About the Environmental Reporting Act 2015

This page has information on the Environmental Reporting Act 2015. It outlines what we report on and how we report under Act. 

About the Act 

In September 2015, the Environmental Reporting Act 2015 (the Act) was passed into law. The Act makes responsibilities for environmental reporting explicit. It also sets the broad framework for the scope and timing of environmental reporting. 

Environmental Reporting Act 2015 [New Zealand Legislation website]

Who does what under the Act

Under the Act, the Government Statistician and the Secretary for the Environment have responsibility for environmental reporting.

Government Statistician [Stats NZ website]

Secretary for the Environment

The involvement of the Government Statistician ensures that reporting is conducted at arm's length from the Government of the day and released in line with Principles and protocols for producers of Tier 1 statistics [Stats NZ archive website].

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment can comment on any aspect of reporting which provides a further degree of independence. See Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment [Parliamentary Commissioner website]

Framework for environmental reporting

Under the Act environmental reporting is organised into:

  • five domains 
  • a set of topics to identify key issues within each domain and across domains
  • indicators to provide measures of each topic.

Domains

The five reporting domains are:

  • air
  • atmosphere and climate
  • fresh water
  • land
  • marine.

Information on biodiversity and ecosystems features is provided in the land, fresh water and marine domains. The domains are sufficiently broad to accommodate those aspects of the environment that are important internationally and domestically.

Publishing information by domain allows us to build a comprehensive picture about the state, impacts and pressures across each domain. This picture is built upon in the three-yearly synthesis reports.

Topics

The topics to be reported on for each domain are set in the Environmental Reporting (Topics for Environmental Reports) Regulations 2016 [New Zealand Legislation website]. 

  • State topics - describe the broad aspects of the condition of the domain.
  • Pressure topics - describe the main sources of pressure on each domain
  • Impact topics - cover the impacts in the areas of ecological integrity, public health, the economy, te ao Māori (the Māori world view), and culture and recreation.

The topics help create consistency across domains and ensure continuation of information over time. For the topics and descriptions see the publication Topics for environmental reporting.

The topics were finalised following public consultation at the end of 2015.

For more information on the consultation see:

Note: The Environment Aotearoa 2015 report was a pilot for the framework and process set out under the Act. The topics and indicators for this report differ to those set in the regulations and were released prior to publication. This list was subject to approval by the Government Statistician. See New Zealand's environmental reporting series: 2015 topics and provisional statistics [Stats NZ website].

Indicators

Topics identify the things we want to know about the environment; indicators are the measures for the topics. In the same way as the gross domestic product is an indicator of economic activity, each environmental indicator allows us to measure and report on a specific aspect of our environment and track trends over time.

Environmental indicators are used to:

  • tell us about the quantity of a particular environmental asset
  • tell us whether environmental quality is improving, getting worse or staying the same
  • identify emerging issues
  • help inform environmental policies.

They should, as far as possible, be enduring so it is easy to make comparisons from year to year and report on trends both within New Zealand and internationally.

Selecting environmental indicators

We cannot continuously monitor every aspect of our environment so we use a range of statistics that act as indicators of the overall state of the environment. This is common practice in New Zealand and overseas.

The Government Statistician is responsible for developing the specific indicators and, with the Secretary for the Environment, for reporting against them. A technical advisory group for each domain will help identify indicators, where there is available data, to report against the topics. Potential indicators will be assessed for use by the Government Statistician based on the criteria set out below.

CRITERIA

DESCRIPTION

Relevance The degree to which the data meets user needs in coverage, content and detail.
Accuracy The degree to which the information precisely describes the phenomena it was designed to measure.
Timeliness The degree to which data produced are up-to-date, published frequently and delivered to schedule.
Accessibility The ease with which users are able to access and understand the data and its supporting information.
Coherence/consistency The degree to which data can be successfully brought together within a broad analytical framework and over time.
Interpretability The availability of supplementary data and metadata necessary to interpret and use the indicator effectively.

Criteria are based on Statistics New Zealand’s principles and protocols for producers of Tier 1 statistics. This ensures the information in the domain reports is robust and transparent.

Principles and protocols for producers of Tier 1 statistics [Stats NZ website]

Where relevant, indicators will align with those used internationally. This allows us to benchmark against other countries where appropriate.  Ensuring the data is representative at a national level is another significant consideration addressed by the accuracy and relevance criterion. The indicators will adhere to the principles of Statistics New Zealand’s good practice guidelines for the development and reporting of indicators. This means they will also align well with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD’s) environmental indicators.  

Good practice guidelines for the development and reporting of indicators: July 2009 [Stats NZ website]

Environmental indicators, modelling and outlooks [OECD website] 

Timing of reporting

The Act requires us to publish one domain report every six months and a synthesis report on New Zealand's environment as a whole every three years. 

Environmental Reporting Series – release dates [Stats NZ website]

For published reports see Reports: New Zealand's environmental reporting series

    Separation of environmental reporting from the response

    Separation of environmental reporting from the discussion about how to address environmental issues (the response) is an important principle of the environmental reporting framework.

    Environmental reporting is an objective exercise in which we present information on our environment. Developing responses to address environmental issues is more subjective and open to debate. It involves government, stakeholders and society as a whole making judgements on what we value most and what trade-offs are acceptable.

    Separation of the two is critical to maintaining an environmental reporting regime that is independent of other decision-making processes and is therefore trusted and credible.

    Background to the Act

    The changes to environmental reporting introduced by the Act follow the recommendations in the document Measuring up: Environmental reporting – A discussion document released in 2011. 

    See also:

    Media releases and speeches on the Beehive website

    Reviewed:
    25/03/19