Environmental Reporting Bill

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Explanatory note

General policy statement

The purpose of this Bill is to create a national-level environmental reporting system to ensure that reporting on our environment occurs on a regular basis and can be trusted by the public as independent, fair, and accurate.

The consolidated State of Environment reports published by the Ministry for the Environment (the Ministry) in 1997 and 2007 were discretionary outputs for the Ministry, and were approved for release by the Minister for the Environment (the Minister). The current system of environmental reporting involves the periodic release of updates by the Ministry on 22 indicators. The timing of the indicator updates is determined by data availability and rate of change, with some indicators updated annually and others less frequently, at the discretion of the Ministry and the Minister.

The Government’s objective is to have a legislative basis for independent environmental reporting in order to give the public certainty about the scope and quality of the information they will receive, and about how often it will be released. The Bill will require the Secretary for the Environment and the Government Statistician to publish a domain report on 1 of 5 environmental domains (air, atmosphere and climate, freshwater, land, and marine) every 6 months and publish a synthesis report (providing an analysis of cross-domain trends and interactions) once every 3 years.

Reporting will be required to give a fair and accurate representation of the state of New Zealand’s environment as a whole, or the state of the domain being reported on. Reporting will draw on the expertise of the Ministry and Statistics New Zealand to ensure high standards of statistical integrity and robustness. Reports will give New Zealanders the information they need to understand the condition of their environment, why it is like that, and what that means.

The Bill focuses on reporting the best available data and does not include any requirement to generate information that is not currently collected. Over time, it is likely to drive improvements in future monitoring and data collection by setting out the topics reporting should cover, in alignment with international practice. Reports will include information on the biophysical state of a domain, trends over time, pressures driving changes in the state, and the impacts of changes in the state on—

  • ecosystem integrity:

  • public health:

  • economic benefits derived from utilising natural resources:

  • culture and recreation.

The regulation-empowering provision will require that topics to be reported on be selected on the basis of significance, statistical rigour, and evidence of a strong connection to an environmental state.

A key element of the new environmental reporting system is independence from the Government of the day. This is achieved through providing key roles for the Minister, the Minister of Statistics, the Government Statistician, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment as follows:

  • the Minister and the Minister of Statistics will be responsible for recommending regulations that set out topics to be reported on, following consultation with the Government Statistician and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment:

  • the Government Statistician, after consulting the Secretary for the Environment, must determine the statistics to be used to measure 1 or more aspects of each topic as set out in regulations, and must ensure that the statistics chosen accurately represent the relevant topic:

  • the Government Statistician has sole responsibility for determining procedures and methods to be used in providing statistics that will be included in the environmental reports:

  • the Secretary for the Environment and the Government Statistician will be responsible for reporting at arm’s length from the government, and ensuring reports are fair and accurate:

  • the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment will provide independent commentary at his or her discretion.

The responsibilities of the Government Statistician under this Bill are not intended to limit or affect the independence of the Government Statistician when exercising or performing his or her powers, duties, or functions under the Statistics Act 1975.

Departmental disclosure statement

The Ministry for the Environment is required to prepare a disclosure statement to assist with the scrutiny of this Bill. It provides access to information about the policy development of the Bill and identifies any significant or unusual legislative features of the Bill.

A copy of the statement can be found at http://legislation.govt.nz/disclosure.aspx?type=bill&subtype=government&year=2014&no=189& .

Regulatory impact statement

A regulatory impact statement is not required for this Bill.

Clause by clause analysis

Clause 1 is the Title clause.

Clause 2 is the commencement clause. The Act comes into force on the earlier of a date appointed by the Governor-General by Order in Council, or 9 months after the date on which the Act receives the Royal assent. The Ministry advises that commencement by Order in Council is desirable because regulations will need to be developed that provide for the topics to be covered in domain and synthesis reports. The Ministry plans to consult on the proposed topics before making regulations. It is anticipated that regulations could be made and brought into force by mid-2015. The Act is intended to commence at the same time as the regulations are brought into force.

