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Environmental reporting bill - All talk, no action?
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By: Kirstie Wyss
The Environmental Reporting Bill will, if enacted, introduce a national-level environmental reporting system focusing on five key domains: air, climate and atmosphere, freshwater, land, and marine.
The reporting system aims to be independent, comprehensive and accurate, with reports introduced at regular intervals. A report on one of the domains would be published every six months (each domain must be reported on at least once every three years) and a "synthesis report" covering all domains would be published every three years, with the first synthesis report due on 30 June 2015.
The Secretary for the Environment (the Chief Executive of the Ministry for the Environment) and Government Statistician will be jointly responsible for producing the reports. As well as describing the state of the domain, the reports must advise on the pressures that may be causing changes to the state of the environment and the impacts these environmental trends may have on specified matters, including public health, ecological integrity, economic benefits, and culture and recreation. Regulations will set the high-level topics to be covered in the reports, as determined by Ministers.
The reports must also describe how the state of the environment compares with national or international standards. There is no further clarification in the Bill as to which national or international standards will be utilised in the comparison, other than the requirement for the Government Statistician in consultation with the Secretary to decide what statistics will be used to measure topics.
The Bill requires the reports to be based on the best available data. However, there is no requirement to generate information beyond that already in existence. There is potential that last year's amendments to section 35 of the RMA to require local authorities to monitor any indicators or matters prescribed in regulations under the RMA could help provide more local information about the state of the environment, which could be utilised in the national reporting under the Bill.
The Bill aims to do exactly what it says, report, but no more. Even if the reports depict a dire state of New Zealand's environment, there is no further action required in the Bill.
The Bill has been referred to the Local Government and Environment Committee. Submissions on the Bill are due by 17 April 2014, and the Select Committee report is due by 5 September 2014.
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