OECD – Wellington, 21 March 2017
Environmental pressures rising in New Zealand, says OECD
New Zealanders enjoy a high environmental quality of life and access to pristine wilderness. However, New Zealand’s
growth model, based largely on exploiting natural resources, is starting to show its environmental limits with
increasing greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution, according to a new OECD report.
While the country only accounts for a tiny share of global emissions, the OECD’s third Environmental Performance Review of New Zealand
finds that intensive dairy farming, road transport and industry have pushed up gross GHG emissions by 23% since 1990.
Despite generating 80% of its electricity from renewable sources, among the highest in OECD countries, New Zealand has
the second-highest level of emissions per GDP unit in the OECD and the fifth-highest emissions per capita.
“Having largely decarbonised its power generation, New Zealand needs to ensure its climate policies are effective in
curbing emissions in all sectors, notably transport and agriculture,” said OECD Environment Director Simon Upton,
presenting the report in Wellington. “This means strengthening the Emissions Trading Scheme and ensuring sectoral
policies are aligned with the need for a low emissions transition.”
With respect to agriculture which accounts for 49% of emissions – the highest share in the OECD – the report suggests
either incorporating emissions from agriculture into the Emissions Trading Scheme, or developing alternative measures to
counter the pressures of farming. The use of environmentally related taxes, charges and prices should be expanded.
Growth in intensive dairy production has increased the level of nitrogen in soil, surface water and groundwater. The
nitrogen balance (the difference between nutrients entering and leaving the system) increased more than in any other
OECD country from 2000 to 2010.
Aware of the need to safeguard water quality, New Zealand has begun a process of freshwater policy reforms with a Clean
Water Package of proposals in February that address some of the OECD recommendations. Further government support is
needed to assist local authorities with setting rigorous goals and to speed up implementation.
The review also looks at New Zealand’s fast-growing cities and suggests that a simpler urban planning system, less
restrictive land-use regulations and better coordination between land, transport and infrastructure planning could help
ease the pressure. Car ownership in cities is high and many vehicles are old and emission-intensive. Current vehicle
standards and taxes do not sufficiently encourage a shift towards cleaner, more efficient technologies.
Other recommendations include:
• Develop a long-term vision for a transition towards a low-carbon, greener economy.
• Strengthen national-level management of air and water pollution and hazardous waste with more guidance and support to
• Accelerate implementation of water management reforms and ensure water quantity and quality limits are sufficiently
ambitious. Expand the use of economic instruments to encourage more efficient water use and reduce pollution.
• Build capacity of Maori communities to ensure their adequate participation in natural resource management planning.
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