Management of New Zealand’s environment continues to lack quantifiable targets needed to set the “outcome-oriented” policy the OECD recommends in its review released today. Voluntary measures are still being favoured over forms of direct regulation that the OECD has been recommending to New Zealand for over a decade.

While the latest OECD report card on the Environment Ministry’s work is framed in diplomatic language and notes a range of improvements, the catalogue of inaction still makes grim reading.

  • There are no legally binding environmental standards for the composition of water and soil (greatly raising the barriers to prosecuting polluters);
  • Transport pricing “makes no attempt” to reflect the cost to the environment;
  • There are no targets for management of the half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions coming from agriculture, and no pricing measures yet applied to any greenhouse gas emissions
  • Non-point discharges to waterways remain essentially unregulated;
  • Systems for tracking the transport, treatment and disposal of hazardous waste are in their “infancy”.


A decade on from the OECD’s last blunt report in 1996, which recommended New Zealand “Adopt more concrete goals and quantified targets with deadlines for environmental policy”, there is little evidence of a change in approach. It remains the case that “The lack of clearly verifiable targets and data by which to measure achievements makes it difficult to monitor progress in implementing the country’s objectives”.

The latest report notes the irony that for a country with a “commitment to using market-based solutions”, there is little use of market instruments such as taxes and charges to indicate the environmental cost of activities. The “polluter pays” approach should be more fully applied, the OECD recommends.

The review provides an important gauge of New Zealand’s progress in achieving the outcomes needed to underpin the nation’s clean green image. It also identifies the scope of reforms required to realise the Government’s welcome vision of New Zealand as a world leader in sustainability.

We look forward to a detailed response from Government on which of the review’s recommendations it intends to implement and the nature of the “alternative actions” Government has indicated it has in mind for those it does not accept.

  • Conclusions and recommendations of the report are available here.
  • Conclusions and recommendations from the 1996 OECD Environmental Performance review are available here.