What are New Zealand’s environmental priorities over the next 20 years?

By the end of the year the Government will have a “road map” of what New Zealand’s environmental research priorities should be.

The 20-year vision would be politically neutral and help the Government make “sensible decisions” using science, said the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor Sir Peter Gluckman.

discussion document released on Friday outlines the issues, such as climate change and protecting native species, for the public to voice their opinions on.

The Prime Minister's chief science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman heads up the advisory group working on the 20-year vision ...

Gluckman wanted science to be “better embedded” in society, and encouraged all Kiwis to have their say.

“It’s their money, ultimately, that’s being spent,” he said.

“Environment and conservation is important to, I suspect, every New Zealander irrespective of their political ideology.”

Climate change, farming, and urban pressures were among some of the main themes government officials would be weighing up in their advice.

“The intent is to understand that science can do so much to help society make better choices about these various challenges it meets,” said Gluckman.

Future governments would have to address the “complex policy trade-offs between environmental protection and economic growth”, the document said, as it also listed 2015/16 government science funding that had gone into the themed areas.

“Government funding of conservation and environmental science must be cohesive and strategic to get maximum value from research, and ensure the resulting data is fit-for-purpose for future decision-making.”

The social and economic factors received the greatest amount of funding at $24.1 million. This work included sciences behind “environmental literacy”, community involvement, and values and beliefs.

“Robust science and evidence underpins good decisions about how we care for our nature,” said Conservation Minister Maggie Barry.

“We need to be thinking ahead to what issues we’re going to face, and also take a fresh look at how to deal with problems like introduced predators and weeds.”

Fresh water still a problem

Fresh water was the only theme labelled as “a continuing challenge”.

Many of New Zealand’s freshwater fish were threatened or at risk with the degradation of water quality.

“Despite government, iwi and community investments in freshwater management and restoration, there are still some negative trends in freshwater health.”

Some solutions involved collaboration to set environmental limits and better integration of Maori knowledge and practice.

The challenges in mitigating and adapting to climate change were “enormous”.

Climate change would affect almost every aspect of environmental and conservation research, so scientists would need to work across all ecosystems.

Urban intensification was also highlighted as a key theme – New Zealand’s one of the world’s most urbanised nations with more than 86 per cent of the population living in urban areas.

As a result, people’s understanding of New Zealand’s natural, production and urban history had “weakened”. More social science and education was needed to promote positive environmental outcomes and the relationship with a primary export economy.

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