Journal article

Last line of defence: a summary of an evaluation of environmental enforcement in New Zealand

Conservation Environment Environmental monitoring New Zealand


In 2016 the Environmental Defence Society embarked on an analysis of compliance monitoring and enforcement of environmental law in New Zealand (Brown, 2017).1 The responsibilities for ensuring that the aspirations of law and policy are met with respect to the environment are shared across a wide range of acts and several agencies. Different agencies operationalise compliance in different ways, affording it different priority and thus achieving different outcomes. This article summarises the key findings of the project and briefly canvasses the primary groups of solutions. New Zealand’s environment would benefit from a far more robust approach to achieving regulatory outcomes and this requires injections of resourcing and capability into our enforcement agencies and dissolution of prevailing political influences.

Non-compliance with environmental protections has wide-ranging impacts. Our fragile biodiversity and ecosystems have undergone rapid environmental change, and the compliance gap amplifies the impact of human activities on nature. Closing or at least narrowing the compliance gap is a crucial task if the aspirations of law and policy are to be achieved. However, such endeavours bump up against normative views that environmental offending is a ‘victimless crime’ and hence it can be a struggle to muster the resources necessary to mobilise solutions (De Prez, 2000). A range of prior reports have highlighted regulatory failure in New Zealand and the factors that contribute to it (see, for example, Black, 2014). The agencies and regimes that formed the subject of the Environmental Defence Society analysis are set out in Table 1.


The difficulty of achieving the desired outcomes of environmental law due to the ever-present compliance gap is by no means unique to New Zealand. Globally, environmental offending struggles to attract the attention and resources needed to be effectively combatted. The evidence suggests that while our environmental regulators are on a trajectory of improvement, there are also some big issues to be sorted out. The resources poured into the promulgation of law and policy are enormous, and unless that energy is matched with the dogged process of driving the need for behaviour change home, it is simply wasted investment.

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