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The conservation and environmental science roadmap

Last week I chaired the first meeting of the Strategic Advisory Group for the recently announced Conservation and Environment Science Roadmap (https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/science-roadmap-target-research).

This important exercise was approved by Ministers late last year and will extend through most of 2016. The intent is to get a high level perspective on the science that the Government needs to ensure is undertaken over the next twenty years in the environmental and conservation domains. The Government directly and indirectly spends a large amount on conservation and environmental research through multiple agencies beyond the contestable funding system. These include the Department of Conservation (DOC), the Ministry for the Environment (MfE), the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), the Crown Research Institutes (CRIs), the National Science Challenges, the museum sector and a number of other agencies such as the Meteorological Service and the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

Given the importance of environmental and conservation research to New Zealand’s future, and the long time frame needed for much of the research in these domains, there is value in having a clear perspective on the priorities for and the direction of research, and clarity over the roles of the different agencies involved.

The Roadmap is not intended to address the direction of investigator-led research, which is funded via a variety of contestable funds, but it will assist in informing agencies’ including the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) strategic planning. The roadmap will instead look out over a longer time frame of 5, 10 and 20 years and focus on the research needed to inform government policy over the next two decades. Its utility will be much broader because conservation and environmental knowledge is critical to assisting the public, the private sector, and local bodies in their own decision- making.

The scope of the roadmap includes marine, freshwater, the terrestrial environment, our distinct biota, and climate and atmosphere issues, and will extend geographically from the Antarctic to our tropical territories and cover our exclusive economic zone. It must take into account the knowledge needed to better preserve our environmental and biological heritage while considering issues of sustainable resource use, Matauranga Māori and biosecurity. Not much is excluded from consideration, except that it is not the place of a research roadmap to resolve policy matters (such as, for example, specific strategies to mitigate climate change), but rather to ensure that the research that will be needed to inform policy decisions is undertaken. The roadmap is focused on the longer term and will not consider urban issues beyond those that impact on the conservation and environmental estates.

The Roadmap will be developed in two phases. An Officials Working Group (OWG) comprising senior officials of DOC, MfE, MPI, MBIE, and EPA, along with the science advisors from DOC, MfE and MPI and myself and with input from Te Puni Kōkiri (TPK) and other ministries, are responsible for producing a public discussion paper. They are supported by a Strategic Advisory Group (SAG), which I chair, comprising a mix of academic and non-academic expertise in conservation and environmental issues1. In preparing the discussion paper, the OWG will consult with a broad range of expertise and stakeholders. This will include consultation with other government ministries and agencies, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, local and regional government, Māori, the academic and CRI communities, the Royal Society of New Zealand, Federated Farmers, and conservation and environmental non- governmental organisations (NGOs).

It is recognized that any discussions of conservation and environmental science must also consider the issues of primary production, and there will be close liaison with MPI as the Ministry plans to undertake related road-mapping activities.

Following release in mid-year of the discussion paper, broad but targeted consultation will take place, including a call for public submissions, specific consultation with Māori and provision for academic inputs. This will inform the OWG and assist it in preparing the Roadmap for Ministerial consideration. The SAG will have the ‘critical challenge’ function during the report’s preparation.

This is a very ambitious and important project. It is very much science–led. Its impact will extend over multiple cycles of government and therefore its focus is not caught up in the policies of the government of the day but rather in ensuring knowledge essential to New Zealand making informed choices in complex areas is achieved.

[1] The SAG comprises: Sir Peter Gluckman (Chair) Peter Bodeker (Chief Executive, Otago Regional Council), Rob Fenwick (Founding Director, Living Earth; Special Advisor to the Director General, DOC), Suzi Kerr (Senior Fellow, Motu), Chris Mace (Chair, NIWA), Wendy Nelson (Principal Scientist, Marine Biodiversity and Biological Resources, NIWA & University of Auckland), Warren Parker (Chief Executive Officer, Scion Research), William Rolleston (President, Federated Farmers; Chair, MBIE Science Board), Charlotte Severne (Deputy Vice Chancellor, Maori & Community, Lincoln University), Gary Taylor (Environmental Defence Society), Janet Wilmhurst (Research Programme Leader Ecosystem Resilience, Landcare Research; Associate Professor, University of Auckland), Gillian Wratt (Chair, MBIE National Science Challenge Review Panels; Governance Board Member, Our Land & Water National Science Challenge; Board Member, Environmental Protection Agency), Ken Hughey (Departmental Science Adviser, DOC; Professor, Lincoln University) David Wratt (Departmental Science Advisor MfE; Emeritus Scientist, NIWA; Adjunct Professor, Victoria University).

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