3 February 2020
Lincoln University has released the findings of its 9th Public Perceptions of New Zealand’s Environment survey.
The 2019 survey found that, on average, New Zealanders perceive the state of the country’s natural environment to be
adequate or good and people consider themselves to have a good knowledge about it. However, concern about climate change
has increased dramatically in the past three years.
The survey, which remains the only long-running study of its kind in the world, assesses public perceptions on
environmental pressures, the state of the environment, and the adequacy of resource management responses.
The authors of the 92-page survey report – Lincoln University Professors Ken Hughey, Geoff Kerr, and Ross Cullen –
questioned the public about many aspects of the environment such as air, native plants and animals, water, biodiversity,
soils, beaches, and marine reserves.
New Zealanders gave the highest ratings to air, native bush and forests and the lowest to rivers and lakes, wetlands and
marine fisheries. This continues a long-held pattern of similar responses.
Management of the environment was considered adequate to good, and better than in other developed countries, with the
management of national parks rated most highly. The perceived worst-managed environments were rivers, lakes,
groundwater, marine fisheries, coastal resources and beaches. The relatively low rating for freshwater resources may
have been a result of the poor rating given to management of farm effluent and runoff.
Notably, while farming was perceived to be one of the three main causes of damage to freshwater, for the first time in
the survey’s 20-year history, there was a decline in the proportion of respondents citing it as an issue.
As with previous surveys, water was rated as the most important environmental issue facing New Zealand, while
atmospheric change remained the most commonly identified global issue. For both New Zealand and the world, concern about
greenhouse gas emissions and climate change increased dramatically since 2016.
An ongoing concern, according to Professor Hughey, was the continued disparity between the respondents’ perceptions of
the state of New Zealand’s native plants and animals and reality.
“Around 70 per cent of respondents considered the condition of New Zealand’s native plants and animals to be adequate or
good, yet State of the Environment reports from organisations such as Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New
Zealand, and the Department of Conservation suggest otherwise, and significantly so,” said Professor Hughey.
“Ongoing survey results suggest that while the majority of respondents are adopting some environment-enhancing
activities, such as recycling household waste, relatively few people seem to involve themselves with activities outside
the home. Only 15-30 per cent of respondents said they took part in restoration or replanting or participated in
environmental organisations, hearings or consent processes. However, there is evidence of increased participation in
some of these activities over time.”
The survey continues to show ethnicity-related differences in perceptions and behaviours. Of note, Māori respondents had
more negative perceptions of the state of the New Zealand environment and were significantly more likely to participate
in pro-environmental activities, such as restoration or replanting projects.
The Public Perceptions of New Zealand’s Environment survey has gone some way to guide policymakers and is used by a range of organisations and researchers. The 2019 survey
emphasises the need to ensure that facts and perceptions are aligned to ensure sound policies and effective