Latest state of the environment report gives cause for disquiet

A comprehensive assessment of New Zealand’s environment shows improvements in some areas but continued reduction in many aspects of environmental quality, with consequences for human health and wellbeing.

The assessment, produced every three years by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ, draws on nearly 50 environmental indicators, including 11 updated specifically for the report.

Environment Aotearoa 2022 found pressures of land use change and intensification, pollution, invasive species, and climate change were having detrimental impacts on the environment.

New Zealand’s rare ecosystems and indigenous species are under threat with 94 per cent of reptiles threatened with extinction or at risk of becoming extinct, and nearly three-quarters of terrestrial birds threatened or at risk.

The area of highly productive land that was unavailable for agriculture increased 54 per cent between 2002 and 2019. Continue reading

Environmental-economic accounts: Water physical stocks data show NZ is getting drier

New Zealand appears to be getting drier, Stats NZ said today, although it noted there is natural variation in precipitation due to seasons and cycles.

Average annual rainfall for the five years 2016–2020 was 3.1 per cent below the previous five-year average and 10.7 per cent below the five-year average for 1996–2000.

Between 2016 and 2020, New Zealand’s average precipitation, which includes rain, sleet, snow, and hail, was 504,988 million cubic metres. This was down from the average of 520,890 million cubic metres in the previous five years and down from an average of 565,691 million cubic metres in 1996–2000.

Average annual precipitation for five-year periods (million cubic metres), 1996–2020

Five-year grouping Precipitation
1996-2000 565,690
2001-2005 528,307
2006-2010 533,877
2011-2015 520,890
2016-2020 504,988

“In 2019, seven out of the nine North Island regions experienced drought-like conditions, with their lowest precipitation over the entire timeseries (year ended June 1995–2020),” environmental-economic accounts manager Stephen Oakley said.

Continue reading

Mixed performance by regions results in small reduction of national emissions

Approximately two-thirds of New Zealand’s regions recorded decreases in their total greenhouse gas emissions while one-third of regions increased their emissions between 2007 and 2018, Stats NZ said today.

Overall, this resulted in a reduction of just over 1% in New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions between 2007 and 2018.

Changes to a region’s total emissions result from increases or decreases in emissions from industry and households.

Industrial emissions, from either primary industries, goods-producing industries, or service industries, can be affected by several factors, such as structural changes to the local economy, changes in technology, or efficiency gains, environmental-economic accounts manager Stephen Oakley explained.

Primary industries – especially dairying – were a significant factor in the increased emissions in Canterbury, Otago and Southland. Continue reading

Environmental-economic accounts show dairy cattle farming recorded a rise in emissions from 2007–17

Stats NZ has released its latest environmental-economic accounts report which sums up the changes to greenhouse gas emissions across industry and households between 2007-2017.

The report presents the relationships between the environment and the economy, and the stocks, and changes in stocks, of New Zealand’s natural resources.

Emissions from industry accounted for 89 per cent of all of the greenhouse gas emissions in 2017; households make up the rest.

New Zealand’s emissions decreased 0.8 per cent over the 2008-15 period, one of the smaller decreases recorded.

The report says the structure of New Zealand’s economy and its dependency on the primary sector for exports affect its emissions intensity, which was 11th highest among 31 countries in 2015. Continue reading

Urban-sprawl concerns raised in report which spotlights serious land-use issues

A report on the state of the country’s land has highlighted the impact of urban sprawl, the loss of important wetlands and emerging problems associated with soil compaction.

The Our land 2018 report, released by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ today, confirms the need for more action to improve land management, Environment Minister David Parker says.

“I was particularly troubled by how much of our urban growth is occurring in our irreplaceable highly productive land.  Even in a country as lucky as New Zealand we only have limited quantities of these high-class soils,” he says.

Officials have been asked to start work on a National Policy Statement (NPS) for Versatile Land and High Class Soils to address issues such as the loss of prime market gardening land around Pukekohe, as Auckland expands, as well as the impact of lifestyle blocks on our most productive land.

“We have to ensure we have enough land to build the houses people need, but we must protect our most productive areas too.”

Another major concern was the finding that 44 per cent of sites tested had low macroporosity levels – in layperson’s language, that the soil was likely to be compacted.

“Healthy soil is like a sponge, full of holes that can absorb air and water. When it is compressed it can’t absorb water, which makes it more drought prone and nutrients are more likely to run off into waterways,” Mr Parker says.