Part 1
Preliminary provisions

Clause 3 states that the purpose of this legislation is to require regular reports on the state of New Zealand's environment as a whole, and on the state of the air, atmosphere and climate, freshwater, land, and marine domains.

Clause 4 defines terms used in this legislation.

Clause 5 states that the legislation binds the Crown.

Part 2
Environmental reporting

Synthesis reports

Clause 6 states that the chief executive of the Ministry for the Environment (the Secretary) and the Government Statistician must jointly produce and publish reports on New Zealand's environment as a whole. These reports are called synthesis reports.

Clause 7 sets out the matters that synthesis reports must describe. These matters include the state of New Zealand's environment, pressures that may be causing, or have the potential to cause, changes to the state of New Zealand's environment, and impacts that the state of New Zealand's environment, or changes to it, may be having on certain matters. The Secretary and the Government Statistician are not required to include in synthesis reports information that cannot be obtained by using reasonable efforts.

Clause 8 provides that a synthesis report must be published once every 3 years. The first synthesis report must be published by 30 June 2015.

Domain reports

Clause 9 states that the Secretary and the Government Statistician must jointly produce and publish reports on the air, atmosphere and climate, freshwater, land, and marine domains. These reports are called domain reports.

Clause 10 sets out the matters that domain reports must describe. These matters include the state of the domain, pressures that may be causing, or have the potential to cause, changes to the state of the domain, and impacts that the state of the domain or changes to it may be having on certain matters. The Secretary and the Government Statistician are not required to include in domain reports information that cannot be obtained by using reasonable efforts.

Clause 11 provides that a domain report for one of the domains must be published at least once every 6 months. Each domain must be reported on at least once every 3 years. The first domain report must be published within 6 months after the publication of the first synthesis report.

Production of environmental reports

Clause 12 provides an overview of the process for producing synthesis and domain reports (environmental reports). First, topics to be reported on are prescribed by regulations made under clause 18. Secondly, statistics to measure those topics are selected by the Government Statistician in accordance with clause 13(2). Thirdly, the procedures and methods to be used in providing those statistics in the report are selected by the Government Statistician in accordance with clause 13(4).

Clause 13 sets out the roles of the Secretary and the Government Statistician in producing and publishing environmental reports. Both the Secretary and the Government Statistician must use the expertise of the Ministry and Statistics New Zealand. The Government Statistician must, after consulting the Secretary, decide what statistics will be used to measure topics prescribed by regulations made under clause 18. In making these decisions, the Government Statistician must follow what he or she believes to be best practice principles and protocols. He or she must also be satisfied that the statistics selected accurately represent the topics they purport to measure. The Government Statistician has sole responsibility for deciding what procedures and methods will be used for providing statistics to be included in an environmental report.

Clause 14 specifies that the Secretary and the Government Statistician must act independently of any Minister of the Crown in producing and publishing an environmental report.

Clause 15 states that the Secretary and the Government Statistician must, in so far as it is reasonably practicable, ensure that all environmental reports fairly and accurately represent the state of New Zealand's environment as a whole, or the domain being reported on.

Clause 16 states that if any person involved in producing or publishing environmental reports receives a request for disclosure of information or analysis that will be used in a forthcoming report, the person must refer the request to the Secretary and the Government Statistician. Any information or analysis requested must not be disclosed without the consent of both the Secretary and the Government Statistician. The clause allows the Secretary and the Government Statistician to withhold the information or analysis if they are of the opinion that disclosure would compromise the independence of the report, or the information or analysis is integral to significant findings or conclusions of the report.

Role of Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment

Clause 17 affirms the ability of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment under the Environment Act 1986 to report on an environmental report and the processes that produced it.

Regulations

Clause 18 provides for regulations to be made for the purposes of the legislation.