“Troubling” report highlights deficiencies in environmental monitoring

11 May 2013

Waikato doctoral student Marie Brown made headlines last month when she released her study on environmental monitoring. She says as many as a third of resource consent holders are breaking environmental promises.

As part of her doctorate, the Law and Science student assessed how pre-agreed “ecological compensation” was being met across 245 conditions in 81 different resource consents granted across New Zealand and found that just over 35% of requirements were not being met and agriculture was the worst of all the activity type surveys.

Why this topic?

“In my former life as a council officer, I observed these exchanges occurring all the time, where damage to the environment results in an agreement being made for a positive conservation action to be taken,” says Marie. She was curious as to how this mechanism was being implemented across the country, given that there was little specific policy and much discussion in the literature and in practice of concerns about implementation and the potential promise of it to conservation.

Her study has prompted calls for authorities to crack down on environmental monitoring efforts. Marie says ecological compensation is separate to simply minimising environmental effects caused by a consented activity.

“It could be a subdivision developer agreeing to restore a nearby wetland by repairing hydrology or undertaking pest control,” she says.

Good and bad

Of 10 activity categories surveyed on a scale of zero to three, the energy generation industry scored perfectly, meeting all conditions under issued consents.

The bottom ranked activity was agriculture, where just under 5% of agreed compensation was fully achieved.

Large-scale operations were found to have better compliance, as were those where compensation was agreed early in the application process. Green MP Eugenie Sage said the research was "troubling" because nature was losing out in more than a third of the cases reviewed.

Marie Brown hopes to submit her PhD within the next two months and is now looking for work in the multi-disciplinary space of resource and environmental management. Her doctoral supervisors were Professors Bruce Clarkson (Science) and Barry Barton (Law).