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Environmental Advocacy in a Future Resource Management System: In a nutshell

by Greg Severinsen
March 2023

The Environmental Defence Society has produced a report investigating how Aotearoa New Zealand’s system of environmental advocacy could be improved in the future. Environmental advocacy is about the settings through which people and institutions persuade decision makers with respect to environmental matters. Persuasion is a notable feature of environmental decision making, as there is often significant discretion to consider evidence and apply value-based judgements at multiple levels. Advocacy can occur in many settings, including litigation, policy development and campaigning/educating in the public realm. All are important in shaping outcomes, as experience under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) has shown (for example, in litigation like King Salmon, in freshwater campaigning by entities like Fish and Game, and in policy work making a case for RMA reform).

Indeed, advocacy and advocates operate as a check and balance from a public law perspective, performing a function that is about much more than just participation and giving communities a chance to be heard. Strong settings for public interest environmental advocacy need to exist as a robust counterweight to private advocacy forces focused on development and use of resources (which are generally much more well-resourced), but also as a mechanism to test evidence and hold decision makers themselves to account for any failures to implement legislation.

Effective advocacy in a new system will be important for achieving the intent of resource management reforms. The design and support of advocacy therefore needs careful consideration as part of the reform process. In the report, we identify a number of areas that would benefit from attention and change.