New Zealand Law Society - Update on two environment projects

Update on two environment projects

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RMA review to float three options for change

Three new options for organising the resource management system will be proposed by a major Law Foundation-funded review due to report by the end of the year.

The Environmental Defence Society’s first principles review of resource law recognises that the Resource Management Act, world-leading when introduced 27 years ago, is no longer fit for purpose. The Government has said that the EDS project will be an important input to its wider review of the RMA starting next year.

The EDS review began a year ago, and the review team has published three working papers that set the scene for its final report. EDS Policy Director Raewyn Peart says each of the three options in its final report will set out different legal and institutional frameworks that can be “mixed and matched”, adding: “Our proposals will be different to the current system, though I suspect they won’t be totally unfamiliar to people.”

The review arose from a wide variety of problems and complaints over the past quarter-century indicating that the RMA required a fundamental rethink.

The EDS team started by looking at the context and framework for the system, taking account of findings from overseas. Then it considered structural features like legislative design and public participation, as well as New Zealand’s international law obligations.

The third paper explores institutional arrangements and the kinds of agencies and actors we may need. It considers the merits of economic instruments to shift behaviour, such as quotas, royalties and charges, and it looks at compliance, enforcement and monitoring.

Raewyn Peart says the working papers have been well-received. “People have appreciated that we are stepping back from the RMA and having a first principles look at the whole system – until you do that, you won’t know what’s needed in future. Previous work has been too confined to the current system – it hasn’t led people to think more broadly.”

She says the three broad options in the final report will take account of Māori perspectives. It will also consider the implications for specific sectors and locations – for example, what would it actually mean for agriculture, forestry and fishing?

The Government has welcomed the EDS review. Environment Minister David Parker has said he’s not yet persuaded that the RMA should be thrown out entirely, but agrees that improved national direction and substantially improved processes are needed.

The review has been made possible by $325,000 of Law Foundation funding. The Foundation has also supported earlier significant EDS work, including its 2015 book Vanishing Nature, which highlighted the plight of New Zealand’s threatened species.

Gene drive study raises questions

Another Foundation-funded environment project has recommended that new pest-eliminating biotechnology should only be introduced after “collective consent” is obtained from neighbouring countries. The Sustainability Council study says this is important as New Zealand has a strong interest in biosecurity and releasing a gene drive could wipe out a species that is of value to our farming or ecology.

We need to be aware of how gene drive releases (the introduction of a negative gene to a species) in other countries could present significant biosecurity threats to us. Conversely, if New Zealand aims to wipe out pests like possums, rats and stoats with this technology, it creates a risk of our gene drive crossing borders to other countries, for example, from New Zealand possums to Australia, where possums are protected. The study recommends that neighbouring countries should agree to any release and states that if New Zealand is serious about exploring the use of gene drive to help protect native species, it should be leading development of the international rules. “We need to fundamentally reappraise gene drive’s risks and benefits and adopt policy to match this,” says lead researcher Simon Terry.

The full report on this research and the RMA working papers released to date, are available under the publications link at

Lynda Hagen is Executive Director of the New Zealand Law Foundation.

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