversity provides a range of (known and potential) benefits, including ecosystem services[127], tourism and recreational opportunities (such as, walking, bird-watching, snorkelling/diving, and fishing), and bioprospecting value (i.e. species may contain compounds that could yield commercially valuable products, such as pharmaceuticals).[128] Species may also have existence and/or cultural value.   Although challenging, better incorporating these values in decision making could help maximise the return from investments in conservation. The benefits of such investments may be broader than preservation of native biodiversity. For example, controlling wilding pine (introduced pines which spread across the landscape as a weed) may increase the amount of water available for downstream users.

Soil erosion rates in parts of New Zealand are naturally very high by world standards because of our geology and climate. Widespread deforestation, livestock grazing and intensive land use in some areas have accelerated rates of erosion.[129] Loss of fertile top soils reduces the land's productivity.[130]  Soil is largely irreplaceable and underpins a large proportion of New Zealand's economy – the estimated export revenue from land-based primary industries for year ending June 2016 was $34.9 billion.[131] It also provides a range of ecosystem services, other than provision of food, wood and fibre, such as water flow regulation and carbon storage.[132] Decision making in relation to soil would benefit from an improved understanding of the long-term impacts of soil loss and degradation (particularly for the productivity of the primary sector), including how this differs across the country.

Notes

  • [124] Ministry for the Environment & Statistics New Zealand (2015) New Zealand's Environmental Reporting Series: Environment Aotearoa 2015. Available from www.mfe.govt.nz and www.stats.govt.nz
  • [125] Between 1996 and 2012, New Zealand lost a further 10,000 hectares of indigenous forests (MFE & Statistics New Zealand, 2015).
  • [126] Ministry for the Environment & Statistics New Zealand (2015) New Zealand's Environmental Reporting Series: Environment Aotearoa 2015.Available from www.mfe.govt.nz and www.stats.govt.nz
  • [127] Claude Gascon, et al (2015) The Importance and Benefits of Species. Current Biology, Vol 25, Issue 10.
  • [128] Stephen Polasky, Christopher Costello, and Andrew Solow (2005) The Economics of Biodiversity. Chapter 29, Vol. 3, 1517-1560 in Handbook of Environmental Economics, eds. Mäler, K-G and J.R. Vincent, North Holland.
  • [129] Les Basher (2013) Erosion processes and their control in New Zealand. In John Dymond (ed). Ecosystem services in New Zealand – conditions and trends. Manaaki Whenua Press, Lincoln, New Zealand.
  • [130] Haydon Jones, Peter Clough, Barbara Höck, and Chris Phillips (2008) Economic costs of hill country erosion and benefits of mitigation in New Zealand: Review and recommendation of approach. Report for Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
  • [131] Ministry for Primary Industries (2016). Situation and Outlook for Primary Industries 2016.
  • [132] Estelle Dominati (2013) Natural capital and ecosystem services of soils. In John Dymond (ed). Ecosystem services in New Zealand – conditions and trends. Manaaki Whenua Press, Lincoln, New Zealand.
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