Reform of the Resource Management System: The Next Generation (Working Paper 1)

Reform of the Resource Management System: The Next Generation (Working Paper 1)

By Greg Severinsen & Raewyn Peart

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This is the first working paper produced by EDS as part of its RM Reform Project. The project is taking a first principles look at how New Zealand’s resource management system operates, and providing an evidence-based perspective on how it could be improved for the coming decades.

Working paper 1 is the first in a series of three working papers for the project, which will culminate in a final report at the end of 2018. It focuses on the context of reform, key lessons learnt from the project team’s international study tour to Europe and North America, and important normative questions. These include the world views and ethics that shape how we see our environment and our place in it, and the principles that help us translate those ethics to a functioning system. Later papers will build on this foundation and explore structural features of the system (such as how we design our legislation and institutions) and operational features (such as the tools we use to implement decisions).

Working paper 1 also lays out a conceptual analytical framework for the project as a whole. Instead of arranging analysis by environmental domain (like air and water), particular spaces (like urban and rural), or specific sectors (like agriculture or transport), it looks at all these things within a framework based on themes – the things the system as a whole needs to do. For example, the system needs to be based on ethics and principles, be expressed through a suite of legislation, institutions, and participatory structures, and be implemented through tools like regulations, funding mechanisms and economic instruments.

It is important, when taking a first principles approach to reform, to go back to basics. This is what working paper 1 seeks to do. It does not focus on whether the RMA is good or bad, or what the next round of amendments should be. We are well beyond that point. What we need now is to deepen our understanding of what the system is, why we have it, and what we want it to do.

Questions around ethics and principles are an important starting point. Before we can decide whether we protect indigenous forest, or allocate freshwater in particular ways, we must decide how we want to see the world. Are our surroundings simply a collection of resources to be exploited and distributed in a way that enhances our GDP? Or is it more complicated than that? What principles do we need to make our world views more tangible?

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