New Zealand

   

Environmental Policies

#28
Key Findings
With a strongly agricultural economy, New Zealand falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 28) in terms of environmental policy. Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to its 2014 level.

A 2017 review of New Zealand’s environmental policies criticized the country for prioritizing growth over environmental quality. Rising greenhouse gas emissions and declining fresh water quality were key concerns. However, deforestation has been addressed through an effective permit system, and all recent governments have been active in protecting biodiversity.

The county has the highest share of emissions from agriculture within the OECD. Critics say the National-led government failed to resist agricultural-industry pressures, particularly with regard to dairy farmers.

The government ratified the Paris climate agreement in late 2016, pledging to reduce emissions to 11% below 1990 levels by 2030.

Environment

#23

How effectively does environmental policy protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment?

10
 9

Environmental policy effectively protects, preserves and enhances the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
 8
 7
 6


Environmental policy largely protects and preserves the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
 5
 4
 3


Environmental policy insufficiently protects and preserves the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
 2
 1

Environmental policy has largely failed to protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
Environmental Policy
6
The performance of New Zealand’s environmental policy is mixed but improving. In the 2016 Environmental Performance Index, New Zealand ranked 11 out of 180 countries. However, this particular ranking should not detract from the fact that New Zealand holds only an average overall position in the group of OECD countries. The OECD’s third environmental performance report, released in March 2017, increased public concern regarding New Zealand’s environmental situation. According to the report, New Zealand’s strong economic growth comes partly at the expense of environmental quality, which puts the country’s hard-earned green reputation at risk. Central concerns include rising greenhouse gas emissions and declining freshwater quality. The OECD review was particularly critical of New Zealand’s record on climate change, saying it has the highest share of emissions from agriculture among the 35 OECD member countries.

Major environmental problems stem from New Zealand’s economy, which is heavily dependent on agricultural production and dairy in particular. Areas of concern include water usage and management and greenhouse gas emissions. The main policy tool for tackling greenhouse gas emissions is New Zealand’s Emissions Trading Scheme. However, the effectiveness of the scheme is limited, as biological emissions from agriculture and transitional arrangements are excluded. This has halved the carbon price that carbon emitters have had to pay. According to OECD recommendations, the government should address the issue of high greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture through pricing, regulation and R&D, while transitional agreements should be terminated. The then Climate Change Issues Minister Paula Bennett highlighted the need to reform the Emissions Trading Scheme to achieve New Zealand’s target for reducing emissions as agreed at the Paris climate conference in December 2015. Deforestation, in contrast, is of much less concern, as logging in indigenous forests on public land has ceased and a permit is required to log on private property (although several major forests will reach maturity in the next few years). Finally, biodiversity is an area in which all recent governments have been quite active. Due to New Zealand’s isolated location, its biodiversity is one of the most varied in the world, with a high percentage of vulnerable endemic species. Substantial public interest in environmental issues is evidenced by high levels of support for environmental-interest groups (e.g., Greenpeace and Forest and Birds Society) and the significant influence of the Green Party, which has since October 2017 held ministerial responsibility for climate change issues. Prior to the change of government, environmentalists accused the National-led government of pandering to farmers, especially the rapidly expanding dairy industry, who are among National’s strongest supporters, and of failing to take a strong stance in supporting international environmental agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol.

The problem of gathering and systemizing environmental data was addressed with the introduction of the Environmental Reporting Act in September 2015. This establishes a broad framework of five key areas for the scope of reporting, namely air, climate and atmosphere, freshwater, marine and land, with biodiversity included in all areas. This followed the restructuring of the Environment Ministry to strengthen its policy capability and the creation of the Environmental Protection Authority. These initiatives formed part of the National government’s blue-green agenda for improving New Zealand’s environmental institutions. New Zealand had previously been the only OECD country without a statutory requirement for the state reporting of environmental data.

Citations:
Environmental Performance Index 2016 (Yale/Columbia: Yale University/Columbia University 2016) http://epi.yale.edu/downloads (accessed June 30, 2016).
Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.govt.nz/Pages/default.aspx (accessed November 28, 2015).
Ministry for the Environment. About the Environmental Reporting Act 2015 http://www.mfe.govt.nz/more/environmental-reporting/about-act (accessed June 30, 2016).
OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: New Zealand 2017 (http://www.oecd.org/environment/country-reviews/oecd-environmental-performance-reviews-new-zealand-2017-9789264268203-en.htm) (accessed January 18, 2018).

Global Environmental Protection

#26

To what extent does the government actively contribute to the design and advancement of global environmental protection regimes?

10
 9

The government actively contributes to international efforts to design and advance global environmental protection regimes. In most cases, it demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, fosters their advancement and initiates appropriate reforms.
 8
 7
 6


The government contributes to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes. It demonstrates commitment to existing regimes and occasionally fosters their advancement or initiates appropriate reforms.
 5
 4
 3


The government demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, but neither fosters their advancement nor initiates appropriate reforms.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes.
Global Environmental Policy
6
New Zealand has a mixed record with respect to its contribution to the global environmental protection regime. After initially committing to the Kyoto protocol, a change of government resulted in the decision to withdraw from the treaty. Nevertheless, the National-led government did commit to reducing emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. On the other hand, it was pointed out that the country would not be able to achieve this goal if the off-setting effects of its forestry policies were to be excluded. In accordance with the Paris Agreement on climate change, New Zealand committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 5% below 1990 levels by 2020. (The new post-2020 target is equivalent to 11% below 1990 levels by 2030). The government ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change in October 2016. The government also announced that New Zealand would ratify the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol and continue to apply the Kyoto rules under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The formal ratification took place in November 2016.

Citations:
Ministry for the Environment. New Zealand’s 2030 climate change target (http://www.mfe.govt.nz/more/environmental-reporting/about-act) (accessed September 12, 2016).
“NZ fails environment tests,” The New Zealand Herold, 8.8.2013, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10909645.
New Zealand to ratify Paris agreement this year. 17 August, 2016. https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/new-zealand-ratify-paris-agreement-year (accessed September 13, 2016).
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