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1  Introduction

New Zealand has immediate and increasing economic and ecological problems arising from the way we manage and use our natural resources including freshwater, soils, marine space and fisheries.[1]The use of some natural resources in some areas is now at or above the sustainable level, so will need to be reduced (e.g. water from ground or surface sources). At the same time new demands are appearing, environmental expectations are rising, and the role of a robust environment in supporting social, economic and recreational outcomes is becoming clearer.

To meet these conflicting demands, even in part, requires re-allocating resources to higher value activities, and improving the efficiency of resource management and use.[2]These conflicting demands are common internationally as demand for higher quality environmental outcomes mirrors rising national income (Rothenburg 2003, p6).[3]  The concept of a ‘wicked’ problem (see Glossary) appears relevant.

A comprehensive response needs a vision that can draw together the full range of challenges and identify the responses needed.‘Adaptive governance’ (see Glossary) is the evolution of institutions (in the widest sense of agencies, laws, rules and norms) to move us closer to an optimum balance of goals over time.At the same time we need an ‘adaptive management’ response (see Glossary) to break the responses into practical steps, and allow for local differences in circumstances and goals.

The paper is therefore focused on processes to link institutions, goals and disciplines and does not attempt to provide rigorous economic analysis of all the concepts reviewed and how they might be applied.

Section 2 assesses current pressures in New Zealand and the issues that have emerged from them. Section 3 discusses the process of understanding goals and defining a vision, including core concepts such as sustainable development, adaptive governance and resilience (the glossary in section 7 defines these and other key terms).Section 4 deals with tools relevant to delivering on the vision and overcoming the many challenges involved.

Section 5 draws together implications for future paths in New Zealand’s approach to natural resource management in terms of the “big picture” and “delivery” at both central and local government levels.Section 6 concludes.


  • [1]Non-renewable resources (e.g. minerals) are not discussed in this paper as sustainable management is of limited relevance.
  • [2]Use covers industrial, commercial, farming, recreational and cultural uses, and ‘non-use’ categories such as in-stream flows. New Zealand’s response to date has included programmes on freshwater and marine space.See and issues overlap with climate change due to the impacts of land use (e.g. forestry uses water, has low pollution runoff and absorbs carbon).
  • [3]Economic growth also pushes up land values, as does purchasing land for reserves, pushing farmers to intensify land use and move further towards monoculture to generate adequate returns (Brouwer 2002).This intensification has environmental impacts (Luijt 2002)and can reduce environmental and social benefits from traditional land management approaches (Brouwer 2004).
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