Environmental Reporting Act 2015

The Act makes responsibilities for environmental reporting explicit. It also sets the broad framework for the scope and timing of environmental reporting. 


We recently sought feedback on proposals to strengthen the Act.

While the Act has made positive changes to the way we report on the environment, we need to extend its functionality and
breadth so environmental reports have more impact.

Find out more about the proposals

The consultation closed on 18 March 2022.

Full text

Environmental Reporting Act 2015 [New Zealand Legislation website]

Who does what under the Act

Government Statistician and the Secretary for the Environment

The involvement of the Government Statistician ensures that reporting is conducted at arm's length from the Government of the day and released in line with Principles and protocols for producers of Tier 1 statistics [Stats NZ website].

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment can comment on any aspect of reporting which provides a further degree of independence.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment website

Framework for environmental reporting

Under the Act environmental reporting is organised into:

  • five domains
  • a set of topics to identify key issues within each domain and across domains
  • indicators to provide measures of each topic.


The five reporting domains are:

  • air
  • atmosphere and climate
  • fresh water
  • land
  • marine.

Information on biodiversity and ecosystems features is provided in the land, fresh water and marine domains. The domains are sufficiently broad to accommodate those aspects of the environment that are important internationally and domestically.

Publishing information by domain allows us to build a comprehensive picture about the state, impacts and pressures across each domain. This picture is built upon in the three-yearly synthesis reports.


The topics to be reported on for each domain are set in the Environmental Reporting (Topics for Environmental Reports) Regulations 2016 [New Zealand Legislation website].

  • State topics - describe the broad aspects of the condition of the domain.
  • Pressure topics - describe the main sources of pressure on each domain
  • Impact topics - cover the impacts in the areas of ecological integrity, public health, the economy, te ao Māori (the Māori world view), and culture and recreation.

The topics help create consistency across domains and ensure the continuation of information over time. For the topics and descriptions see the publication Topics for environmental reporting.

The topics were finalised following public consultation at the end of 2015.

Note: The Environment Aotearoa 2015 report was a pilot for the framework and process set out under the Act. The topics and indicators for this report differ to those set in the regulations and were released prior to publication. This list was subject to approval by the Government Statistician.

See New Zealand's environmental reporting series: 2015 topics and provisional statistics [Stats NZ website].


Topics identify the things we want to know about the environment; indicators are the measures for the topics. In the same way as the gross domestic product is an indicator of economic activity, each environmental indicator allows us to measure and report on a specific aspect of our environment and track trends over time.

Environmental indicators are used to:

  • tell us about the quantity of a particular environmental asset
  • tell us whether environmental quality is improving, getting worse or staying the same
  • identify emerging issues
  • help inform environmental policies.

They should, as far as possible, be enduring so it is easy to make comparisons from year to year and report on trends both within New Zealand and internationally.

Selecting environmental indicators

We cannot continuously monitor every aspect of our environment so we use a range of statistics that act as indicators of the overall state of the environment. This is common practice in New Zealand and overseas.

The Government Statistician is responsible for developing the specific indicators and, with the Secretary for the Environment, for reporting against them. A technical advisory group for each domain will help identify indicators, where there is available data, to report against the topics. Potential indicators will be assessed for use by the Government Statistician based on the criteria set out below.

Criteria and description

Criteria Description
Relevance The degree to which the data meets user needs in coverage, content and detail.
Accuracy The degree to which the information precisely describes the phenomena it was designed to measure.
Timeliness The degree to which data produced are up-to-date, published frequently and delivered to schedule.
Accessibility The ease with which users are able to access and understand the data and its supporting information. 
Coherence/consistency  The degree to which data can be successfully brought together within a broad analytical framework and over time. 
Interpretability  The availability of supplementary data and metadata necessary to interpret and use the indicator effectively. 

Criteria are based on Statistics New Zealand’s principles and protocols for producers of Tier 1 statistics. This ensures the information in the domain reports is robust and transparent.

Principles and protocols for producers of Tier 1 statistics [Stats NZ website]

Where relevant, indicators will align with those used internationally. This allows us to benchmark against other countries where appropriate. Ensuring the data is representative at a national level is another significant consideration addressed by the accuracy and relevance criterion. The indicators will adhere to the principles of Statistics New Zealand’s good practice guidelines for the development and reporting of indicators. This means they will also align well with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD’s) environmental indicators.

Good practice guidelines for the development and reporting of indicators: July 2009 [Stats NZ website]

Environmental indicators, modelling and outlooks [OECD website]

Environmental indicators [Stats NZ website]

Timing of reporting

The Act requires us to publish one domain report every six months and a synthesis report on New Zealand's environment as a whole every three years.

Environmental Reporting Series – release dates [Stats NZ website]

For published reports see Environmental reporting

Separation of environmental reporting from the response

Separation of environmental reporting from the discussion about how to address environmental issues (the response) is an important principle of the environmental reporting framework.

Environmental reporting is an objective exercise in which we present information on our environment. Developing responses to address environmental issues is more subjective and open to debate. It involves government, stakeholders and society as a whole making judgements on what we value most and what trade-offs are acceptable.

Separation of the two is critical to maintaining an environmental reporting regime that is independent of other decision-making processes and is therefore trusted and credible.

Background to the Act

The changes to environmental reporting introduced by the Act follow the recommendations in the document Measuring up: Environmental reporting – A discussion document released in 2011.

See also:

Media releases and speeches on the Beehive website

Environmental reporting topic documentation