A review of New Zealand's progress towards sustainable development, with particular reference to environmental management performance since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The report highlights the opportunities and challenges in maintaining a healthy environment, social well-being, and a strong economy.
Sustainability is ultimately about the interplay between people and ecologies. We constantly seek to maintain or enhance our quality of life - a rich mix of basic and more abstract needs. Our fundamental task in the coming decades is to redesign our socio-political-economic system in ways that reintegrate the dependencies between people and our underpinning ecological systems.
Our story in this review is New Zealand's journey from 1992 to 2002 in the context of what has been going on in the rest of the world - particularly OECD countries. The highlights are mostly community initiatives, some local government efforts, and a few stand-out business efforts.
In March 2003, Survey Quarterly magazine published a two-page column from Dr Morgan Williams based on Creating Our Future.
The big gap in thinking, planning, and taking appropriate action until 2000 has been in central government. Our review concludes that New Zealand could have been a leading light on sustainable development by now - but we are not. However, I do believe we have many of the necessary ingredients to make the transition to a sustainable development pathway.
New Zealand can evolve policies that will deliver the qualities of life we aspire to: we have innovative people, a robust democracy, a developed economy, abundant environmental resources, a love of 'team play', a growing sense of who we are, and a low population density. New Zealand can and will make the transition to a more sustainable pathway.
Sustainable development recognises:
In the period following the 1992 Earth Summit, New Zealand had the opportunity to become a leading light on sustainable development. However, current trends in consumption of energy and natural resources, production of waste, urban growth, biodiversity losses and biosecurity threats, land-use and water issues in rural and urban areas, and air quality in urban areas, are all signs that New Zealand is not functioning in a sustainable manner.
Successive governments have largely ignored the 1992 Agenda 21 commitments and have not provided the necessary leadership. Only in recent years has central government made any significant commitment to developing a New Zealand Strategy on Sustainable Development.
Other sectors, including individual local authorities, business organisations, and community groups have made progress with their own initiatives. They have tried to incorporate sustainable development principles into their policies and activities, and have encouraged others to do likewise. These local initiatives have made the biggest contribution to awareness of sustainable development in New Zealand.
Sustainable development must be supported by a strong vision and clear goals established through effective public participation. Leadership in all sectors is critical. Small groups working in isolation can achieve a lot in their own particular areas, but a more meaningful and overall shift is more likely when sustainability 'champions' lead a combined effort.
Sustainability is not something that a government department, local authority, or other public agency can have sole responsibility for. Organisations, businesses, communities, and individuals must take responsibility for the resources they use, the energy they consume, the waste they produce, and their impacts on biodiversity.
Values, and cultural and ethical frameworks are critical to the implementation of sustainable development. Tangata whenua have strong cultural and spiritual connections with the environment, natural resources, and places that need to be respected and provided for.
Good information is needed to monitor and review progress. Work is already underway to develop a set of sustainable development indicators for New Zealand. Such indicators must be meaningful and useful to local authorities, businesses and communities.
Vision and framework for sustainable development