The report is one of the most comprehensive yet on the state of New Zealand’s land.

“It brings together a range of issues such as soil erosion and quality, biodiversity, urban growth and waste. The connections between those issues and other aspects of the environment, such as our waterways and climate, are clear to see,” Mr Parker says.

The report found that New Zealand loses around 192 million tonnes of soil each year to erosion, of which 84 million is from pasture land.

Government, farmers and others with an interest in land have a role to play in better managing erosion-prone land.

“The Government’s billion trees planting programme, which focuses on the ‘right tree, right place, right time’ will help.

“The report also confirms the continued loss of our limited wetlands, which contain some of our most precious biodiversity, and filter contaminants from land. We must do more to protect these.”

Mr Parker has also asked officials to begin working on a more comprehensive freshwater national policy statement to address concerns about sediment, wetlands and estuaries.

He said the new report must spark a greater effort to build our knowledge of land, because there are significant data gaps which must be filled.

Source: Minister for the Environment

Govt report confirms rivers are facing serious challenges

New Zealand’s rivers and lakes are under increasing pressure, according to the latest national report from the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ about the state of fresh water.

Our fresh water 2017 (HERE), released today, measures the quality of our waterways; water quantity and flows; biodiversity in rivers and lakes; and the cultural health of fresh water.

Key findings from the report are:

    • nitrogen levels are getting worse at 55 per cent and getting better at 28 per cent of monitored river sites across New Zealand;
    • phosphorus levels are getting better at 42 per cent and getting worse at 25 per cent of monitored river sites across New Zealand;
    • of the 39 native fish species we report on, 72 per cent are either threatened with or at risk of extinction;
    * levels are 22 times higher in urban areas and 9.5 times higher in pastoral rivers compared with rivers in native forest areas;
    • 51 per cent of water allocated for consumptive use is for irrigation, and 65 per cent of that is allocated to Canterbury.

Government Statistician Liz MacPherson said (HERE) the regular environment reports were important in providing a national picture of the state of our environment while acknowledging regional variations.

“This helps us see where the greatest pressures are and where we are performing well,” she said. “Today’s report confirms our freshwater environment faces a number of serious challenges.”

Secretary for the Environment Vicky Robertson said land use clearly affected the state of fresh water in this country.

“This report confirms our urban waterways are the most polluted but we are seeing more declining trends in pastoral areas and it’s important we do something about it now and continue to track any progress.”

More information was still needed on fresh water biodiversity.

“It’s clear many species are under pressure. Of the 39 native fish species we report on, 72 per cent are either threatened with or at risk of extinction. About a third of native freshwater plants and invertebrates are also at risk,” Ms Robertson said.

“Recently there has been a strong focus on how swimmable our waterways are, but that is just part of the story. The implications for our freshwater species are really critical.

“Many of our species are found nowhere else in the world so it is even more crucial we don’t lose any under our watch. We need to consider the resilience of all species in any decisions we make that affect the environment.”

Other recent reports also demonstrated the significant impact from human activity on our fresh water quality and quantity and on our ecosystems, habitats and species, Ms Robertson said.

“The more studies there are, the better we understand the impact people have on fresh water. However, we can’t wait for perfect data to act. This report identifies some key issues we can focus on for actions.”

Ms MacPherson said Our fresh water 2017 used the best available data and was independently quality assured.

“Good science, data, and information have the potential to shape our choices and the impact we have on our environment at the national, regional, and community level.”

More work was needed on collecting and reporting consistent data on fresh water, including filling gaps in our knowledge, said Ms MacPherson.

“It will take time and effective collaboration to get the reliable, well-structured, and relevant statistics we need and we are continually looking at ways to improve data for future reports.”

Ms MacPherson noted that as with the other reports in the environmental reporting series, Our fresh water 2017 was focused on providing underlying evidence to help inform policy responses and the public debate.

“Past experience shows where we focus our energy, we can make a difference,” said Ms Robertson. “Over time we have become better at identifying and addressing point source pollution in water. Good fertiliser and erosion management in some areas appears to have helped decrease phosphorous in some waterways. We must explore more ways to effectively improve our most vulnerable waterways.”

The report is the second since the Environmental Reporting Act came into effect in June 2016. The next report – about atmosphere and climate – will be out in October 2017.