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Adaptive Governance and Evolving Solutions to Natural Resource Conflicts - WP 07/03

5  Future Paths for New Zealand

Going back to the discussion of New Zealand’s natural resource management needs earlier in this paper, the overall goal was to build in the potential for more flexibility without undermining those areas where certainty is essential, with an intermediate objective of building resilience.  This goal is driven by the growing awareness of approaching problems (Folke 2005) and the need to co-optimise economic and environmental outcomes (Kemp 2003).   

A key theme identified is a long-term vision within which experimental and incremental (adaptive) approaches to regulation can be applied.[52]  Such approaches are consistent with government efforts to boost innovation in New Zealand but may require a greater tolerance of diversity in regulation over time. 

Freshwater[53] and the marine environment[54] may be examples of where adaptive approaches can be applied.  Both the oceans and water debates involve multiple perspectives, conflicting interests, strongly held values, uncertainty over impacts, multiple agencies and levels of government, and long time frames. 

Progress on oceans policy has been slow and interrupted but each stage has built on work to that point, and provided an overall vision.  In water policy, after extensive public consultation and stakeholder engagement, Cabinet has endorsed an approach to work with stakeholders to deliver guidance to support changes to water management to address quantity and quality issues.  Table 5 illustrates key implications for New Zealand drawn from the discussions above. 

Table 5 – key implications for New Zealand
a long-term vision supported by intensive stakeholder involvement Agreeing the ‘common interest’ or defining the ‘bottom lines’ across all goals (e.g. a functioning ecosystem).
Identifying other ‘core’ goals and values, and accepting that trade-offs between these will occur and change over time, and that the goals and values will themselves change (slowly).
good science and information Determining what level of scientific understanding and information gathering is feasible, and what that means in terms of managing risks and opportunities.
a balance between providing certainty to stakeholders, flexibility to regulators, and procedural fairness. Accepting:
the need to encourage and enable (legally and administratively) diverse,  incremental and experimental policy responses across multiple governance levels, rather than always seeking comprehensive solutions;
that the balance between certainty and flexibility will continue to evolve and cause contention:
Certainty is normally sought by users that rights will continue in a form and size to support investments and financing, and by all parties that minimum targets will be achieved for each “core” goal and over the processes that will apply to any change. Flexibility is sought by regulators responding to shocks.  Innovation gives rise to pressures from users wishing to adapt their activities, and social and cultural interests to extend their goals where circumstances allow; both seeking to obtain a share of any available benefits.
Given the extent of conflict and difficulty of sustaining a single agreed set of outcomes, exploring how: to achieve consistent and effective representation, and  meet expectations of fairness in process and outcomes of natural resource management.

Sources: developed for this paper.

Lake Taupo and the Rotorua lakes have also demonstrated the value of an incremental or experimental approach with long time lags and different models to reflect local circumstances.[55]Both lakes have also required new approaches to governance such as a Trust jointly funded by central, regional and local government to address water quality issues in Lake Taupo, and the Rotorua Lakes Strategy Joint Committee.[56]

Adaptive approaches have also been adopted at the regional level for urban planning with the Auckland Regional Growth Strategy noting that “adaptable mechanisms means being able to select a range of appropriate techniques to implement the strategy over its 50-year lifetime”.[57] Those techniques include statutory and non-statutory mechanisms such as plans, strategies, design guides, road pricing, public funding, memorandums of understanding and joint ventures.

Delivering real progress from adaptive approaches, rather than policy paralysis and endless consultation, requires balancing broad participation with effective action. This task may be easier at the vision level in New Zealand than larger countries because we are a small country with a strong central government. Conversely, actual delivery may be harder in a system that so extensively delegates environmental decisions to the local level. Resolving the relative roles of central and local government in environmental management has been a key issue in the processes cited above, and is likely to remain so.


  • [52]As opposed to regulation that prescribes particular means of achieving outcomes – either deliberately (e.g. to reduce risk around key outcomes or minimise compliance costs) or unintentionally through not considering alternative options.  Prescriptive and performance-based regulation can both be appropriate in the right circumstances; e.g. following a specific regime can be a cheap and certain means of compliance for small business, while a performance-based approach can allow large businesses to develop systems to achieve regulatory goals at lower cost to themselves.
  • [53]
  • [54]
  • [55]As part of the Te Arawa Lakes Deed of Settlement the central government has legislated for a permanent Rotorua Lakes strategy body with Te Arawa having membership as of right.  This removes uncertainty issues around the long-term management at the expense of constraining the flexibility of future councils.  Long-term funding issues remain open as do demands for central government funding of what is essentially a regional issue. See, and
  • [56]An overarching management group made up of representatives from Environment Bay of Plenty, Te Arawa Trust Board and Rotorua District Council. It coordinates policy and actions to improve the Rotorua lakes. The committee is now established in law, as part of the Te Arawa Lakes Settlement.
  • [57]Auckland Regional Growth Strategy, chapter 4, p64  
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