State of Environment report highlights need for better data

Published: Thu 18 Apr 2019 11:26 AM
The Resource Management Law Association (RMLA) welcomes the comprehensive report on the state of the environment released by the Ministry for the Environment today.
The report collates information from Statistics New Zealand, Land Information New Zealand, councils and industry stakeholders to better understand and share available environmental data. However, the report also highlights the need for better data for business and environment law says RMLA President and MinterEllisonRuddWatts Partner, Rachel Devine.
"Our members operate in the space where there is tension between development and the protection of the environment. We value quality environmental data because it contributes to good environmental decision and policy making," says Rachel Devine.
"Environmental data is fragmented. It comes from different sources, is collected for different reasons and is often structured in different ways. Trying to make sense of the big picture often requires the help of expert specialists - scientists, economists and computer analysts."
The State of the Environment report contributes to the debate about the effectiveness of New Zealand’s resource management regulatory systems in providing for development within the limits of the environment's carrying capacity.
"The data available paints a picture consistent with our members’ views: our environment is suffering in some areas and good in others," says Rachel Devine.
"While the report contributes to our understanding of the environment, we shouldn't need to wait for such analysis every three years."
The RMLA suggests three changes to improve the efficacy of the report:
Release data more often, in a consistent format and online
Accessibility of environmental data helps democratise it. Transparent and accessible information would enable both experts and the public to engage in debate effectively.
While the Ministry for the Environment and others have worked hard to standardise the collection of environmental information, mandating the supply of this public data makes it easier to use and combine with industry collected data to paint a broader picture.
Central government could help achieve this outcome by supporting to councils to regularly release all their information online in a consistent format.
Introduce useful indicators to measure performance
Measuring the right indicators is essential for New Zealand’s prosperity and global reputation. Tourism and agriculture, for example, rely on our environment.
Currently it is not clear if the right environmental data is being collected to make decisions affecting New Zealand.
Government to encourage more quality debate about the environment
The more people understand the data, the better quality debates there will be about New Zealand’s environment. Raw data can be overwhelming and is ineffective without translation.
RMLA members recognise that communicating environmental data in a way that is easy to understand is essential for optimal outcomes. Communication needs to be simple: effective visuals, analogies and stories.
Such translation needs well-resourced specialists. To help provide a level playing field, central and local government must take the lead role in communicating environmental information. They must also reduce the cost of accessing environmental information.
President of the Resource Management Law Association ( RMLA) and MinterEllisonRuddWatts Partner specialising in Environmental Law, Rachel Devine has practiced for over 20 years in this high profile area of law, acting for government and the private sector.
The RMLA is New Zealand’s leading forum for interpreting and implementing environmental legislation, including the Resource Management Act. The industry association promotes an understanding of resource management law and its implementation; excellence in resource management policy and practice; resource management processes which are legally sound, effective and efficient; and which produce high-quality environmental outcomes.

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