Our role as an environmental steward

The Ministry for the Environment has an important role as an environmental steward. This requires us to look after the land today, think broadly and look ahead.

This includes considering the:    

  • intrinsic value of ecosystems  
  • values people place on the environment  
  • principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi   
  • sustainability of natural and physical resources   
  • needs of future generations.  

Long-term insights briefings

Publishing a long-term insights briefing at least every three years is also a statutory requirement. The briefings are independent of government ministers and are not government policy.

Their purpose is to:  

  • identify trends, risks and opportunities that affect Aotearoa, as well as options for addressing these 
  • give the public service the opportunity to think innovatively about intergenerational issues 
  • support discussion on long-term issues and contribute to the decision-making of government, Māori, business, academia and not-for-profit organisations and the wider public. 

Our first long-term insights briefing Where to from here? How we ensure the future wellbeing of land and people considers:

  • how we use land now and the impact this has on the environment
  • what drivers might shape land use in the next 30 years.

The briefing also sets out a vision for the future of land and measures that could help to achieve this vision.

Briefing summary

Our land is under pressure

Our activities on the land, including agriculture, forestry and urban development, provide for essential needs and support prosperous and vibrant communities. However, they also place pressure on our environment.

These pressures have impacts on the things we value, for example:   

  • much of our wildlife is at risk of extinction
  • the amount of land that is naturally suitable for food production is shrinking
  • the way we use land is degrading soil and water
  • our urban areas are polluted.

Drivers of future land change

The pressures outlined above will continue to affect land, the environment, and people’s wellbeing in the years ahead. We have also considered drivers that may have a negative or positive influence on land use pressures in the next 30 years.

These drivers include:  

  • climate change altering weather patterns and raising sea levels
  • population growth creating demand for resources
  • economic and consumer demands influencing what we make and use
  • geopolitics and international dynamics affecting our environment and economy
  • policy and regulation shaping how land is used
  • technological advances reducing the environmental impact of land use activities
  • social and cultural values determining what is acceptable on the land.

Vision for the future

We have used the feedback we received from two rounds of consultation and from our work with rangatahi (youth) groups to create a vision of what the land and our relationship with it could look like in 2050.

The people we engaged with envisaged a future where:  

  • tangata whenua are empowered to exercise kaitiakitanga in a more meaningful way
  • we have protected, revitalised and made the land more resilient
  • we have moved from a growth-oriented society to one where we have a smaller impact on natural resources and the life support systems of the planet
  • people have a deeper connection with the environment and live more sustainable lives
  • an intergenerational perspective is embedded into decision-making across society.

Transformational change is needed

Achieving this vision would require a transformation of Aotearoa New Zealand’s politics, economy and society.

Our briefing identifies nine levers that would help us to change our course:  

  • Increase the effectiveness of policy and legislation.
  • Empower communities to take action.
  • Invest in sustainable infrastructure and technology.
  • Invest in science and mātauranga Māori.
  • Promote environmental education and knowledge transfer.
  • Embrace collaborative governance and coordination.
  • Embed environmental responsibility into institutions.
  • Enhance equity in decision-making.
  • Build resilience to global pressures.

How we developed the briefing

We wanted New Zealanders to contribute to our briefing, so we conducted an online survey about the future of land in May 2022. We received 49 responses (this is a small sample size and not representative of the wider population). 

Those who took part in the survey recognised that the land supports their wellbeing in many ways. 

They told us they wanted:  

  • the legacy of this generation to be an improved natural environment where indigenous species are protected, towns and cities are more compact and there is less pollution 
  • New Zealanders to embrace the role of kaitiaki and be more in tune with nature 
  • technological and infrastructure barriers to be removed so it is easier for New Zealanders to make sustainable choices. 

Ngāi Tahu and Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research also contributed to the briefing by sharing insights with us in conversations and hui after the survey. 

We invited community feedback on a draft briefing document in October 2022. We received 25 submissions. They were mostly from central and local government, industry groups, non-governmental organisations and academics.

About 70 per cent of submitters said they agreed with our vision for the future of land. We made changes to the briefing to reflect some of the feedback we received and published the final briefing in February 2023.

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