The Commissioner has seven statutory functions under the Environment Act to investigate environmental issues, processes and public agencies. As an Officer of Parliament, the Commissioner has a unique opportunity to provide Parliament with independent advice in its consideration of any matters that may have an impact on the quality of the environment. The Commissioner also communicates her advice to a wider public audience.
Investigations may also result from suggestions or complaints from concerned citizens and groups.
The Commissioner identified her broad work priorities in the 2013 Annual Report:
There are numerous environmental issues that are worthy of investigation. However, mine is a relatively small office, and time and resources are limited. It is therefore important that future work is prioritised and planned, to ensure it is pertinent and ‘adds value’ for Parliamentarians and the public.
The first criterion for adding value is to avoid duplicating the work of others. Instead, I seek out areas where my independence can prompt progress on difficult or contested topics, and where I am likely to be able to make practical, effective recommendations.
Moreover, not all environmental problems are equally important, so I pay particular attention to environmental problems that are irreversible, cumulative, or accelerating. Climate change ticks all three boxes and therefore is, in my view, the greatest environmental challenge the world faces.
I also receive many complaints, information and suggestions from the public. While all the issues raised cannot be investigated, all are considered. Some of these letters and emails have led to investigations. The investigations on fracking and on longfin eels were both undertaken in response to public concern.
The Commissioner is currently investigating three areas: