The Government’s priority themes for 2006 – 2016 are economic transformation, families young and old, and national identity.

The Government’s priorities 2006 – 2016

Economic transformation focuses on transforming New Zealand to a high income, innovative, creative, knowledge-based market economy which provides a unique quality of life to all New Zealanders. The sub-themes of growing globally competitive firms, world class infrastructure, Auckland as an internationally competitive city and, in particular, environmental sustainability are relevant to the Ministry’s work.

High environmental quality and practices need to be a central element of New Zealand’s overall competitive advantage and branding.

Achieving and sustaining high environmental standards will require significant changes from historical relationships and practices, at all levels of the economy, over the next few decades. For example, reducing greenhouse gases, improving water quality, and minimising waste will require changes in the practices of businesses, households and the state sector. It will require investment in technologies and processes that are less energy and carbon intensive.

Sustainable development requires integration between economic and environmental decision-making so that both continued growth and better environmental outcomes are achieved. This integration needs to drive investment, research, innovation and creativity. Examples will include cars that are more energy efficient and produce lower emissions, houses and buildings that are much more energy efficient and a public sector that is carbon neutral.

Within the Economic Transformation theme, the Government1 has identified its current environmental sustainability priorities as:

  • the emissions trading scheme legislation

  • international negotiations for a comprehensive, post-2012 agreement on climate change

  • improving the environmental performance of land-based industries and assisting them to adapt to a changing climate

  • the national policy statement on fresh water management

  • new waste legislation

  • continuing to lead by example in the public sector on sustainability and building awareness among households and businesses of how they can contribute to making New Zealand more sustainable.

The Ministry has work programmes focusing on these priorities in climate change, fresh water, waste minimisation, and encouraging sustainable practices in government operations, businesses and households.

The Ministry is also contributing to work in central and local government to make New Zealand towns and cities more successful – economically, socially, culturally and environmentally. In particular, we are working with other agencies to help Auckland become an internationally competitive city.

The Families Young and Old theme focuses on providing families with the support and choices they need to be secure and to be able to reach their full potential within our knowledge-based economy.

Adaptation to higher environmental standards will require adjustments by households and will have different impacts on different groups within the community. Therefore, the Ministry seeks to work closely with social development agencies and local government so that environmental and social policies are effectively integrated.

Quality urban development and design are among the Ministry’s work programme priorities. These focus on the importance of quality urban design, related to more affordable housing, good public transport, and better access to a range of amenities. Clean home heating is a complementary measure to improve outdoor air quality and reduce risks to human health from air pollution.

The National Identity theme focuses on enabling New Zealanders to take pride in who and what we are, through our arts, culture, film, sports and music, our appreciation of our natural environment, our understanding of our history, and our stance on international issues.

A high quality natural environment plays a role in the identity of New Zealanders and is a key area that other countries associate with New Zealand.

Raising awareness of, and reporting on, the state of the environment is one way we can help improve appreciation of the natural environment. The work to improve different aspects of environmental quality at national and local levels will strengthen identification with high environmental standards. It will also strengthen New Zealand’s global competitiveness.

Government priorities also include negotiating and implementing free trade agreements. The Ministry for the Environment works with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to ensure that free trade agreements provide appropriate support for sustainable development and environmental objectives. The Ministry is responsible for implementing environmental provisions with trade partners.

The Ministry also works closely with the Office of Treaty Settlements on negotiation of Treaty of Waitangi claim settlements and the Ministry of Justice on foreshore and seabed agreements. Generally these settlements and agreements include a range of redress mechanisms related to resource management.

The context for our work – the state of New Zealand’s environment

Though New Zealand’s environment is in good condition by world standards, a number of the indicators used to measure its health are moving in the wrong direction. Environment New Zealand 20072 highlighted key trends.

The section below summarises the high-level findings of the report that are most strongly connected to the Ministry’s work programmes.


The report indicates that air quality generally is improving following the introduction of national environmental standards for air quality. Air quality is good in most places most of the time, but about 30 locations can experience poor air quality which can affect health or lead to premature death. About 1,100 people die prematurely each year in New Zealand from exposure to air pollution.3 The major pressures on air quality are emissions of fine particles from home heating and vehicles.


