Environmental / Resource Management

A More Consistent Approach to Environmental Reporting

On behalf of the Government, the Minister for the Environment, Amy Adams, has introduced the Environmental Reporting Bill 2014 ("the Bill").

The aim is to:

"... create a national level environmental reporting system to ensure that reporting on our environment occurs on a regular basis and can be trusted by the public as independent, fair and accurate."

However, as the Commentary to the Bill makes clear, this is about making better use of the information already available, rather than extending the scope of information currently collected. There is reliance on existing agencies to do the work.

Two Types of Environmental Reports

In place of the somewhat ad hoc State of the Environment reports published periodically by the Ministry for the Environment, the Bill proposes two new types of environmental report:

  • Synthesis report to be published every three years addressing the state of New Zealand's environment as a whole; and
  • Domain reports on each of the domains of air, atmosphere and climate, freshwater, land, and marine. A domain report for one of the domains must be published at least once every 6 months (except when a Synthesis report is due), and each of the domains must be reported on at least once every 3 years.

Agency Roles

Various roles in the environmental reporting process are assigned.

The Minister for the Environment and the Minister of Statistics must consult with the Government Statistician and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, before recommending regulations prescribing the topics to be covered in Synthesis reports and Domain reports, including the pressures that may cause changes to the state of the domain or environment, and the impact of those changes.

The Government Statistician, after consultation with the Secretary for the Environment, decides what statistics will be used to measure the topics prescribed by regulations. The Secretary and the Government Statistician are then jointly responsible for producing the reports, and in doing so must utilise the expertise of the Ministry and Statistics New Zealand. Independence from political interference is protected by a requirement that they act independently of any Minister of the Crown in producing and publishing the reports.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has a discretion to report on an environmental report and the processes that produced it.

Protection of information

There is an interesting disclosure provision designed to avoid the premature release of information. Any request for disclosure of information or analysis received in the course of preparing an environmental report must be referred to the Secretary and the Government Statistician. They may order that the information not be disclosed if of the opinion that it would compromise the independence of the report, or is integral to significant findings or conclusions of the report. This provision overrides the Official Information Act 1982.

Commencement

Because regulations first need to be made, the Bill provides for commencement either:

  • On a date appointed by the Governor-General by Order in Council; or
  • 9 months after the date of Royal Assent

whichever is earlier.

The Bill awaits its first reading.

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The contents of this publication are general in nature and are not intended to serve as a substitute for legal advice on a specific matter. In the absence of such advice no responsibility is accepted by Brookfields for reliance on any of the information provided in this publication.

 

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