Prepared by Julie B. Frieder, December 1997
with funding from the sponsors of the Ian Axford (New Zealand) Fellowships in Public Policy
Julie Frieder is a Senior Sustainability Analyst with Calvert Investments, in Bethesda, Maryland, a mutual fund company that specializes in sustainable and responsible investing. Julie has engaged in numerous environmental shareholder dialogues, including encouraging US computer companies to take greater responsibility for solving the problem of electronic waste. Prior to joining Calvert in 2001, she served eight years with the US Environmental Protection Agency. While there, she had special assignments with the President’s Council on Sustainable Development and the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment. She has a MS and a MPA in Environmental Science and Policy from the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and a BA in Psychology from the University of Rochester.
During Julie’s Ian Axford Fellowship exchange to New Zealand she was based at the Ministry for the Environment in Wellington, where she researched the theory and practice of New Zealand’s Resource Management Act (RMA) and developed recommendations to improve RMA’s implementation and effectiveness.
New Zealanders love the outdoors, and for good reason. Aotearoa is remarkably beautiful, rugged and accessible. Almost every one of New Zealand’s 3.6 million citizens has a personal relationship with nature: a place, a river, a coastline, valley or mountaintop. New Zealand Maori, the tangata whenua, or people of the land, trace their genealogical links to the Earth Mother and Sky Father. Many New Zealand Pakeha, or people of European descent, identify with their pastoral and farming ancestors who subsisted off of the land from the early 1800s. In this small country, comparable in area to the UK or the state of Colorado, place names are familiar, the local news is national, and people feel close to the environment. Accordingly, there is a perception that New Zealand is a nation of environmentalists. While this perception could be harnessed to protect the environment, instead it seems to perpetuate denial about the very existence of environmental problems and the need for environmental laws.
The Resource Management Act is New Zealand’s principal environmental legislation. Designed to deliver superior environmental protection with greater economic efficiency and public accountability, the RMA is a masterful piece of legislation. It advanced New Zealand’s reputation of “clean and green” when it was enacted in 1991, but 7 years hence, its merit is the subject of a heated public debate.
The greatest threat to sustainability in New Zealand is that political wrangling will short-change the RMA before the realisation of its long term benefits. This paper evaluates RMA implementation and recommends steps to improving RMA practice through the adoption of integrated environmental management (IEM). IEM is an approach that can deliver both better environmental outcomes and greater economic efficiency.
IEM is neither well understood nor systematically practiced. The economic, political and social changes of the 1980s left a reform culture and a system of accountabilities that cares more about legal requirements than the quality of environmental outcomes. Preoccupation with economic efficiency threatens to make RMA implementation an exercise in cost minimisation rather than an exercise in integration which simultaneously promotes good business and good environmental practice.
Barriers to integrated environmental management are not insurmountable. New Zealand has a history of looking for institutional and legislative fixes. Improvements to RMA implementation will come not through institutional reform, but from people through leadership, vision, cooperation and kaupapa. The Act was boldly conceived. It must be boldly implemented as it was envisioned: in an integrated fashion, by focusing on outcomes and by employing a full range of policy instruments to respond to the issues, priorities and values of New Zealand’s varied communities.
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