Between 1990 and 2005, New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions increased by 25 per cent, reflecting our population and economic growth. The largest growth in emissions was in energy/transport and agriculture. Under the Kyoto Protocol, New Zealand has a target in the period from 2008 to 2012 to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to the level they were in 1990 or take responsibility for excess emissions.


Land is a vital resource for New Zealand’s top two export earners: tourism and primary production. The major pressures on our land relate to its use in urban development and production. Agricultural land use has intensified, leading to increased use of fertiliser and water, and greenhouse gas emissions. A key question for environmental management is how best to minimise the impacts of intensified land use on soils and waterways.

Fresh water

By international standards fresh water is clean and plentiful in New Zealand. Water quality has been adversely affected by more intensive land use, with pollution from diffuse sources such as run-off from urban areas and farm land. Increased demand for water is an emerging issue. For example, the volume of water allocated by local government increased by 50 per cent between 1999 and 2006, driven mainly by an increase in land area under irrigation. Better information is needed to understand how much water is actually used in New Zealand.


New Zealand administers the sixth largest marine environment in the world. About 30 per cent of New Zealand’s marine environment is thought to experience some degree of disturbance from human activities. Balancing the competing needs of users of the marine environment is likely to become more urgent in the future.


Almost 2,500 native land-based and freshwater species are threatened, due to loss of habitats and the introduction of pest plants and animals. Freshwater biodiversity is affected by surrounding land use and water quality. The effects of climate change may further exacerbate pressures on New Zealand’s most endangered species.

Other pressures on the environment

Household, business and government agency practices – their use of energy, transport, water and raw materials and the waste they produce – affect the natural environment.

Household consumption is a driving force behind the production of goods and services and the generation of waste. The impacts on the environment from households have grown over recent decades and are expected to intensify over the next two decades, especially for energy, transport and waste.

While waste management has improved, considerable scope still exists to significantly reduce levels of waste and improve its management.

New Zealand also has a legacy of unwanted hazardous substances, contaminated land and waterways polluted in the past that need investigation, management and cleaning up.

Environmental sustainability

Key elements of environmental sustainability linked to the Ministry’s work are:

  • using water, energy and raw materials efficiently

  • minimising waste, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions

  • purchasing products and services that minimise their impact on the environment

  • maintaining a healthy natural environment and protecting biological diversity.

The Ministry’s end outcomes

The Ministry sees its primary focus as centred on the achievement of high standards of environmental quality. This requires reducing pressures on the environment and promoting changes in practices that improve the environment.

High standards of environmental quality must be achieved in ways and over timeframes that can allow different sectors to adapt and adjust, so that economic and social well-being can be sustained.

An increasingly important focus will be on adaptation to the likely impacts of climate change, especially in coastal and flood-prone communities.

End outcomes

New Zealand’s air, water, land and built communities are healthy.

Healthy and liveable communities are supported by high air, water and soil quality. Quality urban design enables efficient movement of people and products, access to good local services and amenities, and quality housing. The impacts of activities in the Exclusive Economic Zone are well managed.

The priority work programmes contributing to this outcome are:

  • fresh water

  • urban design and development

  • oceans.

Risks to people, the economy and the environment from pollution, contamination
and other environmental hazards are minimised.

Risks are well managed, making communities and work places safer and healthier places in which to live and work.

The priority work programmes contributing to this outcome are:

  • fresh water

  • waste minimisation.

New Zealand is able to capitalise on its natural environmental advantages.

The high quality of New Zealand’s natural environment underpins New Zealand’s global competitive advantage and reputation. New Zealand adapts well to a low-carbon economy and helps lead international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The priority work programmes contributing to this outcome are:

  • environmental sustainability in key sectors

  • climate change.

New Zealand’s natural resources are managed effectively and New Zealanders use resources sustainably.

New Zealand adapts well to meeting higher environmental standards and to the potential impacts of climate change. All sectors use energy, transport and resources efficiently and minimise waste.

The priority work programmes contributing to this outcome are:

  • environmental sustainability in key sectors

  • climate change

  • waste minimisation.

Environmental governance

Environmental reporting

1 Prime Minister’s Statement to Parliament, 12 February 2008.

2 Ministry for the Environment, 2007.

3 Fisher, G, Kjellstrom, T, Kingham, S, Hales, S and Shrestha, R I, 2007.  Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand: Main report.  Health Research Council, Ministry for the Environment and Ministry of Transport.